How to thrive in the post-vaccine age

Picture this: you arrive at a venue, confused about keeping your mask on or taking it off, decide it’s fine to do without (you’re all vaccinated so it makes sense, right?), enter (but the mask is still in your hand—just in case) and then wonder how to greet the host. Do you shake hands? Do you hug? Perhaps the elbow thing? Once you’re over the awkward formalities, you find your place in a corner and spend most of the time looking at a phone screen, barely making eye contact, while simultaneously chatting up a storm, unloading a year’s worth of conversation in one evening.

Sound familiar?

If, like me, you spent a major part of last year actively distancing yourself socially and trying to isolate as much as possible before getting the vaccine, then your first forays back into the real world were probably like this. The few gatherings I had to attend during the year, pre-vaccination, didn’t prepare me for this re-entry into society. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing myself in social situations and I appear to have become a neanderthal exiting a cave to encounter civilisation for the first time. All social cues have been lost and several priorities have been changed.

I must force myself to maintain eye contact during a conversation and must practically beg myself to resist the urge to scroll on my phone while around company. Most of my social interactions now comprise of showing my friends all the memes I’ve stored in my phone over the year. Speaking to others about this made me realise that I’m not alone in this. Many of us feel that we need to re-educate ourselves when it comes to socialising.

Man truly is a social animal. A few months of isolation and we’ve forgotten how to behave. I always used to wonder why people marooned on islands in movies (Castaway, Robinson Crusoe, etc.) would always end up acting oddly. This past year gave me the answer. I’m pretty sure someone somewhere is already doing a study to analyse our behaviour during the pandemic.

In case you’re struggling with these social cues, then ease into your interactions. Meet up with a smaller group of people first; go out on walks (when the weather permits); make a conscious effort to put your phone on the side and have real conversations; dress up (it’ll make you feel good, trust me!); don’t feel guilty if you need to cancel on someone; and most importantly, make sure you’re checking in on your mental health.

Not all of this has been bad though.

While spending time removed from society has temporarily diminished my ability to be my usual gregarious self, it has also allowed me an invaluable opportunity to truly be comfortable in my own company. Last year a wise friend of mine proclaimed, “Social isolation will be hard for most people, because they can’t stand themselves.” I saw this play out on social media repeatedly. Many flouted strict curfews just to escape being alone. Author Jules Renard once said, “Being bored is an insult to yourself.” And I agree whole-heartedly. Coming out of isolation I have learnt that there are depths inside me I have yet to explore and ideas I have yet to uncover. However, it has also taught me another crucial lesson that is going to form the mantra for my ‘social animal 2.0’: putting myself first.

It seems simple at first, but this basic tenet of well-being is one that we frequently dismiss out in the ‘real world’. Granted there are times when you must put the needs of others before you but finding joy in focusing on myself is one thing I’m not letting go of. Time to reflect inwardly has shown me what my priorities in life are and what they ought to be; who I want to spend time with; how I want to live my life; what I want to expend energy, time and money on.

The pandemic is not even close to being over—with the Delta variant on the rise and the disparities in vaccination rates across the world—yet it appears that the time has come to venture back into the world, lest we forget how being ‘human’ feels like. Restrictions are being lifted, even as caution is recommended. Re-entering into the folds of society brings back with it all the anxieties and stressors from the time before our world changed; it also brings opportunity to change who we are and emerge as a new kind of social animal.

Dear reader, I urge you to join me in personal introspection and truly understanding what that means for you. Last year when we shut ourselves indoors, we were bombarded with statements telling us to grab this opportunity and slow down, to enjoy things we didn’t normally have time for. Now, as the fog of the year rolls out, it’s time that we make conscious choices of who we want to be. I’ve made a little checklist to help you with that:

  1. Relationships: Are you happy in your various relationships? Do you need to build bridges or rebuild them? Or will simply letting go of toxic ones be in your best interest?
  2. Work: Does it serve your needs beyond just the financial? Are you fulfilled?
  3. Purpose in Life: The grand question, I know, but if you’ve been lucky enough to survive a pandemic, this question deserves some serious consideration.
  4. Bucket List: Make a list of all that you planned on doing and now get started with it.
  5. Health: Focus on your mental and physical health—I cannot emphasise this enough.

The Social Animal 2.0 should be someone who puts themselves first, is kind and empathetic to others, is focused on their own goals and can reduce the pessimistic noise around them. The Social Animal 2.0 is one that truly understands the ‘social’ aspect of being human and leads with compassion. It’s one life, and if we’ve been lucky to survive the worst of the pandemic, we owe it to ourselves to make it count.

You want to scare a Pakistani man? Say the magic word: feminism.

Credit: Nazuk Iftikhar Rao from Aurat March 2020

Over the years, this innocuous word that stands for the equality of all human beings has been equated with moral depravity and the decline of society. We see this more prominently in patriarchal societies, where women rising up to demand their rights is seen as vulgar, propagandist and even calamitous (women in jeans are the reason why earthquakes happen right?).

However, I’m not here to reiterate common knowledge. It is not news anymore that the word feminism and its basic meaning has been turned into something filthy—a plague that all ‘good’ women should avoid. We all know that we live in a society entrenched in myopic views and we are all aware of the slew of hatred and abuse that women receive on a daily basis. Whether they’re organising the Aurat March, or reporting harassment at the workplace, their demands are contorted and twisted. In the case of sexual crimes, the victim, mostly the female, is slut-shamed and victim-blamed. This isn’t the worst of it though—the worst are the supposed allies, the performative woke men and the ones with who carry the mantle of #notallmen.

Barely a second after a woman, fed up of the system that’s continuously stacked against her, decides to voice her opinion of men, relay an incident that she’s experienced or bash a man for his atrocious behaviour, a barrage of #notallmen is offered up. This is where the problem lies. Cisgender, masculine men are the most privileged of our society, yet are immediately threatened when someone exposes one of their lot. They run to defend the entire group of them, but for what? Many it seems, want to provide hope for the victims; that there is a world of decent people out there. But, how does this help a person who’s been through the worst at the hands of a man? What men should be doing is stop feeling so insecure and own up to the gross failings of other cisgender men; they should hold them accountable and actively encourage a relearning of their behaviour towards women. Sadly, the majority of the #notallmen crowd is a long way from that sort of reformation.

I, therefore, would like to focus more on the ones who are woke because it’s cool, the performative allies, whose allyship remains on the surface at best. Additionally, there are many who label themselves as feminists, but are always looking towards others to guide them along. So if your feminism as a man is a bit suspect, here’s a refresher on how to fix it, in no particular order (I’d like to thank writer, comedienne and radio jockey Sabah Bano Malik for her input):

  1. Educate Yourself: the burden to explain what feminism is about, the problems women face and the road to a reformed society isn’t on the affected party. Don’t expect them to sit you down and expend emotional labour to explain to you what you need to be doing. Do a simple Google search. There are plenty of resources out there that will inform you of the issues at hand.
  2. Listen: when women are talking, it is imperative that you listen to them without judgement. Believe them when they tell you about their problems or the abuse they’ve experienced and then listen to them when they tell you what needs to be fixed. Do not, for the love of God, try to minimise their trauma or lived reality and do not offer any other variation of #notallmen.
  3. Use your Privilege: It’s not enough to simply show up to feminist rallies and tweet your opinion on the matter, feminism starts from home. Look around you, see what’s happening with domestic staff and their rights, see if you’re being given extra love due to being a son, observe your friends and call out their misogynist behaviour and educate them. If you can’t use your privilege to create opportunities and a safe environment for the oppressed, then your feminism is futile.
  4. Follow their Lead: Never mansplain. If you think you’re in fact more informed or educated about a certain topic, then find a courteous way to highlight that. Do not talk down to women when they’re discussing solutions to problems they face. If they say x is a problem, then it is a problem—even if you weren’t previously aware of it. Let the ones affected by the patriarchy define what change they want to see.
  5. You’re Not Always Required: There will be times when a feminist discussion or forum will be held where you, even a well-meaning individual, will be excluded because you’re not a woman. Do not complain, do not fuss and remember: it’s not about you. Women need spaces where they can feel safe. So don’t impose on such gatherings.

A few other things to keep in mind are:


l               Do not expect a badge or medal for your efforts, or even a reward

l               Be intersectional in your feminism (look it up)

l               Being a feminist to get a girl’s attention makes you the opposite

l               It’s not about you

l               Constantly analyse your own behaviour


I spoke to friend, journalist and fashion stylist Haiya Bokhari and she stated that the first thing men should do is to learn empathy. She says, “It’s difficult to empathise with anyone else if you’re suppressing your own emotions. Before men can embark on a journey of becoming allies, they must be able to look inside and have difficult conversations with themselves.” This is incredibly true. Men need to realise that the patriarchy is also damaging to us and our own development. Learning to be in touch with our own emotions isn’t weakness; toxic masculinity and fragile egos must go.

And as Sabah said to me, “Acknowledge that a divide exists, acknowledge that the world is different for women and girls and non cisgendered males. Acknowledge your privilege and don’t make excuses.”

Because the fact of the matter is, till the patriarchy survives and cisgendered men reap its benefits: #yesallmen


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