Hold tight folks, things are changing again. And now, even though we’re moving in the other direction, it will require adjustment. Reopening is going to have its own challenges, just as the shutdown did. But they’re going to look a little different.
One of the interesting differences about reopening is that our experiences are going to be more varied. When we entered isolation we were either essential or we weren’t. That, along with support/family structure, determined a lot of what we experienced. But reentry? We have more choices. And, while choice seems positive, it also carries the increased opportunity for comparison and conflict. In short, there is the potential to get frustrated with how others decide to handle this.
For some, reopening couldn’t happen fast enough. It’s not a wish for flippant freedom. There is real distress tied to real needs. Reopening allows them to earn a paycheck, re-open the business that feeds their family or get the “elective” healthcare that alleviates their pain.
For others, reopening is terrifying. Isolation provided comfort as vulnerable individuals faced what the coronavirus could do to them or their families. They do not want others, or the economy, to suffer but they stare at those concerns through the lens of death. This is not a choice. And, it grants us pause should we think anyone is being “too cautious”.
But, as with most things, the majority of us will be somewhere in the middle. We are about to make a bunch of decisions about how cautious we want to be — and make those choices alongside others who may or may not feel the same way.
Per usual, there will be strangers (in-person or media) offering opinions that push against our own. Feel free to engage, listen, or disconnect. This is the more global part of defining our boundaries. However, it is the boundaries we will navigate in our personal relationships that have my attention. Because the weeks, likely months, ahead could be…sticky.
In a pre-COVID world where being with friends and family did not potentially equate with illness or death, we just had to decide if we had the time or desire to be together. It’s not as easy now. Decisions about friendships, family gatherings, play dates, travel, and physical touch are all evaluated with an asterisk. An asterisk that some people put more emphasis on than others.
The central message is this. We want to get on the other side of this mess with our families and friendships intact. And, that will require us to be really patient and empathic when we find ourselves on different pages.
Here’s what those different pages might look like:
- I’m ready for my kids to play with their friends. Their families aren’t ready yet.
- I am not ready to see my neighbors but they asked if we would come over.
- I invited my coworker out to lunch, she says she’s not ready for restaurants yet.
- Everyone else has taken their mask off and I haven’t. I hope they will support me.
- I’m ready to see my grandchildren. Their parents are more cautious.
- My adult children want to visit. I want to see them but I’m scared about my health.
- I want to plan a summer vacation, my spouse is nervous to travel.
- I just want to give my friend a hug, and she would like one but it feels too risky.
The differences are almost inevitable but conflict over them does not have to be. Here are some tips for navigating differences of opinion on the “right” way to reenter.
- It’s okay to share that you have a different opinion and how that makes you feel (i.e. I’m sad I don’t get to see you but I’ll respect where you are). It is going to be less well-received if you insist you are right, they are wrong, or use your emotional reaction to guilt the other party.
- Remember that this experience continues to be temporary. You figured out how to make modifications to stay connected during isolation. It’s worth considering if you want to be in conflict over these differences or continue with the modifications to remain connected.
- Your boundaries, especially if yours are more restricted, are okay. You do not need to feel bad about prioritizing your safety or your health. Be okay with hearing that people miss you and want to be with you. Try not to hear it as criticism. Ask for respect if it is.
- Empathy. People are going to have so many reasons (realized and unrealized) that go into how they choose to reenter. Empathy does not require understanding, it just requires care. I can love you for who and where you are even if it makes no sense to me.
It feels like I have said this so many times already but I’ll say it again, hang in there folks. This is hard. This is long. But, however we want to approach our coming freedom will hopefully not be worth sacrificing our relationships over. Love people. Be patient. Be kind. We will get there.