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Gathering With Friends: Are We There Yet?

By Barbara Twardowski for Next Avenue

After more than a year of self-isolation and living like a hermit due to the pandemic, I am eagerly anticipating venturing into the world and resuming an in-person social life. However, now that my husband and I are fully vaccinated, I have already encountered a variety of issues that might stump Miss Manners.

For example, is it impolite to ask someone if they have been vaccinated?

It can be. Some people feel this as an invasion of privacy. Others view it as a political issue and take offense to a perceived challenge of their personal values. For a variety of reasons, talking about vaccinations can be a touchy subject.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued recommendations regarding what a vaccinated person can do, the interpretation of that information and my friends' comfort levels are vastly different.

In my own life, I am trying to navigate the various social boundaries each friend has built to guard her health risk. (I'm using pseudonyms for my five friends described below to protect their privacy.)

Different Comfort Levels

Leslie has had one dose of a vaccine and needs the second. She has resumed eating at restaurants — during off hours and only outdoors. She's also been popping into a few retail shops and has been grocery shopping in person throughout the pandemic. She always wears a mask.

Kay has only left her home for urgent medical appointments: a visit to the Emergency Department and a hospital stay during the pandemic. She also took a 10-day driving trip across the country to attend her son's wedding. Kay is fully vaccinated.

Robin caught the virus a few months ago. She's often flown or driven out of state to stay at her vacation home and to see her children. Because she already had COVID-19, Robin is choosing not to get vaccinated at this time.

Amy begrudgingly wore a mask throughout the pandemic, gathered with groups of 10 outdoors and flew for a two-week vacation. After a bit of vaccine hesitation, she's taken the first dose.

Sally uses extreme caution and is fully vaccinated. The past year, she never ate in a restaurant, had her groceries delivered, worked from home and watched church services online.

Before the pandemic, I would invite these women and several others over for coffees, lunches, cocktails and any other excuse we could find to spend a few hours together; we all live outside New Orleans.

Navigating the New Social Dynamic

Planning a get-together now feels like a macabre high school math problem: "Barbara wants to invite six friends for dinner in her home. Two friends are fully vaccinated, three are mid-vaccination and one is unvaccinated. If they don't wear masks and don't sit six feet apart, how many will be alive and will any still be friends six months from now?"

Organizing any event to accommodate different comfort levels is proving immensely complicated. Leslie feels protected by her vaccination and would accept an invitation to my home — even if the guest list included people who are not vaccinated.

On the other hand, Kay, who is fully vaccinated, will not attend an indoor event even with other fully vaccinated folks. She might be willing to visit with me on my screened porch — maybe. She's waiting for the country to reach herd immunity.

Robin, while unvaccinated, believes her antibodies protect her and will freely gather with anyone.

Navigating this new social dynamic is awkward. My husband joked I should invite everyone and position him as the bouncer at the front door "to card them" – hardly a viable solution.

Right now, I am reaching out to my friends one-by-one to gauge if, or when, they might want to get together in person. I am gently – and with the utmost sensitivity – ascertaining how best to engage with them. I am learning how to accommodate my friends' varying levels of comfort, while simultaneously still trying to figure out my own evolving level.

For the time being, my gatherings will be small and more complex than simply inviting people over and opening a bottle of wine. But that's OK. After more than a year of locking myself up at home, I'm ready to reconnect.

Barbara Twardowski writes about travel, lifestyle and boomer topics from the New Orleans area.

©2021 Next Avenue

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