by Hayley Doyle
A month of fresh starts and new beginnings.
It starts with a bang! All corners of the globe welcome it with grand celebrations and raise a sparkling glass on arrival. But no sooner has everyone dusted off the cobwebs with a long walk and a selfie to post on Instagram, the moaning begins. Nobody wants to go back to work. Nobody wants to hit the gym and yet everybody hits the gym regardless. Nobody wants to go near their favourite treats or…people. Quick, hide! Wake me up when Dry Jan is over! It’s extreme. You’ve gone from decking the halls to diving under the duvet. You’re stripping your enjoyment away, and for what? Punishment? So, you overindulged a little. You should be patting yourself on the back for enjoying your life, not serving a self-appointed sentence.
Quiet time is wonderful when it’s truly what you want. But if you’re shying away from seeing people, because you feel like you should - because it’s January, then maybe it’s time to rethink your hibernation. The post-Covid world has left us with many itches and scratches when it comes to socialising. We’re still recovering. When we were immersed in the thick of it all, we had no choice but to stay in. We couldn’t say no to going out. There was no going out. Inevitably, this has created a flaky society. And on top of this, the digital world is moving so fast that most of us struggle daily to keep up. Getting “stuff” done on our phones is taking priority over, well, everything. We’re using screens more and more, whether by choice or necessity, and this takes up so much time that we’re as drained as the battery on our device. What happens when we encounter an opportunity to meet real people? We say, No.
I started giving this a lot of thought in the build up to Christmas. I’m a festive junkie. Love all the twinkly lights and cinnamon scented candles, rewatching Home Alone and Santa Claus: The Movie and sure, I still believe. But I get frustrated with online shopping; how can something that is designed to make our lives easier, actually cause so much stress and become so time consuming?! Gone are the days of going Christmas shopping with a pal or a partner. You’d meet up early and make a whole day of it. You’d shop for everyone and drop your bags for a well-earned lunch in a place bursting with bustle. Now, our WFH-life is interrupted with doorbells and deliveries. Our inbox is overwhelmed with tracking and ratings and… oh, the phenomena that is WhatsApp groups.
From old school friends to the uni lot, from mum-mates to ex-colleagues, every gang attempts a get together. Dates get thrown around. Who can do this. Who can’t do that. Who doesn’t reply. Who’s too pushy. Then, the group goes silent. Nobody reaches a definite answer. Is everybody secretly wanting it not to happen? It’s easier just to stay in, right? I remember having these chats last year, and the year before, and the year before, and the dreaded C-word came along and destroyed any plans we tried to make. We’ve grown so accustomed to things having to change or be cancelled at a moment’s notice that it’s totally normal for us to be super noncommittal. And the result? We don’t go out anymore.
I recently attended a friend’s birthday drinks. She invited ten people; only four showed up. It turned out to be a wonderful evening, with lots of hilarious and intimate conversations, and before we knew it, we were gutted it was time to book an Uber home. Still, my heart ached when I saw my friend at the start of her birthday party, gratefully hugging those who’d made it, but disappointed at the empty seats in the pre-booked area. The reasons were all genuine, all standard. Toddler won’t settle, so ‘have a stiff one for me!’ That niggling cough is playing up, so ‘it’s honey and lemon and bed tonight, sadly!’ Zoom calls going on longer than anticipated, in fact, ‘I’m still stuck on a call…help!’ I have to admit, I did not feel like going out that night. I didn’t know the others attending and I really fancied a night on the sofa with The Crown. But I went, and like I said, wonderful. What a brilliant night and with such lovely, brilliant people. I crawled into bed afterwards belly full (loaded fries, arancini…) but light as a feather, a weight lifted from all the real-life chit-chatting.
As we approached the festive season, mixed feelings resurfaced around a work do. Some love ‘em. Some hate ‘em. But when you’re self-employed, there ain’t a do to love or hate. Being firmly in Camp Freelance, I’m always a little blue seeing everyone doll themselves up in red, prepping their OOO in advance for the following morning because they’ll be dancing on tables with so-and-so from Accounts. You see, even if the office Christmas party isn’t your vibe, you still go. You still get out. You still interact with human beings and get to cling onto a world that’s digitally slipping through our fingers. I was part of a few freelance groups that had a crack at organising a party, or at least a gathering. But every active WhatsApp chat came to a predicted standstill…excuses and drop-outs, promises to ‘be there next time’ and pleas to ‘keep me posted.’ Because nobody felt obliged to be there, nobody committed to the cause. Myself included. I was all guns blazing, hell yeah, I’ll be there! From that moment on, it was a downwards spiral into a ‘sorry, not gonna make it after all.’
Would this have happened yesteryear? Or am I being swept into a cloud of nostalgia? Has it just become too easy to say, ‘No’? It’s complicated. Mental health awareness has come on leaps and bounds, and in that sense, what a time to be alive. Progress is being made to understand healthy boundaries. Saying, ‘No’, can be vital. It can be an act of self-care. But for many, has it become a default go-to? I think back to university, before social media existed, and you had to go out to meet people. From the pub to some student’s grotty flat, there was a party every night. I made lifelong friends who, decades on, are like family to me. Would this be the way if we had spent most of our socialising texting?
So, hello 2024. You’re brand, spanking new. Who knows what you’ve got to offer. We might decide to stay glued to our phones, bingeing box sets and getting annoyed with ourselves for lacking the motivation to do a YouTube workout in the living room. But what about if we splash a bit of cold water on ourselves and meet up with that friend without cancelling on them last minute? Could we start having dinner parties again? Can we normalise saying no to technology and yes to people? Don’t overthink it, just go to the party. People have birthdays in January, too.
January deserves better.
And so do you.