As of this week, Rhode Island’s mask mandate was lifted and is now up to the discretion of businesses, ushering in the chance for some normalcy in social situations.

I attended an event at a beer garden in downtown Providence where masks were not needed, and I am here to tell you that our worst fear has become reality. We must learn how to socialize again, and here is what to expect at your first outing without a mask.

I consider myself a social butterfly, so I am in the category of people who have been champing at the bit to get back to being with friends and family. I just never expected to forget how to act in front of others, and it was painfully obvious the moment I parked my car in the city and walked over to Kennedy Plaza.

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I felt like I was walking under a spotlight as I strolled downtown with a naked face. I walked past several people with masks on and I was overwhelmed with embarrassment as if I was doing something wrong. Gazelle refers to it as "mask anxiety," and it’s absolutely real.

On top of mask anxiety, gear up for the inevitable vaccination conversation.

“Moderna or Pfizer?” was echoed amongst each clique at the tasting. It was amazing to see how the only thing people seemed to feel comfortable talking about was COVID-19. Let’s face it, there isn’t much to catch up on with our friends and family. We have all been home. Be prepared for the COVID convo.

Consider this a warning for anyone who doesn’t like them, but hugs and handshakes are back. After the mask anxiety settled and the vaccine question was off the table, hanging out with good friends was like riding a bike. It felt good to see people again, and that happiness pulsed through everyone there, leading to farewell hugs and prolonged hand shakes at the end. I was in heaven, but my introverted best friend was not.

Normalcy is returning, but be prepared for some hiccups when you step out of your sweatpants and into a social setting without your mask attached to your wrist for the first time in over 12 months.

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