A period of adjustment

Many of us are in parts of the world that are starting to reopen, and many of us are increasing our range of activities, and starting to socialise with more people. Some of us are coming out of periods of virtual hibernation where we have been very solo and may have really enjoyed (or really hated) having just so much alone time. Others may be coming out of a period of more than usual amounts of contact with nesting or cohabiting partners or housemates. Either way, this is a period of change for many people – particularly in parts of North America and Europe where vaccination rates are relatively high and our COVID cases are going down. It may be months yet before this is a global shift. If you are navigating this shift, this post is for you.

We have been through a period of transformational change. If you want to learn about how this period has affected the world around us you can watch David Aternborough talk all about it in “The Year Earth Changed” – its utterly brilliant and beautifully shot. As well as the world around us, this year has changed all of our relationships. We have been less able to see our friends face to face. We have had to have longer and more involved negotiations about who we spend time with and what we do with housemates, cohabiting partners and anyone we have formed a pod with. We have made ‘common sense’ changes to take account of the new contagion decimating our communities. Whether monogamous or consensually non monogamous (CNM) we are likely to have excerpted more control over our partners, podmates and housemates choices than usual in the last 15 months. Even folks that would NEVER have insisted on knowing their partners / housemates other close contacts are likely to have changed those agreements over the course of the last year or so.

So what now?

It is time to re-evaluate those agreements and figure out whether they remain in line with our values and priorities. Many of us want to experience greater freedom, but we are also scared of contributing to the spread of COVID and that we might be putting people we love at risk. While the evidence suggests vaccination reduces both cases and transmission, it is really new. It is hard to re-calibrate to take account of increasing vaccination and lowering risk profile. At the same time, we want to allow ourselves and each other to have full, active and free lives. We want to encourage our friends, lovers, housemates and partners to engage in activities that bring them pleasure, purpose and connection.

Now is a great time to review your COVID agreements, if you have them, about what information you need to share with your partner / housemates / pod about who you see, what you do with them and in what circumstances. If you have assumptions and norms rather than agreements, its time to have that first conversation to clarify all of that – because otherwise you may feel really betrayed when your partner steps on an invisible landmine because you have different understandings of the unspoken agreements you’ve made. Areas you might want to consider:

Do you need to know when your partner/housemate does or is intending to do any of the following:
Meets outdoor masked (socially distanced)
Meets outdoor without masks (socially distanced)
Meets outdoor masked (not socially distanced)
Meets outdoor without masks (not socially distanced)
Meets indoor with masks
Meets indoor without masks
Goes to a group meet up at someones house
Goes to a restaurant / bar
Goes to a movie / gym / grocery store
Goes to a large event (outdoor)
Goes to a large event (indoor)
Gets a haircut / beauty treatment (masked/unmasked)
Cuddling a new person
Kissing a new person
Sex with a new person
Inviting the new person into your home (masked / unmasked)
Inviting the new person to stay over in your home
Inviting a group of friends into your home

Over the past year you might have had rules about new partners and dating, especially if you’re CNM. It can be tempting to hold onto those for all kinds of reasons, and changing them can be really destabalising. For others it may be tempting to let them all go at once! After all, many of us have an enormous sense of urgency because we simply don’t know what is going to happen next. Uncertainly due to the proliferation of new variants alongside the failure of the global north to share resources fairly makes sense. While this sense of urgency is understandable, it may not be effective for your existing relationships to act upon it.

Holding on to agreements that came about in a once in a century pandemic is unlikely to be the most effective thing for your relationships when the emergency ends – even if changing them is hard. Equally, dropping all the agreements at once can destabalise your relationships in a way that makes them hard to maintain. While it might be frustratingly slow, I recommend easing off your restrictions a little at a time and really checking in about how that feels. It can be really helpful to be curious about whether you feel the same or differently about agreements you have made and the ways they have affected your relationships. If you’re interested in getting back into the dating game, this may mean that you need to slow down the start of new entanglements – and if you’ve read this post from ages ago then you’ll know just how I feel about that!

Given that we are in a moment of major change, asking yourself so clarifying questions that help you to navigate your internal reactions and interpersonal interactions more effectively. Here are some I’d invite you to consider if they are relevant to you:

Questions about yourself:
Has this pandemic changed your relationship to socialising? How? To what extent?
Are there activities you want to do more and less of?
How can you resource yourself to cope with any new social anxiety?
How can you pace your social interactions so that you don’t get burnt out?
How can you anticipate and recognise a social comedown?
How can you give yourself compassion when you’re experiencing a social comedown?
Would it be helpful to set aside time each week or month to revisit how you’re doing with these things?

Questions to answer with people you live with
How are you going to manage communal risks?
Do you have agreements about sharing information or limiting activities?
Do you have a ‘meeting for business’ or ‘RADAR’ type house meeting that gives space to talk about changes?
Do you have ‘sunset’ clauses to any information sharing or activity limits agreed?
Are you taking account of disability / race / other factors in the limits that you are setting, and the unequal way that these may affect different folks in your household?

Questions to consider when begining to date new people or make new friends?
Are you able to share your household’s agreements with a new person?
Are you able to begin a new connection with a conversation about risk levels and protocols?
What kinds of activities feel safe enough for you when you don’t know someone?
Are there any activities that used to feel safe enough but currently (when not with the other person and all the dopamine is flowing) don’t?

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