The five people we’re least looking forward to bumping into now lockdown is ending

After a year of dramatically constrained and largely housebound lives, we are roadmapping our way out of

After a year of dramatically constrained and largely housebound lives, we are roadmapping our way out of this mess with delirious optimism. Restrictions are easing, families are reuniting, groups are gathering, and pubs are opening. We can finally, and legitimately, escape the people we’ve been cooped up with. It’s all a complete joy, isn’t it?

Except when it isn’t. Sorry to be the Roadmap Grinch, but there’s a flip side to life returning to normal. It’s all very well rhapsodising about the people you’ve missed – what about the ones you haven’t? Unlike a group of six friends, you can’t choose which foes you’ll run into as you venture, cautious and blinking, out into the bright light of the Next Normal.

Here are five likely culprits – and how to handle those inevitable awkward encounters.

1. The Ex

Initially, lockdown was a salve to a broken heart: we were literally being ordered to stay home and drown our sorrows in whatever was to hand, be that Netflix, gin, or ice cream.

But reality bites and terrifyingly, you started to notice on social media that other people were using lockdown to become better versions of themselves: Pelotoning their way to buffness, or squatting their way to buns of steel.

Panic set in: what could you do but self-medicate with more wine? Even the news that salons were reopening failed to penetrate your haze – and any chance you had of securing that all-important appointment has disappeared faster than a giant bar of Toblerone.

So here you are, at the pub with your friends, who have rallied round with assurances of how great you look (you don’t) when – guess who walks into the beer garden? That’s right, it’s your ex, looking hotter than ever, thanks to the gut-sinkingly apparent fact that they’ve been a Lockdown Improver. In fact, if they deign to come over and say hello to you, they will probably do so in Russian, one of the five languages in which they’ve achieved fluency since March 2020. Worse still is when they don’t come over and say hello to you – in any language – because you are now an unrecognisable version of your former self.

More wine?

The advice: “Only entertain conversations with them if it is absolutely necessary,” advises BACP therapist Shile Ismaila.  “It is absolutely okay to say no. Never take anything personally and do your best to be cordial – but know your triggers and where to draw the line.”

2. The Frenemy

There’s a reason why [insert Frenemy name] never factored on any of your “rule of six” lists and that’s because you basically can’t stand them – but they are part of your broader friendship group/ such a laugh/ don’t mean anything by it/ just take a while to get to know.

All of this is complete nonsense, of course: you have got the measure of The Frenemy and know that they are pure saccharine-coated venom. It’s been a lockdown boon, not having to endure their appraising top-to-toe glance followed by a loaded “you look …well” and their casual recognition of the fact that your new Zara top is “SO nice … I was tempted when I saw it on the sale rack the other day … but it’s really best suited to someone much curvier than I am…”

The Frenemy will be delighted to see you. It will give them the opportunity to remark on how long it’s been, how “…. well” you look and how wonderfully their offspring have sailed through lockdown. They will simultaneously express concern for the fact that one of your children has spiralled into delinquency – something they heard from a mutual friend, although (cue lowered eyelids) they don’t want to say which one, in case it causes trouble – but they’re just all really there for you.

Having also not seen you since you turned 47 in September 2019, they will also excitedly say “Fifty next year, yay!” thus completely, and maliciously, dismissing your next 18 months.

The advice: “Take an assertive position,” says hypno-psychotherapist Andrew Pearson. “Remind yourself exactly why you keep this person on the outskirts of your life. Own that decision and be comfortable with it. This will help you to make eye contact, smile politely and convey the message that you are entirely comfortable with yourself and your decisions.”

3. The Tricky Relative

It’s been dreadful, not being able to see family, hasn’t it? Gosh, Christmas. Utterly inhumane, that whole business. It’s unlikely that any of us will ever forgive Boris & Co for depriving us of the opportunity to get leered at by Aunty Jill or groped by Uncle Baz. Shocking that we didn’t have to endure the passive-aggressive antics of an in-law. Awful that we swerved the sister whose self-perpetuating dramas have deprived us of our parents’ love and attention for about 30 years now.

Well, fear not, chaps, because you’re about to see all of these rays of family sunshine again. Why wait until Christmas when we have a whole Summer of (Familial) Love to look forward to?

So fire up the barbecue … someone there will be able to tell you how you could do it better. Make a Victoria Sponge! There will be someone at your gathering who can advise you on the best way to add the eggs (one by one, for maximum ‘lightness’ FYI) and who will refer to your lactose-intolerance as a ‘fad diet’ whilst acknowledging, sympathetically, that weight is hard to shift once you reach a certain age.

Honestly, it’s going to be so super fun – and, best of all, Christmas 2021 is yet to come.

The Advice: “We’ve all got one or two relatives who always seem to make you feel like you are walking on eggshells,” says mentoring expert Sarah Noel. “Protect your soul; don’t engage in any conversation that’s going to drag up any form of debate – and don’t be afraid to walk away.”

4. The Toxic Work Colleague

If you’ve been WFH, have you ever paused for thought, mid-typing, gazed into the middle distance and then had the shock of realising that something isn’t right?

You glance anxiously around the room – nope, that pile of unfolded laundry is still there, the unwalked dog is still glaring at you, your toddler is still coated in yesterday’s organic rusk – what could possibly be wrong?

And then you realise what’s missing – it’s the beady eyes of the colleague who used to sit opposite you in the office, observing your lapses of attention and swiftly emailing another colleague about them – a fact that only became apparent when you’d analyse why it was that your mental images of a summer holiday, new kitchen or Ocado delivery were disturbingly entangled with their faces.

Office interaction has been sorely missed by many, but there are water cooler aspects to the day that we would have appreciated the absence of more, had we had the foresight. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, no – but nor do you realise what you’ve been relieved of until it comes back.

Look forward, in particular, to the kind words of the colleague who refers to your furlough as a ‘paid holiday,’ sympathises about how difficult it is to ‘get back on your game’ and humble-brags about their promised promotion.

The advice: After a year of quietly working from home it may be a big change going back to sitting in an office,” says therapist Yasmin Shaheen-Zaffar creator of the Angry Tent. “Suddenly the smallest of things might start to annoy you. One of the most important things is to recognise the signs of getting frustrated rather than trying to ignore them. That way there’s more of a chance of you being able to react in an assertive manner, rather than letting things build up and losing control.”

5. The Lurker

Oh hello. You – again.

Some people have an uncanny ability to ‘pop up’. Over the course of lockdown, they’ve been a constant presence in your life, primarily by way of Instagram likes and Facebook comments. They appeared to have an enormously vested interest in everything you did, even if what you did was, like much of the rest of the country, precisely nothing but wallow in empty crisp packets.

When you were able to summon up the energy, you muted certain notifications and replied with a bland ‘like’ (rather than ‘love’, or ‘hahaha’) to their comments.

Real life interactions afford no such luxury. Walking your dog in a crowded park? Expect the lurker to appear just as your dog tries to disembowel a squirrel. Dropping the children at school? The lurker will be jazz-handing in front of you and suggesting coffee, just as you dash for the gate. Back on the train on the way into work? The lurker will be trying to make eye contact with you over their mask and newspaper. Having a mate rib you about how unfit you looked when exercising the other day? They didn’t see you: your lurker did – and reported back to everyone.

Re-familiarising yourself with the proximity of office politics – or even just where the kettle is? Don’t worry, the lurker will be more than happy to take you by the arm, with a running commentary that will have you grinding your teeth – at the dentist’s appointment for which, the lurker will, by some inexplicable coincidence, be in the waiting room.

The advice: “After the year we’ve had, one would hope that we would’ve opened our hearts to some compassion and humanity towards our fellow human beings – but it doesn’t mean to say that annoying people cease to be annoying!” says life coach Carole Ann Rice. “Remember though – none of us know what someone else’s story is, what they’ve been through, their losses, their gains or how they see things. You don’t have to like them – but you can take the higher ground being tolerant, forgiving and deciding to disengage from negative feelings.” 

Are you dreading the return of awkward encounters as lockdown restrictions ease? Tell us in the comments section below

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