Since March, I’ve gotten into the habit of observing large groups of people who (still) get together to socialize. The ones huddled up in enclosed spaces have been especially fascinating to me; they share drinks, laughs, viruses, and all types of things that make the world go round (the wrong way). It’s like they live in a utopian vacuum, unaffected by the current state of affairs, these hedonistic humans ready to ravage the world for short-lived moments of entertainment. Fun is at the forefront of their minds.
I told myself all sorts of things to justify my own seclusion. I recited phrases applauding myself for how responsible I was, how I was the modern-day Mother Teresa, how I was (single-handedly!) ridding the world of this terrible disease.
It was all good and well until the self-congratulatory statements had to stop, and I was reminded of my situation. I was (and still am) studying abroad, in my first year of a Master’s program whose classes are held online. I didn’t know anyone, and no one knew me—and Zoom banter can only take one so far. (Believe me, I tried.)
I started wondering: would it be so bad if I met up with a large group of people? Everyone’s doing it and the damage is already done, so why not? I can at least claw my way out of isolation and enjoy some form of human connection while I’m at it. These twisted—yet somewhat rational—questions led me to a haunting catch-22. I could either stay at home and dig my own mental grave of FOMO and loneliness, or I could go out and, bluntly put, dig someone else’s grave for them. It was a somber realization.
The more I thought about it, the harder it was for me to understand why people struggled to understand the gravity of the situation. I’m no Einstein––oftentimes far from it––but I know common sense when I see it. So when I looked outside my godforsaken window and saw weekly frat parties across the road, I had to sit down and take a breather. All I could think about was how low these people’s IQs had to be.
My inner Karen was unleashed and there was no going back. And she was just as bitter as she was outraged. She was the type of Karen who would complain about the “skimpiness” of this generation’s fashion sense while deep down hoping she could still pull it off.
Secretly, I wanted to lack just as much self-awareness as those frat boys; ignorance truly seemed to be bliss.
The envy my inner Karen harbored became too much, and I succumbed to my need to socialize. I’m not proud of it, but I recently met up with a group of friends. I’ve been a complete and utter hypocrite. The realization that this may be our new status quo scared me. If this is our new normal, I was bound to relapse and readopt elements of my pre-COVID life.
Meeting up with a larger group of friends for the first time since the start of the pandemic, I noticed how taboo and tension-filled social meet-ups had become. Whenever the topic of people’s social lives came up, everyone got stiff and proper. The topic was tread very carefully. Everyone struggled to verbalize how they’d been social-distancing up until that point, or how they’d only been seeing people sporadically since the start of the pandemic. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to keep up appearances—convincing one another of our selflessness, despite our blatantly contradictory actions.
What we hoped would be a temporary situation has now become the standard. We are eight months into what feels like an eternal pandemic, and people have decided to reintroduce pre-pandemic habits to their lives. What was once the moral high ground of selflessness is now seemingly useless; the collective has disbanded into separate individuals catering to their own needs.
While the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to peek through, we still have a long way to go. With the lines of social ethics being blurred and no global solution in place, it’s bound to get worse before it gets better. It may take a while until we return to life as we knew it before.
At the end of the day, the radical and sustainable change we’re so desperately looking for is highly unlikely without a vaccine. The frolickings and carelessness of many are the result of worn-down enamel; gritting our teeth in isolation is no longer possible. We’re attempting to transition and adjust to a World War Z-like standard, dabbling with the possibility that this is no longer a short period of sweating bullets.
The stints of (limited) social freedom coupled with lengthy periods of government-enforced quarantine have bathed us in confusion. Each and every one of us is coping the best way we can, and berating one another only adds salt to a collective wound carved by a million deaths worldwide.
By Derya Yildirim