As far as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed interacting and conversing with other people. Peers and mentors would tell me I had a “dynamic personality” that would help me later on in life. This must be a positive quality, I assumed, and I refused to give my social ability any more thought than that.
In winter 2020, I elected to attend the University of Michigan. I immediately figured meeting people would be one of the easiest, most enjoyable aspects of freshman year. I was coming off the adrenaline high that was my senior year of high school, reassuring and providing me with newfound social confidence.
One year later, I blinked and realized I had spent the entirety of my first year in college at the same desk, looking at the same view of my subdivision, as I had done for the past 12 years.
The hardest part was not seeing anyone for eight months. I woke up, got a glimpse of my classmates in a pixelated box, ate food, did homework and went to bed. If I had elected to go to campus in-person, perhaps this would not have been the case. I will never know.
When I started my job this past summer on the staff of a local golf course, I quickly realized my new, once-unfathomable reality: I hadn’t socialized with anyone in eight months, let alone 14 soon-to-be coworkers. Once I grasped the situation, the social rust began to show. It’s almost like I forgot how to do the very thing that helped me get to where I am today: talk.
The first month or so at the golf course was rough. Talking to golfers, colleagues and the like, I stuttered, slurred words or — worst of all — would zone out in the middle of a one-on-one conversation. I began to stick to company lines instead of improvising original material. No golfer enjoys being fed the same three sentences from everyone on staff, but somehow that was all I could muster. I was completely lost. What the heck is going on?, I thought to myself. Am I okay?
Frustrated and dumbfounded, I searched for answers. Chris Segrin, a scientist at the University of Arizona with an emphasis in interpersonal relationships, claims that “social skills are like athletic skills. If you don’t practice them for a long time, they atrophy.” Okay, I thought, but why does it still feel like it’s only me navigating this intrapersonal uncertainty? It turns out I wasn’t alone. According to a study conducted by Harvard University’s School of Education, 61% of young adults ages 18-25 reported “miserable degrees of loneliness” during the pandemic. In all honesty, my post-quarantine social sluggishness was not only common, it was perfectly normal.
I’ve never given much thought to the introvert-extrovert debate, because I believe most people are a healthy blend of both. After the past year and a half, however, I’m wondering if we’ve all become introverts, with some of us trying to claw our way back to extroversion again.
Granted, I am just one person, but I continue to wonder if others feel the same way. This summer wasn’t only about getting back to some level of normalcy, but also collectively trying to resurrect the same enjoyment we shared before this deadly virus. Coming into this fall, I am relieved to have gone through a social readjustment in my hometown before arriving in Ann Arbor for the first time. For the record, I did finally learn how to hold a conversation (thank God). I am, like many of you, looking forward to a new year full of great people and exciting opportunities — assuming the delta variant cooperates.
The Office’s Andy Bernard wished he knew he was in the “good old days” before he left them. Fortunately for us, they aren’t over yet. Rather, they’re just getting started, and for that, I could not be more grateful.
Sam Woiteshek is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.