We all know what happened with summer 2020. Then 2021 was dampened by Delta. This year, any anticipated return to revelry has been hampered by … *waves hands at everything.* Is there hope for enjoying the once fun season?
Credit…Photo Illustration by Tonje Thilesen for The New York Times
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Timothy Hale had high hopes for this summer.
“Last summer was a tease,” said the 29-year-old hairstylist and freelance photographer, who goes by Tim Hell professionally. “I was hoping this would be the summer I could finally have fun.”
After moving to New York City from Baltimore in February 2021, then finding himself cooped up in his Brooklyn apartment amid the Delta variant of the coronavirus, Mr. Hale spent this winter dreaming of rooftop parties at Le Bain in the meatpacking district and Mr. Purple on the Lower East Side.
“I wanted to just be out, enjoying New York City,” he said. But it wasn’t meant to be.
For him, the first bad sign came in April, when there was a shooting on the N train, the same line he takes on weekends to his job at a barbershop.
“It made everyone tense and scared of everything, and for me that was the start,” Mr. Hale said.
Then came June 24, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. As a Black queer man, he worried that his rights might be taken away next after comments from Justice Clarence Thomas hinted at a reconsideration of gay marriage. “It puts fear in my heart,” Mr. Hale said.
And Mr. Hale now has a new cause for concern: monkeypox, a virus that produces painful rashes and blisters for up to a month. His friends who have it “are experiencing varying amounts of excruciating pain,” he said. Cases are rising nationally, especially in L.G.B.T.Q. communities, and vaccine supply is low.
Which is giving him a sense of déjà vu all over again. “It is starting to remind me of the summer of 2020,” he said, when everyone was stuck at home. Monkeypox is spread primarily by close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a rash or sores, though it can also be transmitted through respiratory droplets (from sneezing or coughing) on clothing or bedding.
Rather than going to clubs and crowded bars, Mr. Hale is socializing only at people’s houses in small groups or at empty, dive-y establishments.
“It’s my 30th birthday in a couple of weeks, and I will probably just have a small, intimate dinner,” he said. “I would say on a scale of one to 10 of enjoying life, I am at a hard four.”
Sarah Molina, 25, an event planner in Phoenix, is newly single this summer, and couldn’t wait to get back on the dating scene. But the overturning of Roe v. Wade changed that.
Not only did it disappoint her as a supporter of abortion rights, but it also made her feel like she had to be more reserved during what was supposed to be her “hot girl summer.” (While abortion is currently legal in Arizona, the state has a pre-Roe law that bans the procedure even in cases of rape or incest. That ban was blocked in 1973, but the attorney general has said he will ask the court to allow the law to go into effect.)
“I feel like women have to be more careful and more selective now in who they have intercourse with,” she said. “If something happens with your birth control or your condom breaks, this potentially could be a partner stuck in your life forever because now you have to raise a child together.”
Parenting through the pandemic has been no cakewalk, as you may be aware. But just as vaccines for children under 5 are finally available, new fears are taking root.
Laurel Niedospial, 37, a stay-at-home mother in Oak Park, Ill., “was very excited” for this season. “We moved at the beginning of Covid,” she said. “We are just now getting to know neighbors, and activities that had been canceled are opening up.”
But the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, which is less than an hour drive from her home, changed that, making her hesitant to frequent any public place with her two children, ages 7 and 2. “Even now going to the beach just feels so exposed, and with two children of disparate abilities, my biggest fear is that I wouldn’t be able to save them both,” she said.
In a sense, she has concluded that “there’s no vacation from our reality.”
Becca Near, 31, who works in development for the St. Louis Zoo, also feels uncomfortable taking her children, a 4-year-old and a 14-month-old, to the Jewish Community Center pool this summer.
“The other day my mom and I were sitting there watching my kids in the pool and talking about where we would go if there was a sniper right now,” she said. “That was a legitimate conversation we were having.”
Additionally, the new Covid variant and rising caseloads weigh on her. “We still won’t go to big celebrations,” she said, “or if my husband and I do, we will leave the kids at home.”
“I don’t know if this is the new reality of being a parent,” she added. “It’s constant chaotic crisis thinking.”
Ms. Near feels especially disappointed because St. Louis, like many parts of North America and Europe, has been plagued by extreme heat this summer.
Gone for Ms. Near and so many others are carefree days spent entirely outdoors: “We don’t do playgrounds right now,” she said. “We find splash pads, or we go for walks early in the morning.”
For many Americans, summer means travel, especially now that mask and testing requirements have been lifted.
But crowded airports and pricey tickets (in April alone, airfare rose 18.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) have put a damper on those exciting plans.
“Before the pandemic, I traveled every summer since I was 18,” said Reginald Ajaa, 34, a health care administrator and TikTok influencer in Los Angeles. “Summer is the time for having fun and making memories.”
This year he had two trips planned with his fiancée: one to Dubai and one to Cancún, Mexico. But when he went to book tickets, they were too costly.
His plan instead is to go to local beaches and festivals, but he also has to be careful how much driving he does because of high gas prices. “To fill up my car used to be 50 or 60 bucks and now it is over 100, which is ridiculous,” he said.
For some, stress has one readily available salve: nicotine. (See also: prescription drugs.)
But one of the most popular methods of nicotine consumption now faces an uncertain fate. On June 23, the Food and Drug Administration announced a sales ban on Juul, the vaping device. (An appeal is currently underway, and the product is still on shelves.)
Whitney Claflin, 39, a painter who lives on the Lower East Side, turned to Juuls after she quit smoking cigarettes. “It’s like my anxiety stick,” she said. “In the summer it is nice because you are outside more, and you can vape freely,” adding that she was using one on a rooftop as she spoke.
When the ban was announced, she was frustrated: “It was just like, ‘Come on, with everything going on in the world, this is what you are going to choose to pick on?’”
Humans are resilient.
“There is something called hedonic adaptation, and research shows that humans have a remarkable ability to get used to or get accustomed to changes in our lives,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, who studies happiness.
For example, if you get married you may have a boost of happiness at first, but it doesn’t last, and you will go back to your previous baseline. “What comes up must come down,” she said.
But the same is also true for negative changes. If you experience disappointment that your expectations are not being met, eventually you will get used to it and feel happy again. “With most negative changes, we are able to get used to them and revert back to our previous happiness baseline,” she said.
As for this summer, Dr. Lyubomirsky suggested keeping the company of others (something that is also easier in the summer), saying that some studies show that any form of connection brings joy.
“Anything we can do to connect joy with others is good for our happiness,” she said. “Even bonding and connecting over the bad stuff can work.”
Dr. Lyubomirsky also said that something that is scientifically proven to bring more joy into our lives is to have gratitude for what we do have. “Gratitude seems kind of hokey, but research shows it’s really powerful,” she said.
This is a tactic Mr. Hale is using, since he is determined to make the best out of this summer. “I’m new to New York, so even if I walk down the block, it’s a new experience for me,” he said. “I’m going to make the best out of any situation.”
Ms. Niedospial said that while she doesn’t feel safe in public places, she had been spending a lot of time with family and friends at their houses. She feels relieved that her children seem blissfully unaware that their summer is anything other than normal.
“My kids don’t hold the fear and anxiety that I have been concerned with, so watching them play always helps,” she said. “Nothing saves summer quite like water balloon fights and backyard Popsicles.”
And, for now, no one can take those away. Let’s hope.