My friend owns a restaurant that’s been closed for ages because of Covid. He’s currently getting a rent reduction from his kindly landlord, but the landlord says it’ll be ending soon because the Roaring Twenties are coming.
The Roaring Twenties, economists claim, will be a boom period resulting from a huge injection of commerce, confidence and jollity once the lockdown is lifted. As with the first Roaring Twenties – the one with the flappers and the sailor suits – financial confidence and fun will be closely entwined. L’Oreal predicts a mighty uptick in make-up sales as people finally see each other face to face. In the sepulchral West End of London right now, my restaurant-owning friend tells me, abandoned shops are being transformed into cake stores by Chinese investors because Chinese cream cakes are one area of future growth. By June you won’t be able to move for the heavily made-up people eating cake in the streets, but I can’t be the only person who felt a trickle of fear between their ribs on 22 February when Boris Johnson announced that we’re all going to be having a very, very good summer.
I don’t want lockdown to continue for another minute, but I do have problems facing the thought of mass enjoyment. That it will likely coincide with hot weather makes it worse. I always felt alienated on those warm nights when everyone was driving around in cars with the windows down, and excited for winter because no one expected you to have any fun. I’m not being contrarian or curmudgeonly; I love fun – I just don’t like being told to have it along with millions of other people. Who knows what adolescent recesses of our minds the pandemic has pulled us back to, but for some reason, seeing the Metro’s front page with the headline Midsummer’s Dream, I was back at school as GCSE exams approached, crouched in the library, watching the cool kids revise outside, wondering how they could concentrate on their work in the glare of the sun and hoping the grass was itching their bums uncomfortably. The giant nationwide party night on 21 June, when clubs may be able to open again, is already shaping up in my mind to feel like the worst kind of New Year’s Eve.
[See also: Philip Collins on the beauty of isolation]
I felt obliged to see whether there was any science behind these unpleasant feelings, and of course, there was. Cherophobia – from the Greek chero, to rejoice – is a fear of fun, and is more commonly found among those of the neurotic and introverted stripe. There are complex forces at play behind grumpiness and the impulse to avoid situations of mass enjoyment. Cherophobics feel, consciously or otherwise, that happiness leads to adverse consequences. Disasters follow good fortune; happy people have further to fall. When you are happy, something will hit you out of the blue; if you feel good, you let your guard down. Cherophobia is associated with insecure attachment patterns. And nothing makes you more insecurely attached than staying in your house for a year not seeing anyone.
The real worry is that when all this is over, you won’t feel any better – and you’ll realise that it wasn’t lockdown, it was you. In the past few months, we’ve managed our moods with scientific precision, watching them shift from wasp-trapped-in-a-jar claustrophobia, to wobbly, to fine, and back again, dissecting our feelings with friends over WhatsApp voice notes. The long-term effects of the pandemic will linger far into the future, in ways we can’t imagine, but there’ll be little space to talk about it then.
I had my first baby at the start of the pandemic; she was five weeks old when lockdown began. I have no idea whether the habit I developed of stumbling around parks with a pushchair muttering to myself was the result of lockdown, or my own struggles as a new mother – but every time it got really difficult I told myself it was the former. There is emotional freedom in having some parts of your everyday freedom removed – endless excuses not to make plans, not to face them falling apart, try something new. The end of lockdown is a process of facing ourselves. When the restrictions are gone, you’ll have to take responsibility for how your life really feels.