May 28, 2023

Over the past year, public health guidelines have often varied widely at the federal, state, and even city levels. Some areas opened their doors while experts continued to advise caution. This has also been reflected in interpersonal relationships. It has created friction between couples, families, and friends, and has prompted individuals to ask challenging, sometimes seemingly intrusive questions. Now you may add, “Are you vaccinated?” to this list. (On Twitter, a woman recently suggested “re-entry doulas” to help families navigate boundaries conversations.)

However, it will still be important to have these talks in the months ahead. “This is not abstract,” said Marci Gleason, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, whose lab examined quarantined relationships. “It depends directly on whether we can socialize with others in the way they want or not.” Sometimes it can feel like a proxy battle over how much you value each other’s friendship. Be open to your own fears and weaknesses and make it clear that if you disagree, you are expressing your own preference and not rejecting the other person. Also, keep it simple, especially with friends or relatives with whom you don’t often have emotional, open conversations.

This empathy and openness is also beneficial if you find that your friends and co-workers have developed a tendency to share too much, either out of fear or because they are hungry for conversation. (You might be doing it yourself.) If you feel uncomfortable or anxious about a topic of conversation, say it.

“Being really open and direct is the best way,” said Dr. Danesh Alam, psychiatrist and behavioral health services medical director at Northwestern Medicine Central Dupage Hospital. Dr. Alam suggested studying for conversation and preparing some questions and topics to chat with more intent and keep things up to date.

It’s okay if you don’t feel ready to see people socially again. Through the challenges of the embargo, you may have found that “Your sanity has served best when you have time for rest, quiet, and introspection,” said Dr. McBride.

So take it step by step as you ponder the benefits of being back out there: Even casual interactions have been shown to promote a sense of belonging and community. “Social interaction is critical to our existence,” said Dr. Alam. Also, keep in mind that there are sure to be some strange moments when you see others more frequently and your pandemic instincts (no hugging) and your previous instincts (“want a bite of it?”) Collide.

“If you enjoy having dinner in a small family restaurant, you can do that,” said Dr. Hilden. “If you want to wait a month or two, that’s fine too.”