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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The curbing of the pandemic in the U.S. means the return of dinner parties, movie dates and brunch. But it also means the return of things you don't really want to do.

What's happening: Many of us spent over a year stuck in our homes by default — not having to decline social engagements we weren't keen on. Now it's time to re-learn the fine art of saying "no."

  • "I don’t know that there’s been another time in modern history that we’ve all had time to go home and think," says Mark Leary, a psychology professor at Duke University.
  • "We’ve realized that there’s a certain portion of our social interactions that were never all that rewarding."

"But now there’s pressure on people to come back out just as there was pressure to stay home," says Rebecca Adams, a sociologist at UNC Greensboro. "We'll have to accommodate more and more casual relationships." And that's tiring.

The big picture: Our brains are wired to maintain a finite number of close social connections — around 15, Leary says.

  • That's why spending the last year and a half with just close friends and family felt comfortable for many of those who could do it.
  • On top of that, many people learned to fill their free time with other hobbies, like cooking or making art or running, and they're not willing to give up those hobbies to make room for more social engagements, especially if they're not very fulfilling.

What they're saying: "There are people at work that are perfectly fine, but I don’t want to talk to you at the copy machine again," says Leary. "I'd rather do anything else."

  • The pandemic is no longer a viable excuse to blow off the friends or acquaintances that you don't particularly care about seeing. And it won't get you out of seeing that weird uncle at this year's Thanksgiving.

The stakes: For introverts or people with social anxiety who isolated last year, the return to normal comes with even more burdens. The pandemic was a respite from the daily stressors of interacting with lots and lots of people, and now they're being called back to work or social functions.

  • "Even people who weren't socially anxious before, a lot of us got really rusty," says Alexandra Werntz, a clinical psychologist in Virginia. "What was normal pre-pandemic is no longer normal for a lot of us."
  • "It’s a shame that people have such a difficult time saying no," Leary says. Try being honest with people and gently explaining to people that you're overbooked or easing your way back into socializing after the pandemic, he says.

What to watch: The pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact on our social lives. Look for people to decrease the number of social interactions they have by up to 20%, according to Leary.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jun 18, 2021 - Health

The dubious return of the handshake

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Handshakes were one of the first habits to go when the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, but with vaccination rates rising, you may find yourself confronting an outstretched hand again soon.

Why it matters: Whether firm or floppy, handshakes were a near-universal greeting in the West for strangers, business contacts and casual acquaintances. As people emerge from their pandemic shell, it's worth considering the act again — or picking up a new habit.

New coronavirus variant gains foothold in the U.S.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Public health officials are renewing calls for COVID-19 vaccinations, as a more infectious variant that can be thwarted with available vaccines is spreading rapidly in the United States.

Why it matters: The B.1.617.2 (or Delta) variant was first detected in India and is expected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. in three to four weeks, some researchers say. If vaccination rates continue to slow, the variant could fuel surges in pockets of the country this fall.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Benefits of J&J COVID-19 vaccine outweigh risks, per CDC data — Why vaccinated America can't turn its back on unvaccinated America.
  2. Health: A reality check on the GOP's push for coronavirus antibody testing — NYC to require COVID vaccination or weekly testing for city workers — Over 50 medical groups call for mandatory vaccinations for health care workers — Savannah reimposes indoor mask mandate.
  3. Politics: Biden: Americans with long-COVID symptoms may qualify for disability resources — Prominent Republicans find new enthusiasm for COVID-19 vaccines — GOP Rep. Clay Higgins says he has COVID for second time.
  4. Sports: Golfer Bryson DeChambeau will miss Olympics after testing positive for COVID— NFL raises vaccine pressure
  5. World: Israel to require vaccine certificates to attend social events.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.