The past year and a half brought about an era of extreme isolation. We had to say no to things we enjoyed. No to the cinema. No to the concerts. No to dining out.
This caution and prudence kept us safe. We adjusted our lives to accept “no,” so we could get through the pandemic. This “no” of this past year has been a dizzying convergence of emotions. It has been the smart thing, the prudent thing, the infuriating thing and the depressing thing. “No” defined the early stages of the pandemic.
So, of course, we have all anticipated the return of “yes,” especially with the promise of vaccination. With vaccines, we could finally do things again and feel safe. As a consequence of this pent-up demand, it seems as though we have to say yes to everything now: yes to the coffee date and yes to the concert and yes to the afterparty, all on the same day.
This is good. It is good to say yes to things. We should do things, especially after the year that we all endured. So, we say yes to as many things as possible. There is a certain ecstasy that comes from saying yes to things, from getting back into life, from doing things again. It is exhilarating to go into a city, to go see an art exhibit, to go see a band play.
This fact is true for everyone, but it seems to be truer for those of us in college.
Especially those of us at a university that has not been in-person since March 2020. The lack of socialization, the difficulties brought about by virtual learning and the feeling of being separate compounds for students and ultimately leads to an even greater need to say “yes.”
For those of us who have missed out on some of that experience, the feeling of needing to make up for lost time feels even more urgent. These are, after all, supposed to be our best years. So when we lose out on some of that time, it feels overwhelming and forces us into this constant need to say “yes,” perhaps even more so than others.
As we say yes to everything and try to regain some sense of social normalcy, we engage in this overdrive of agreeing to things. We cannot say “no,” now! But quickly, the social obligations begin to pile up, and suddenly, we are suffocating from the very social pressures we once dreamed about and so desperately wanted. The thrills of being social once again exact a toll, but it seems different now.
The feelings of exhaustion feel more pronounced that as we attempt to make up for lost time (that, no matter how unfortunate, we will never get back), we overextend ourselves to the point of being utterly exhausted, which is only intensified by the isolation of the past year. A year spent isolating has decreased our tolerance for being social.
So we have, at this moment, an extreme want, conceivably even a need, to say yes and to be social, but while those feelings are fully valid, they are also complicated by the reality that our bodies are not physically used to being so social. For the exhilaration of doing things again, we are, in the basest, becoming increasingly more tired.
We should not accept the binary of saying “no” to everything or saying “yes” to everything. That binary is not sustainable at all. Instead, we should focus on balancing ourselves and our time. Say yes to friends and to doing things, but also say no sometimes so as to prioritize your own well-being.
The way to achieve a more balanced life, despite this infuriating paradox, is to return to “no.” At this moment, “no” returns power to us — not to the virus, not to unfounded social pressures, but to our own needs and our own wants. When we center ourselves and recognize that we need a night to binge Netflix or to just go to sleep early, we make ourselves more readily available for social activities.
As we return to campus, as we become bombarded with seeing people again and with the possibility of doing things again, we should proceed with the understanding that we are not who we were two years ago.
Life can be exhausting, especially given the sudden return to a seemingly “normal” college life, and sometimes it is best to embrace the quiet, to embrace the solitude, to embrace ourselves. And, to accomplish that, we have to say “no” sometimes.
Richard Suta is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and political science with a minor in French. His column, "The Suta Slant," runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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