At the end of last year, I wrote two social weather reports (here and here) about signs that the social mood was shifting out of the vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, and into the restless warm-up phase.
The telltale signs were teenage and 20-something girls starting to openly brush against me in public retail stores, as well as catcalling me from their car. It hadn't happened since the summer of 2015, which is the year the vulnerable phase began. And that had been standard stuff going back to 2005, when the last restless warm-up phase began. It was far less common during the early 2000s when I was in college (probably the lamest and most frustrating time to be there, other than the late 2010s). But it did happen during the '90s when I was in middle and high school.
So it rises and falls according to the excitement cycle -- getting warmed up during the warm-up phase, lasting through the manic phase, then falling off a cliff during the vulnerable phase.
I assumed these behaviors would continue throughout this year, although the initial coronavirus lockdown seemed to put a halt to the cycle's plans. They're less willing to brush against you when the norm is social distancing.
Still, the fact that people are so restless under quarantine only proves that we are in fact in the restless phase, and out of the vulnerable phase. Otherwise we'd be happy to burrow away in our snug little cocoons indefinitely, where no one could socially and emotionally over-stimulate us and cause us pain. We're now craving that social stimulation, and we don't want to stay holed up forever where no one can interact with us.
Young people more than others seem especially eager to get back outside. And I don't mean "back" as in returning to their behavior of last year or the year before, when they were in the emo phase like everyone else. I mean for the first time in five years to really be out and about.
And sure enough, after a few months of lockdown mentality, they're chafing at the social isolation and have resumed their flirtatious behavior in public places. Not in retail stores anymore -- those are mostly closed, and on the few occasions I've gone to a grocery store, there were mainly old people around. But they're making the best of their circumstances, and taking their restless behavior to streets, sidewalks, and parks -- walking, riding bikes, roller-blading, skateboarding, and so on.
To keep from going stir-crazy, I go out for a drive a few times a week, always with the windows down so it doesn't feel like another enclosed space, and to pick up everyone's mood with the music streaming out. Pedestrians react friendly rather than annoyed, confirming my pre-corona report that strangers had begun saying "Hi" in the park again for the first time in five years.
But in the past week or so, perhaps driven by the warm weather, I've noticed the girls giving more forward signs than just a friendly smile. Today as I slowed to a red light -- "Cars" playing on the radio -- a cute teenager walking by turned her head, gave me a nervous double-take look through over-sized sunglasses, and started involuntarily petting her hair.
Omigosh, is that a random hot guy? Finally, a chance to restore my validation reserves!!!
Who am I to harm her self-esteem by denying her? Nothing wrong with some steady confident eye-contact for several moments at a red light. It must've been the first contact she'd had in a long time.
I do take those situations seriously -- she's willing to put herself out there on multiple levels. She's going through adolescence, she's coming out of the vulnerable-phase cocoon, and she's trying to stay normal under the quarantine. She deserves a reward for taking the risk, and if she wants to claim that validation reward from me rather than someone else, that's just the duty I'll have to fulfill in order to help keep society whole rather than fragmented. Especially when she's just indulging in some wholesome flirtation, and not anything slutty or crazy.
The week before, I came to a red light with "Rock and Roll High School" on the CD player. Two high school girls were riding bikes in the other direction, and I noticed the usual look on their faces. I put on my left turn signal while waiting, and they then decided to turn right on red, heading the same direction but making me chase them a little after the light turned green. They'd been at the red light first, and could've turned right before I even got there; only when I put on my left signal did they decide to go down there.
After driving around them, I turned left at the next stop sign, and not long after noticed that they'd made the same turn again to follow me. It's an unusual path in the neighborhood -- I was taking a scenic route while cruising around aimlessly -- and all the other walkers, joggers, bike riders, and dog walkers just move along that first street that we were both on. For them to take two unusual turns is not exactly subtle -- but then their brains are too soaked in hormones to practice less conspicuous tailing behavior.
And besides, their point was not to creepily stalk me -- it was to play "tag, you're it!" After some initial eye-contact to tag me, they made me follow behind and beside them, then once I'd carefully passed them on the narrow street, I had effectively tagged them back, and they began chasing me to tag me back again.
It was cute! But I wasn't going to egg them on too much, so I picked up a little speed and made a few more turns so they wouldn't be so hot on my tail. They'd gotten enough of a reward for taking their pro-social risk in a public place like that.
I get followed around in retail stores by those girls, but this was the first occasion where they had upped the ante to vehicular pursuit. It's probably only a matter of time before the roller-bladers and skater girls pull up to my bumper, grab on, and ask me to please carry them along for a ride...