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Some musings on Melbourne’s post-lockdown freedom anxiety

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NIKOLA DUKIC

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

“FOMO is a farce. Don’t let it consume you.”

I’m slightly sleep deprived and nursing a mild sangria-induced hangover. It’s all very nostalgic. My hangover is the breed that makes midday feel like midnight and arvo naps seem non-negotiable.

I’m extra angsty and an arvo Maccas jaunt is inevitable. I sipped my way through the last two nights of society re-entry and the inebriation, commotion and elation of being in the throng of it all again were divine. 

Freedom to flit about Melbourne again with our mates is fucking fabulous. But it’s also a frenzied free-for-all like no other. Making dinner reservations and booking brow tints are now akin to competitive sport, favouring the Virgos and very-organised among us. 

It’s all really coming up Milhouse, and I’m fully booked for the next five years. But I am intensely overwhelmed and suddenly overtired at the same time.

Yesterday’s return to al fresco dining saw me eating halloumi chips off an actual ceramic plate, guzzling coffee from an actual glass, speaking to strangers with reckless abandon and leaving my handbag in the Uber home. Also, what is the mask-wearing etiquette when you’re out for a feed and have had a few?

Against a backdrop of flashing blue and red police lights (in lieu of strobes), I witnessed a flock of mulleted, bedraggled looking 12-year-olds (who were in fact of legal drinking age) get into a brawl outside a local bayside bar over a stolen Taco Bill hat. ‘Sensational people watching,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is what I live for. This is what I’ve missed.’

Yet, at the same time, I was hankering for a good eight hours of beauty sleep and my skincare regime to ensure I could reboot before the next few nights of party rocking. Spoiler: this did not happen.

I am ecstatic, I swear. But between now and my 8.15pm dinner reservation for steak frites (!!) tonight, I have a nap in order, a script to collect, a nail appointment to attend (woe is me!) and emails to write before I even contemplate WHAT TO WEAR.

All my shoes are screaming at me for the love and attention they deserve, but I must break it to them that a burgeoning blister on my right toe from last night’s mules means a sombre surrender to sneakers again. 

Feeling rather lacklustre but determined to refund one of my many impulsive online iso purchases, I made the pilgrimage to Chadstone Shopping Centre this morning.

My last night out has resulted in yet another UTI after a spontaneous late-night IP (intimate partner) encounter, and I have copious deadlines today that I am not across (for the first time in six months). Navigating people in the wild is now such an unfamiliar affair.

The traffic is suddenly bumper-to-bumper, my ability to converse with strangers is being tested and my phone is pinging with immense urgency. I have made so many bookings in the last 72hrs that my diary needs a diary.

Corralling various crews of friends, strategically mapping out a location to dine at and then assessing the myriad booking caveats is both exhilarating and draining. How did we do all of this back in the day? And by the day, I mean 2019. 

Like any good afterparty, Melbourne’s gradual return to freedom is full of drunken fuckwits, long lines, heaving crowds, and a feeling that nobody wants to go home anytime soon. We’ve also got this weird en masse, universally shared elation, so everyone’s just ready to have a bloody good time. Wherever you go, the desperation to get jiggy with it is as potent as YSL Black Opium at Arbory Afloat.

I’m sure we’ll all be feeling freedom fatigue on a spectrum. Some will thrive as true creatures of the night with unlimited energy supplies and prolific planning prowess. But others will, naturally, find the comeback a little bit more confusing. On announcement day, I spoke to a few teary friends grappling with gushing excitement and grizzly, twirly tummies. 

When your senses have been deprived for so long, playing calendar tetris with plans and social circles can get you a little hot and bothered. We’ve all been pining to party, picnic and parade about town again, but this sense of ‘liberty anxiety’ post-lockdown is lingering in the air, swirling with the sweet scent of victory.

It’s only a few days in, but I’ve figured out there’s a running list of post-lockdown etiquette and attitudes that we can all heed a little caution to, to lessen the likelihood of freedom anxiety in this pretty, unbridled city:

  • Bookings should be made with the mantra of quality over quantity. 
  • Be wary of your table limit times and grace periods. You will be booted out after two hours sharp at most establishments. 
  • Your body is not used to bar-grade cocktails, treat it accordingly. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • FOMO is a farce. Don’t let it consume you. Get rid of Instagram on any upcoming Friday or Saturday night you’re tempted to spend at home.
  • Your ‘you time’ is still sacred and still a rite of passage. Channel it into new solo pursuits, like a back massage or a mani.
  • Get a tangible diary. Like, now. And actually fill it out with your myriad reservations, appointments and reminders, because you will forget things.
  • Just because it’s time to riot, doesn’t mean it’s wrong to say ‘no’ if you maxed your outings quota for the month. Just note: a lot of places are flogging hefty 24-hour cancellation fees. 
  • The dating apps are carnage. Singles, go slow and steady as the entire toey population of Melbourne revives their snoozed profiles.
  • You’re not as socially inept as you think you are. It’ll all come back to you after you say “You too” to a barista after he tells you to “Enjoy your coffee” a few times.
  • We’re making a comeback for a good time and a long time (hopefully), so you don’t have to do everything at once.
  • Picnics are still a vibe. If there’s nothing available on OpenTable, sprawl out onto a rug by the Yarra. 
  • If you’re just not vibing it (whatever it may be today), head home early. Don’t beat yourself up for voluntarily re-entering house arrest for a night, a day, or a weekend, if you just need to catch your breath for a sec. 
  • Don’t be the one that has to go home early. Be COVID-safe to avoid further 2020 clusterfucks.
  • Keep your priorities in check and work your fun, new plans around them. 
  • Dress up for the sake of it! Even if you’re just going down to the local pub in a pair of pink cowboy boots, a fresh blow-wave and a mini dress you purchased in March.
  • If a friend is feeling a bit overwhelmed or a tad anxious to go out, don’t berate them or exacerbate the sitch. Respect that we’re all going about society re-entry in different ways.
  • Remember who and what lockdown taught you was worth giving your time and energy to. Your social circles might look a little different this summer. They may be smaller or simpler than what they were pre-rona, and that’s a big yes in the socially-distanced stakes.
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