"I don't know how I'm going to talk to people in real life again."
It was a stunning admission from someone who I thought really had it all together - good job, great family, plus a history of being the most fun at parties - I figured that if anyone was going to get to the other side of COVID fired up and ready to restart their social life it was him. But the time away from our normal lives had created a sort of social anxiety that was already starting to worry him.
While I don't suffer from social anxiety, per se, navigating social situations was something that I had to deliberately learn. As an only child of two introverts, and living far from extended family, I didn't have great models or even really much practice in this arena when I was growing up. I remember that my mom bought me a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" when I was about 16 with the unspoken suggestion that perhaps I might fare better with a book than by talking with her. It helped a little, but ultimately what helped more was having those I love tell me clearly when I was fucking up socially. Sometimes holding up a mirror for someone is the greatest gift.
Anyway, I got decent enough to do the normal human things like make friends, hold jobs, navigate day to day. Being in conversation with people I didn't know never felt completely easy, but I got to the point where I felt capable anyway. And then, well into my 30's, my best friend took me to Vegas for the first time.
Vegas was a revelation. People struck up conversations with us in elevators, at the pool, in line for breakfast, walking through the casino, as well as all the usual places like bars and clubs. In one short weekend I talked to more strangers that I would normally talk to in a month at home. And most of it was friendly, not even especially flirty. The experience was freeing, and exhilarating, and honestly it felt like possibility.
We have all these strange unwritten rules around social interactions most of the time. We don't call people until we text first. Talking in elevators is strictly prohibited. You don't assume that the people next to you at the bar want to chat. Our baseline assumption is we should leave people alone.
Part of what makes the Vegas getaway experience work is that everyone is there for the same reason. Sort of like college, you might be with people who you don't know but are there for a common reason. It's enough of a foundation to enable a conversation to open up. We have very few of those common moments in our routine lives. Fortunately they aren't totally absent.
Post COVID (assuming that there is a moment that we can confidently say is post COVID), we need to Make America Vegas Again (TM, lol). We need to collectively look for the common moments we are sharing, and agree to get comfortable chatting. In line for your Sweetgreen, picking kids up from gymnastics, hell why not in an elevator, make a pledge to connect with those around you. Get in the habit of saying hello. The stakes are very low and the rewards can be endless.
We are fundamentally social creatures. COVID has changed many things about our lives individually, but almost universally it has resulted in frayed social connections. We have the power to rebuild these important connections, but doing so will demand that we loosen some of the silent rules we've had around when it is or isn't acceptable to connect. But shit, that sounds fun. I'm not sure when we get to start, but I can't wait to treat everywhere like Vegas.