I know a woman who, at the beginning of this year, had dreams to travel, explore, get fit and generally live her best life. Her days were pretty full to begin with: she had a wide, glamorous social circle and was rarely in of a school night. This week, I met her in a Dublin park. We sipped takeaway coffee through our masks. She is a different person to the one I knew in January. Her legendary positivity is no more. My friend is resentful and bitter and lonely. Having not seen her family in months, much less her friends, her mental health is suffering. She lives and works alone. This is because she is following the government and NPHET’s Covid guidelines to the letter.
"I haven’t been touched by another person since March,” she admitted, fighting back tears.
I felt for her. "Tell you what. I can give you a really quick hug with our masks on,” I offered.
She thought about it for a second, then demurred. She’d come this far, she reasoned. “Besides, I’d probably start crying and never stop,” she reflected.
I know another girl, who has had a pretty eventful summer. After the Zoom quizzes and the baking and the bonhomie of March, her lockdown resolution crumbled early on. She has travelled around the country on staycation after staycation, often bunking in with mates. She went abroad, twice, and kept quiet on social media for the two weeks she was supposed to be self-isolating through (that didn’t happen).
She started and ended two relationships in lockdown, both of which began on Tinder. She has enjoyed weekly takeaway pints on the green outside her house with her neighbours. She has hosted house parties. She hugs her mum and doesn’t give a monkeys what you think about that. She texts you to see if she can drop around if she’s in the area.
She hasn’t followed the guidelines to the letter. She has decided that if she doesn’t watch the news, her life can continue on pretty much as normal. She doesn’t care about the collective fight against a virus. She doesn’t believe it will happen to her. She is not lonely. There is nothing wrong with her mental health.
Within the spectrum of both of these women — the one that follows guidelines for the public good, and the one who will carry on to her liking — most of us exist. The more committed one is to battling the coronavirus, the greater the personal toll.
A part of them dies inside every time they see a video clip, like the one released last weekend from Dublin’s South William Street. They know deep down that their own conscientious efforts have been largely in vain, and that they are the ones that will be kept inside their Covid prison, not the other faction.
The rule-breakers — well, they certainly seem aware of the pandemic, but they are keen to maintain a semblance of normality. They are different, incidentally, to anti-maskers or Covid deniers. Rule-breakers like to post selfies of themselves wearing lovely masks, and tweet their praise of hard-working medics. They want the pandemic to be over as much as anyone. They’re just a little less public about hopping across the country, or sitting on a busy Dublin street, drinking takeaway pints. They can rationalise their own behaviour, and being flexible with the rules, because it feels like something that happens to other people.
There are different types of Covid rule breakers. The first set are confused about the rules, which have shape-shifted over time. Others, feeling their lives have been set-back, are attempting to exert a level of control, by creating their own set of rules. There are those who have never been good at following any rules to begin with. You could probably argue that the rule-followers, mindful of the more vulnerable in society, are morally better than the rule-breakers, but there’s no debate on which faction is mentally better off.
The rule-breakers are putting themselves first. And in a culture where, up until March 2020 at least, narcissism and self-optimisation have been paramount, perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Asking people to go from a full and active social, working and physical life to a small, cramped and lonely existence, with no end seemingly in sight, is a mammoth ask.
There will be those, like my friend, who will obey. Will they find life all the more sweeter on the other side? Will their first pint, or first hug, or first weekend away, be all the more sweet after the sacrifice? Time will tell.
There’s Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue. No big deal, you might say, except he is wearing a dress. In a striking image, Styles dons a voluminous periwinkle blue gown paired with a black tuxedo jacket (both designed by Gucci).
Many pockets of social media lost the rag at the 26-year-old singer, who is already famed for his flamboyant and boundary-breaking passion for style.
Styles’ generation is known for its exploration of gender fluidity, meaning that most of his fan-base barely batted an eyelid. Yet conservatives in the US weren’t so sure. Right-wing commentator Candace Owens wrote: “Bring back manly men”.
Yet the fallout of the Styles fandango shows us something even more depressing: women can wear trousers and tuxedo jackets all they want, but a sizeable faction of people are still getting to grips with the other way around. For them, femininity is still something to get embarrassed about it. It’s somehow ‘lesser’ than masculinity. And to them, what men wear is essentially the default: what women wear is frivolous and silly.
Honestly, the sooner we break this stuff down for the nonsense it is, the better. The world would be a lot better off if both men and women weren’t bound by gender norms.
Call me mad, but there’s something strangely manly about a man who is keen to bend tradition, don a dress and explore his feminine side. It certainly telegraphs inner strength more than a blokey lad who goes to the pub every Friday and blows his top when he has to mansplain the offside rule again.
Can we just make Dolly Parton ruler of the world and get it over with? Earlier this year, the country singer donated $1m for Covid research, and the promising results of that research – hopefully leading to the rollout of the Moderna vaccine – were released this week. Parton joins the likes of Marcus Rashford and Joe Wicks who have restored our faith in heroic celebrities this year. It does go some way towards making us forget about the self-congratulating monstrosity that was the Imagine video, released earlier this year.