Hello, vaccination nation! After months of stir-crazy waiting, then weeks of not being eligible while hearing from your cousins who somehow magically got shots from a unicorn in a snowstorm in Bremerton, pretty much everybody is now on the way to The Less Terrifying Future (knock frantically on wood!). Yes, there are (way too many) holdouts — and don’t forget the COVID-19 variants — to keep our worry/fear level from plummeting disconcertingly. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently decreed that if you’re all vaxxed up, you may wander maskless, at will, in any and all less-crowded streets — and now, head-explodingly, pretty much anywhere!? Feels like time to celebrate, and it is officially OK to gather indoors with other vaxxed or from-a-single-household-low-risk unvaxxed humans! And with going on one-third of the humans of these here United States fully vaccinated (according to Johns Hopkins University data as of this writing), this is exclamation-mark-worthy stuff! Prepare to party!!!
What is this “party,” you ask? It’s been so, so long. Turns out that every human still has a lower part of the front of their head that contains a nose and a mouth. The latter is used for something called “conversation,” which can occur with a person standing way less than 6 feet away from you with that weird lippy thing fully exposed and moving around, making sounds and moving air from inside them toward your own air-holes. A party involves a group of people all doing this together, generally indoors, while touching things and even each other, maybe, and it’s “fun.”
Deep breaths. We can do this, and good manners can help, how feral we’ve all gone notwithstanding. “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others,” Emily Post decreed once upon the Before Times. “If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” Forks! Remember those? Ha-ha! At any rate, proper party etiquette is simply attending to the comfort of others. Others! They still exist and they’re inviting you over!
Let’s look at some specifics of “normal” “party” “behavior,” including some holdovers from yesteryear and some new norms because, as you may have noticed, nothing actually matters anymore.
Do: Feel free to not go. It’s never been more OK to just say no, thanks, I’m not ready for that yet. Overbooking, stressing about social stuff, doing things you don’t want to do — that’s so Back When. Now we’re in the future. We made it! (Knock frantically on wood yet again!) Let’s make it count. Feel 1 billion percent free to do less and enjoy it more.
Do: Bring something to any party you choose to attend. When you ask if you may bring something (and do: ask), the host may exclaim via text, “no just the entirety of your beautiful face including below your eyeballs this is gonna be bananas!?!!! [banana emoji].” Still, bring a thing — it’s just a nice gesture, and it will not go unappreciated. Pretty much anything will do. Cheap supermarket bouquet? One of these goes a surprisingly long way! A loaf of your pandemic-project sourdough bread? Seen it plenty on your Instagram, but sure, great! Something to drink? Yes, this is a good idea!
Don’t: Be right on time. Especially nowadays, allowing a (short) grace period is incontrovertibly correct. Punctuality is important at many times in life, but on a social occasion, one shall give one’s host approximately 10 to 15 minutes past the appointed time to put the finishing touches on the canapés or, nowadays, to scream into a pillow to help vent 14 months of pent-up anxiety.
Definitely don’t: Be early. Even pre-global pandemic, five minutes before the appointed hour would find certain hosts whom one might expect to be more highly organized running buck naked from the shower to hurriedly get dressed. Now, all bets are off (see previous item).
Do: Whatever else you need to feel comfortable! Don’t feel like you have to wear real pants — just your presence is going to be fantastic. But! Do: Dress up if you like! Exciting! You look so great!
Do: Talk more to others, less to self. Discussing any awkwardness is, for once, probably likely to make it decrease instead of increase. Be mindful of others’ space and body language, as you would have them be mindful unto yours. You might be surprised how quickly it feels all right to be so close together, actually indoors! Maybe ask about the best moments of their pandemic. Maybe this is about to be one of them!
Do: Let any neighbors who might have been annoyed by the noise of your party in the past know that said party is going to happen in advance. These days, unexpected noise may cause actual alarm.
Do: Establish the precise parameters of the party in advance, e.g., “We are all vaxxed up, and we’re inviting [insert however many] other all-vaxxed-up humans to a social occasion, indoors, without masks, at our place, and if that is you, and you are comfortable with that, would you like to come? There will be drinks and snacks, all made with very clean hands, and if you freak out, you can totally leave!”
Don’t: Ask your guests to bring anything, even if they volunteer. It’s just nice to provide. And hopefully, they’ll bring something anyway (see “For Guests,” item 2).
Do: Provide your guests with a drink posthaste. Everyone’s more relaxed with their hands wrapped around a refreshing beverage, be it cocktail or mocktail. And while it used to be the going concern to get a guest’s drink for them — at least the first one — now is the time to empower them to obtain their own, if that’s their preference. Have all the available drinks/drinks-makings ready to roll and say, “Here are all the available drinks/drinks-makings — may I make you one or would you prefer to make your own?” Hey, you’re a really good host, making our bizarre new world much more agreeable — thanks!
Do: Serve lots of snacks and gently remind people of the availability of them. Anyone who’s a bit rusty at this party thing (which is everyone) might overdo it (which is OK! See “For Everybody,” first item), and snacks provide a helpful alcohol-cushion. Don’t, however, push it — initially, people may be afraid of the snacks of others. It’s been a long year.
Do: Include hand sanitizer in your snack/beverage spread. Setting aside the notion of “hygiene theater” (which, tied with “fluid bonded,” has to be the ickiest neologism of COVID-19), clean hands have always been a good idea. And, for the foreseeable future, the ol’ antibacterial sauce can provide a slimy, soothing placebo effect. If it smells like chokingly cheap tequila, that’s somehow even better.
Do: Check in with your guests in a new, direct, intentional way. “Would you like another drink?” used to be about the extent of it. Some end-of-pandemic (knock frantically on wood!) host’s inquiries might include: “Are you comfortable?” “Do you need more space?” “Wait, are you hyperventilating?” “Shall we step outside for some air?”
Do: Keep the lighting low. No, lower. We’re not performing surgery here, and some of our grooming may have slipped. No — you look great! I really, actually, completely mean it. It’s so, so good to see you — this has never been more true. [Tears well up in eyes.]
Do: Play music! After the past 117 years in our own heads/headphones, sharing music shall be amongst the most marvelous of our collective joys. And until we can go to shows again, this living room and those speakers and these people, here, together, now, represent a paradise on this Earth.
Don’t: Good lord — we’ve been through so much — nobody needs more don’ts right now. You do you! Wear that mask as long as you want! Nobody minds if you BYOPurell and Lady Macbeth it in a corner the whole time! BYOBlock of wood and knock frantically on wood until your knuckles bleed. You want to have one, or three, too many? Fantastic!
Do: Get consent before hugging. If this sounds snowflakey to you, please note that even pre-pandemic, touching another human’s body should’ve always been approached with the utmost consideration. Now our bodies have been a locus of fear, kept distant from each other for safety, both our prison and our hope in a very messed-up way, for quite some time. Some people will want to hug tightly, at length; some might never have wanted to in the first place and may be currently in full Howard Hughes mode. Respect everybody’s boundaries and at least say “Hug?!” before going in for one. Also, given permission, I am going to hug you so much and also I might cry a little bit.
Do: Feel free to cry. Cry together while consensually hugging! OMG, WE MADE IT!!! Feel the unprecedented gratitude. Tell people you love them. Listen. Don’t stop.
Do: At some point, a little later, turn up the music and dance. Dance like nobody’s watching. Dance like you survived a global pandemic (knock etc.!) and it’s springtime and this moment is all there is and it’s so beautiful to be alive and to be together and now we know what really matters and we’ll never forget that it’s this — it’s this.