It Took a Pandemic for Me to Stop Caring About What People Think

Artwork by Andrea Miranda

When I think about the inevitable consequences of having lived through a pandemic for the last year, one of the things that strikes me is how little time I’ve spent around acquaintances. Of course, I’ve made an effort to keep up with my closest friends however I could when we weren’t allowed to meet up in person: FaceTimes, Zooms, serenading them with Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ outside their window in the absence of an apt celebration. Still I can’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia for the random bumping in-tos with acquaintances I would frequently have in my pre-pandemic life, typically vodka-driven in a nightclub smoking area. The kinds of encounters I used to relish were the ones that disarmed you with their potent randomness, like the people you haven’t spoken to in three years but are apparently still silently bound to liking all of your Instagram posts. Even though these accidental meet-ups would rarely go beyond slurred small talk, with conversation not straying far from merely reciting recent additions to your CV or the most compelling headlines from your personal life, something about seeing these sort-of familiar faces was a regular comfort that the pandemic eradicated.

Despite the fact I find myself longing for these catch ups with people I would never catch up with otherwise—in addition to mourning the social skills I have undoubtedly lost over the course of multiple lockdowns—there may be an upside to my social circle shrinking into more of a social polka dot: I really don’t give much thought anymore to how others perceive me.

Obviously I still care about my reputation to some extent—that’s laid out in the terms and conditions of being human. But whereas I used to be cautious of my social media usage, critiquing every post and picture through the hyper-focused lens, now I just post whatever I’m compelled to without a great deal of self-analysis. Whilst I previously saw my online followers as a gaggle of people I know and knew, a jury passing judgement on each and every digital move I made, they now feel like a distant crowd where the only faces I can make out are those whose opinions I truly value.

Artwork by Andrea Miranda

I think a lot of the social media hang-ups people have stem back to school, where you’re constantly surrounded by peers who you know will be talking about anything or anyone that is remotely gossip-inducing to pass the time (and I am including myself in this mob). But as you age up out of school and realistically know that there isn’t going to be a group chat made purely to discuss what one individual posted on their story, it can still be hard to shake this mentality. I finished school over four years ago, but somehow it took a pandemic for me to fully realise that the opinions of people I never see in the flesh really shouldn’t hold so much weight.

When I consider how many acquaintances I probably have, and how many acquaintances they must have, it feels like an absurd waste of energy to spend time filtering myself in regulation with a personal image that I’ve conjured up on behalf of other people. This energy is particularly wasted when these people most likely don’t give me a second thought beyond a quick glance at a selfie or a scroll past a nonsensical tweet.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease and the fantasy of chatting away in a smoking area becomes a tangible concept again, I’ll try my best to maintain this new perspective. Socialising en masse may currently fill me with a high-voltage bolt of anxiety, but I’m honestly looking forward to exchanging giddy pleasantries with people whose faces I can’t even remember anymore—this time without the burden of their imagined judgements reflected back at me.

Article by Olivia Cox