As I studied the roadmap there it was; the first glimmer of hope.
As one of the earliest markers that Ireland is hopefully moving towards a semblance of the Ireland we recognise, we are now allowed to meet up to four people who don’t live with us, as long as we practice responsible social distancing.
It seems like a glorious milestone — meeting friends and family outside the house! Having IRL conversations with new people! Yet scratch the surface and it’s not quite the lovely boon you think it is.
Firstly, after being isolated from our entire social circles for over two months, we now have to choose a tiny number of people that we might like to sit two metres from in a park. Four!
According to the guidelines, these are supposed to be the same four people, so for the foreseeable, this is your social ‘bubble’. Pick the four in yours at your peril. And, as we know all too well by now, poor planning can leave us in the lurch.
Where do you even start? Do you call on the friend that lives closest, but has a tale of woe every time you see her, so you might as well be back inside for all the good it does you?
Do you choose your soundest, most entertaining pal, despite the fact that he won't give a monkey’s about social distancing and spits on you when he talks?
Or do you choose a member of your family because, well, they’re your family?
Do you nominate the sister that won’t mind giving you a hand with the kids, or the brother who knows to bring good snacks and a picnic blanket?
Do you nominate the pal with the best garden, or the one whose dinners look better on Instagram?
It’s a total minefield, fraught with difficulties and possible tensions. The numbers of people you want to see, or don’t, soon start to mount up.
One thing is for sure. You can eliminate the person with the ‘wacky’ Zoom backgrounds, your work colleagues, or your friend who has been sofa surfing in four different houses in the last two months.
Tradition probably dictates that we call on family members first and foremost, but what if you are a single city-dweller with an ‘urban’ family that feel more like kin to you than your flesh and blood?
If you are a parent, do you size up your pals according to decent compatibility with your own kids?
What about if you’re a couple? Do you just shimmy up to another couple that you get on with, therefore risking tensions with the other couples that you holiday/go to music festivals/head out drinking with?
What about merging friends that, up until now, don’t know each other?
Given that the bubble might be our only social outlet for an as-yet-undetermined number of weeks or months, this could be tricky.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already feeling a pang of anxiety about who to stick in my social bubble.
I haven’t yet made a pass at anyone in my social circle. There’s also the creeping realisation that no one has yet chosen me to be in their bubble.
I’m not making anyone’s Top 4 yet, although this could partly be my fault. I’ve pretty much popped off radar since mid-March. Friends are having Zoom parties and confabs, and I’m too anxious or tired to really get into the spirit of things.
I barely show up to the Zoom quizzes. Skip the Covideo parties. Mute the WhatsApp groups. Technology has come at me quickly, so it felt better to ignore the online social blizzard.
It could be, of course, that I’m just not cool, or fun company, or my garden isn’t up to scratch.
Honestly, it’s worse than Mean Girls. You can’t sit with us (or rather, 6.5 feet from us).
Don’t get me wrong: I am truly desperate to see and hug my friends.
Some of us have talked excitedly about where we will go for dinner when we can, and how delicious that moment will be.
We are counting down the days until the pubs are due to open, and have made plans to truly go wild that week.
But I want to do it on my terms. Without limitations, without a hierarchy, and certainly without a bubble. Having to choose between them all to create a special corona-clique feels like no fun at all.
After nine or so weeks of it being just the three of us — me, partner and 15-month-old — I admit that I’m feeling inexplicably nervous about expanding my social circle again.
It’s been a strangely quiet couple of months (admittedly, not all of it calm and serene) and the idea of meeting new people for a real conversation feels like a potential sensory overload; a shock to the system.
Perhaps I’ll sound one or two friends out soon about the possibility of meeting up… if they haven’t been invited into other, cooler corona-cliques already, that is.
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