Just as life was beginning to get back to a kind of normal, we have been thrown back into confinement – leaving those of us who are single and live alone to once again stare into the abyss of mind-bending loneliness and contend with the rollercoaster of lockdown anxiety.
This time, though, Boris has given us singletons a lifeline out of our miserable isolation – and I’m thrilled.
Instead of trudging through parks and streets alone, the new government rules say we are allowed to meet a friend from another household outdoors for exercise. Woohoo! Our very own corona companion.
But while this may look like a bonus, the reality is a potential friendship nightmare; the greatest downside being the selection process. What if the person I choose for my exercise buddy doesn’t want me as theirs?
Social rejection is like being the last one standing in a game of musical chairs. We all want to feel popular, especially in times like these – not embarrassed and hurt by being left off someone’s list.
And there is another problem. Picking your walking buddy is a high stake affair: daily chats at a time when there is nothing going on – not even good weather to talk about – is no easy task. Factor in the absence of a post-walk browse in Zara, or a smoothie stop, and it is beginning to look a bit bleak.
Only last week, I went on a stroll with a rabid corona moaner. She refused to wear her mask in Waitrose, huffed and puffed every time someone glared, and spent the whole walk angrily preaching that “lockdown kills”.
So before you send off your corona buddy requests, it pays to choose wisely:
Do pick practically
This is more about practi-friendship than soulmates. Pre-corona, we would choose our friends for their sparkling wit; now, it is a case of finding out first of all whether they are an anti-vaxxer or pro-lockdowner. The virus has created strange beliefs in people we thought we knew, and your bestie could turn out to be a ‘wedonotconsent’ type, or a self-appointed Covid marshall. Either way, none of us wants to spend our precious freedom slot engaged in a heated discussion about whether compulsory mask wearing is a breach of our human rights.
Remember, this is a walk to cleanse your ragged Covid soul, not an opportunity to gossip about Anne from the tennis club. Of course, normal conversation is bound to reach a wall at some point, probably after you have exhausted the bit about watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Plus it can be entertaining to update your corona buddy about your mutual friend’s imploding marriage – the thrill of schadenfreude when we’re all feeling anxious and miserable is particularly soothing. But not only is it toxic, it is likely to rebound on you when all this is over.
Don’t let your expectations run wild
If your relationship with exercise is ambivalent at best, make sure you don’t end up embracing the great outdoors with a fitness freak. You may be looking to just get outside and have a good walk and companionable chat; she, on the other hand, sees this as her personal outside gym. She will perform press-ups and burpees on the grass, and show off her toned physique. If you’re still trying to lose the last bits of that corona stone, you do not want an hour of fitness oneupmanship. Perhaps consider instead choosing people for whom an amble will suffice.
Don’t pick a hugger
It feels all warm and cosy to hug our friends, especially when you live alone. But the days when we could kiss and huddle together without fear of contagion are over – for the time being at least. Not so for the hugger. They run up to you with open arms, oblivious to the fact they are spraying you with tons of viral load. They have no sense of danger, and having to remind them to keep their hands in their pockets will get tiring.
Do get social media savvy
Finally, you can be part of the Instagram show-offs. Remember lockdown 1 when you were on your own and looking at pictures of friends playing happy families and baking banana bread? Well, now it is your turn. Upload exuberant selfies of you both, posing with sunglasses, lip gloss and puckering up for the Insta-pout. Then airbrush. Everything looks fabulous through the correct Instagram filter – including our dreary lives under a winter lockdown.
Read more: Your ultimate lockdown 2 survival guide
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