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01/19/2023 12:00 AM

Selectively Social

When Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog, pokes his head out of his wintry hidey hole and sees his shadow, he retreats to wait out six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, he looks forward to an early spring.

I can relate. I’m a social groundhog these days. At this time of year when I think about emerging from my cozy nest to meet up with people, I have to assess the situation beforehand, much like Phil does.

How is the weather? Is it bright and sunny or is there a blizzard bearing down?

How do I feel? Do I feel like I might have a cold? Flu? RSV? COVID-19? Something else I haven’t read about yet?

How big of a gathering am I looking at? A few people? Lots of people? Is it worth the sickness threat if there will be a big crowd?

Before the pandemic, deciding whether to do anything social was easy. My answer was almost always a yes. Now I find myself being selectively social.

I go to a large New Year’s Eve party, something I haven’t done in years. It’s complete with full dinner, live music, and dancing. Before I go, though, I think about whether the potential fun outweighs the risk. In the end I decide it does.

New Year’s Eve is rainy and raw. It’s very tempting to snuggle on the couch with a wine and a comforter instead of venturing out into the dampness. But it could be worse out, I decide. The rain comes down steady and fog blankets the roads, but it’s not a nor’easter.

I am feeling healthy. I had the flu a month before and while that was brutal, I’m finally completely cured. Even my cough is gone.

As for the crowd, I know there will be a lot of people there. However, my hope is that with all the air circulation that will be present in the big ballroom, maybe germs won’t have the opportunity to invade my system like Vikings on a rampage. I am also hoping anyone who feels sick will have stayed home.

Could I have gotten any number of viral nasties from going? Absolutely. After years of missing out on things due to forced isolation, I don’t want to miss out on this, though.

Sometimes it feels like there are no good answers.

I’ve talked about this with family and friends. We all agree that this is a lingering effect of the pandemic, this feeling that we need to be picky about when and where we see people.

If I’m feeling well and someone needs to get together for emotional support, I won’t hesitate. Of course, I’ll go. But if it’s a regular, just-for-fun gathering, I may have to take a moment to think.

How long has it been since I saw this person or these people? Should I see them now or hold off until things get a bit better virus-wise?

Where do I have to go in the coming days? If there’s an important holiday or a trip coming up, it seems much better to skip the social stuff beforehand. Is the imminent gathering more expendable than a near-future gathering?

Have I been out and about at all lately? Am I okay or am I feeling socially starved? For me, being with people is necessary for my mental health. I’d never survive as a hermit.

As Groundhog Day approaches, I know I’ll find myself peeking out from my little lair and surveying the situation, just like our old pal Phil. Is the shadow of Covid-19 lurking? Have the virus levels receded at all? Is there something coming up that I can’t bear to miss if I get the flu?

No matter what Punxsutawney Phil sees or doesn’t see on February 2, I look forward to an early spring. Everything is easier in the spring.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at