With vaccines on the way, it's likely that 2021 will be much better, or at least more normal, than 2020. But a question remains: Which parts of our pandemic existence will we find most difficult to give up?
I'm not talking here about major social trends, such as working more from home, nor do I mean to minimize the suffering and disruption caused by Covid-19, which will reverberate for years if not decades. I'm referring to the habits and routines we developed as individuals.
I for one will miss the Saturday evening Zoom meeting. Since the pandemic started, I have found it easy to schedule calls at 5:30 or 6:30, even when more than one person is involved. Everyone just says yes. Why not? You're not going out to the movies or dinner. Even if you think Zoom calls are oppressive — especially if you think Zoom calls are oppressive — it is better to have somewhere to put your marginal Zoom call other than 2 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon.
For a lot of people, the blurring of work and private time has been a burden. But I've been living that way most of my life. For the last year, the rest of the world has been forced to adopt my work habits, and I am going to miss it when they return to traditional socializing. I'll still be offering you that Saturday night slot. We'll see how many takers I get.
I also will miss early lunch, a practice also noticed by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Like a lot of people, I miss eating in a variety of settings — not just restaurants or coffee shops, but cafeterias or my desk — so I look for that variety temporally. The early cooking of a hamburger does indeed provide that break in routine, and with lunch at 11, why do I need breakfast anyway?
Have I mentioned that, like many Americans, I have been sleeping longer during the pandemic? In my case it is only about 15 minutes longer, but it's enough reason to accelerate lunch and minimize breakfast. I get less done with that extra sleep, but at this point I am not inclined to give it back, no matter how well those vaccines work.
Restaurant norms are yet another reason for the 11 a.m. lunch — or, for that matter, the 4:30 p.m. dinner. There is one spacious, well-ventilated restaurant where I have been willing to dine inside. But I eat there only when I can start before others have arrived — in this case, 11 or 4:30. As the months have passed, I have noticed more people showing up early, typically walking in as I am leaving. Even as the pandemic recedes, I intend to keep having an early lunch. I wonder if they will, too.
Meanwhile, I am accumulating messes of various kinds and sizes. I no longer clean out my car, for example. Other than immediate family, who is riding with me anyway? I hesitate to make a prediction about how this habit will evolve as people get vaccinated, but right now if my car breaks down I will have a multitude of good books to read. The pile of books and papers on my sofa is also larger than it used to be, as I have had no company and thus no incentive to clean up.
Is my experience unique? Or, once the pandemic is over, might we all move to laxer norms of dress and orderliness? It could be like one of those companies where senior management stops wearing ties and the rest of the office follows suit.
I now think of the house as more of a storage chamber and less of an entertainment venue. That too may persist, as I don't expect those cans of sardines to be run down to zero anytime soon.
I will miss being able to drive virtually anywhere with only modest levels of traffic. I used to treat 4 to 6:30 p.m. as a kind of dead zone when I had to be home or bad things would happen. Now I can be on the road during that time. That freedom will be hard to give up, and I will probably fight it at first, until I get caught in some very bad traffic jams.
Most of all, I wonder how much I have internalized the icky feelings I have developed about certain public events and spaces. I wouldn't think of entering a crowded indoor bar — in fact, the very thought repulses me, as the thought of a steak dinner might disgust a vegetarian. How long will it take for those feelings to go away in a well-vaccinated America?
Covid-19 has brought so many huge changes to society. But in my day-to-day life — and maybe yours, too — the small ones are more noticeable, and could be just as lasting.