Relationships

That Awkward Moment When They Went For The Hug

Indoor vs. outdoor? Masked vs. unmasked? Here’s how to talk to a friend about what you’re comfortable with when socializing post-COVID.

Two friends walking together in the city at sunset pivot away from a hug. Post-pandemic friendship and post-pandemic dating is marked by awkward conversations about social boundaries.
FilippoBacci/E+/Getty Images

You’re fully vaccinated, but the prospect of an unmasked indoor coffee date makes you want to hide in your bathroom for the rest of your life. With over 50% of American adults having gotten their last shots, an abrupt return to social interaction has meant people are muddling their way through their hangout boundaries in a post-COVID world.

“A vaccinated relative got over-enthusiastic and went in for a hug,” Amanda, 30, tells Bustle. “I’m not vaccinated yet, and I’m pregnant. It was a whole dodge situation, and then she got really offended.”

Technically, the CDC is totally fine with hanging out with no masks if everyone involved is vaccinated, Dr. Robert Quigley, M.D., D.Phil., global medical director of health and security services company International SOS, tells Bustle. But you might not want to go all the way just yet. Someone in the group could be very used to the safety of a mask, or just not ready to eat dinner in a crowded restaurant like it’s 2019.

“As we shift back to our pre-pandemic social norms, it’s important to communicate with those around us about how they feel regarding different interactions,” Derek Richards, Ph.D., a research psychologist, psychotherapist, and chief science officer for the mental health platform SilverCloud Health, tells Bustle. You’ll want to figure out your own limits. If you’ve been fully vaccinated, are you completely comfortable with going back to indoor close-quarters brunch with your equally immune buddies, sharing mimosas? Would you rather keep things outside, or socially distanced, with cute masks firmly in place?

With those boundaries in mind, here’s how to handle that “What are you comfortable with?” conversation, from both sides.

Inside Vs. Outside?

“We have developed strong instincts that tell us to remain 6 feet apart and avoid physical contact, which can feel strange and uncomfortable to reverse suddenly,” Richards says. The process of adjustment, he says, will be very different depending on someone’s personality and what their pandemic was like.

If somebody seems hesitant about an inside meeting, suggest alternatives. Dr. Sachin Nagrani, M.D., medical director of Heal, tells Bustle that while the CDC has now said you don’t need masks indoors if you’re fully vaccinated, crowds are still a risk factor for catching COVID even if you’re vaxxed, and outdoor meetings with ventilation and spacing are a better choice to protect everybody. Maybe you could ask whether your friend would like to stick to a walk on the beach, make a reservation for the patio of an outdoor restaurant, or ask about a venue’s COVID safety policies. Post-pandemic friendships are all about options.

You: “If you’d like to keep things outside, we could go to that great place with the outside seating on the plaza.”

Them: “Thanks, that would really make me feel safer.”

Masked Vs. Unmasked?

While you might be tempted to show up to the park hang sans mask, Richards says, remember that not everyone is on that same level. Err on the side of caution, and then ask specifically about their preferences.

You: “Do you mind if I take off my mask?"

Them: "Actually, I’d rather keep masks on — I’m not vaccinated."

You: “That’s cool! I’ll keep it on.”

Is It OK To Share Food Post-COVID?

Quigley says it’s safe to share food with others as long as you’re all fully vaccinated. But not everybody is going to be completely cool with diving into a shared plate of nachos, and if they haven’t been vaccinated yet, it might be best to keep your tapas separate.

Richards says it’s important not to assume that being OK with one post-COVID interaction means someone is OK with another one, too. “For example, your friend might feel comfortable coming over to watch a movie together, but you shouldn’t assume they’re comfortable sharing the popcorn bowl, too,” he says. And preferences can shift. People might think they’re cool with getting the same plate, but then start to feel weird about it when they see their friend licking their fingers between chips. This is a period of transition, so be understanding.

Them: “Do you want to split a dessert?”

You: “Nah, I think I’ll order my own, thank you. More for me!”

Is It OK To Hug Post-COVID?

Hugs used to be something you’d give without a second thought — but now we’re fully in the second-thought zone. “Be sympathetic when you feel someone is trying to keep distance,” Richards says. Suggest alternatives that don’t make them feel guilty for pivoting away from a full-body squeeze.

You: “Are you down to hug, or shall we stick to a no-touch elaborate wave?”

Them: “Elaborate wave, thank you. Extra spirit fingers.”

Is It OK To Kiss On The First Date Post-COVID?

Dating post-pandemic is not exactly going to be an immediate return to normal. Have you been vaxxed?” is now up with “Do you like puppies?” and “Are you a feminist?” as an essential question. “I’m legit considering asking whether women believe in science before I make any moves,” Suza, 28, tells Bustle. “This is now a thing I worry about.”

Science is on the side of smooches. “When two people are fully vaccinated, the risk of transmission of COVID is extremely minimal doing things like kissing,” Bhuyan says. But if you’re not up for it, be open up front. If you are very much not into tonsil hockey with somebody new, tell them so and set a future date for a makeout. (If you’re not into this new date friend overall, feel free to use it as a convenient excuse to slow fade.)

You: “I’m not kissing anybody right now, but let’s take a rain check until you’re fully vaccinated?”

Them: “Yeah!”

The Bottom Line

These conversations may seem delicate, Nagrani says, but they’re about keeping yourself and the people around you as comfortable as possible. Being honest about whether you just want to cuddle their dog right now, not them, will help you avoid awkward interactions.

Experts:

Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, M.D.

Dr. Sachin Nagrani, M.D.

Dr. Robert Quigley, M.D.

Derek Richards, Ph.D.