The Age of Polite Social Obligations Is Over

The Age of Polite Social Obligations Is Over
If you don’t want to see someone, you can simply…. not! Image:Hulton Archive (Getty Images)

It is difficult to find any real shred of hope or optimism in the world at its current state, as I have tried to every morning since mid-March, but one bright side of the way we live now is this: There’s a pandemic in the air, baby, and that means you should only spend time with the people you love and care about enough to risk it!

As the Spring unfolded and everyone stayed largely inside their homes, other sorts of jiggly obligations piled up in a way that was at first, sort of fun, but quickly grew old. Weekly Zoom calls with people you see maybe twice a year were enjoyable at the outset because of the novelty—the “ha ha, can you believe this shit, man” attitudes as everyone poured themselves another big wine and tried to pretend that all of this was normal. Warm weather and the ability to hang out outside has turned us all into armchair epidemiologists, carefully weighing the risks of sitting in the park near our friends wearing a mask. Everyone’s comfort levels for risk are different, but there’s something nice about knowing that the people you now choose to see are the people you actually want to see—and ideally, they know this, too.

Prior to the pandemic, life was littered with social events that I generally didn’t really want to attend, but knew that I should, populated with people that I liked enough. Appearing at these happy hours or friend-of-a-friend’s birthday parties for one hour, drinking one beverage, and leaving, was an easy way to fulfill the social contract that I’ve created for myself, which states that I am not quite a misanthrope, but am getting closer and closer every day. These obligations are now dead: seeing other people is a health risk. And so, the freedom that comes from simply saying no to things you no longer wish to do is yours.

Obviously, no one really needed this permission in the first place. But a large part of being an adult is doing a lot of shit that you don’t particularly want to because it is the “right” thing to do. Attending your cousin’s baby shower for an hour and a half or swinging by your friend’s casual nemesis’s birthday event for both support and pettiness are two great examples: Things you’d rather not be doing but will because someone you care about has asked you to do so. Now, the key difference is that the events you choose to attend are not in service to an outdated social contract, but to the people in your life who matter.

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