As New York has inched its way toward reopening, I have spent an increasing amount of time thinking about the weather. Amid the pandemic, my friends and I have all become amateur meteorologists, and the weather forecast is now also the Friendship Forecast. With inside hangs removed from the equation, our social lives have become entirely dependent on our ability to gather together outside. A stormy day means a return to isolation, back to being sequestered alone in our apartments or trying to fill the silences on another awkward Zoom hangout. But a sunny forecast means park picnics, stoop hangs, the possibility of outdoor drinking and dining. Basically: When it’s sunny, we get to have friends.
I like friends. As a result, I find myself obsessively refreshing the Weather Network ahead of each weekend to figure out if I’ll be allowed to have them (and when it tells me something I don’t want to hear, hitting AccuWeather or Weather.com for a second and third opinion). For instance, the other weekend, my group of friends planned to reunite for a socially distanced park picnic. It would be the first time we were all together since the pandemic began. We were going to have a charcuterie board. It was going to be just like old times! But on the morning of the picnic, we could no longer avoid the threat that had been hanging Damocles-like over us all week. 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. … all thunderbolt emojis. Our group chat lit up with speculation. Was a 40 percent chance of precipitation too much of a risk to take? How “intermittent” are intermittent thunderstorms? Ultimately the picnic — and the joys of social interaction — were called off, and I spent the weekend inside playing Zelda and obsessing about whether my cat was mad at me.
It never ended up actually raining that day. But living through a pandemic leaves little room for spontaneity or flexibility, knowing the risk of a sudden downpour leaves no safe options but for everyone to split up and flee for their respective homes, carting Ziplocs full of damp salami. Not the end of the world, but disappointing.
Now I know how brides must feel the week before their outdoor weddings. Every weekend under COVID is my outdoor wedding, and I forgot to shell out for the backup gazebo. All the once-easy acts of friendship maintenance — a quick dinner here, a quick drink there — are now subject to the whims of the dreaded friendship forecast. I can’t tell you how many plans for to-go cocktails with second-tier friends and acquaintances have been suddenly canceled when the skies start to open. And if all the prime sunny days are reserved for my “phase 1 friends,” do my phase 3 and 4 friends even stand a chance? If we don’t find another time to get together before winter, will we see each other at all, or will we have to wait until there’s a vaccine? The weather will only get worse and worse! And will we still have anything in common then, or will they become strangers to us, just another maskless face from the Before Time whose memory we can’t quite place? (It’s been raining a lot lately, which has given me plenty of opportunities to play out these anxious thought spirals from the comfort of my own apartment.)
Also, is it just me, or are the weekdays always 85 degrees and sunny while every weekend is monsoon season? Maybe instead of having weekdays and weekends, we should have rain-workdays and sun fun days. Saturday’s supposed to rain? Great, it has now become a Monday. Wednesday is a scorcher? Take the day off and hit the beach. CC: Vox leadership, I really think this plan could work.
Of course, we’re lucky to even have the option to see friends safely outside right now, due to low rates of transmission in New York, and we should enjoy it while we can. It’s also a lucky, summer kind of problem, one that makes me newly fearful about the winter months, when the Friendship Forecast is going to suck pretty consistently. But it represents one of the many small ways that the pandemic has skewed our interpersonal dynamics and made us newly appreciative of the relative ease with which our social lives once operated.
I’m sure when this all ends, I will still have weather anxiety and way too many weather apps on my phone. But even if rain does ruin my plans, perhaps I’ll be better poised to enjoy the backups — board games indoors, cozy dinners at friends’ apartments, passing greasy popcorn back and forth during a matinee — knowing there was once a time when I would have traded a hundred blue sky days to do these things without a deadly virus hanging over our heads.