I just bought a dress online. I had decided in Before Times that in 2020 I would not buy any new clothes unless I was replacing something that was no longer wearable. For instance, I bought new socks when all of my regular ones seemed to lose their elastic at the same time and kept scrunching down into my sneakers and bunching up under the arches of my feet. So the dress was totally unnecessary and a broken promise to myself, but it was super cute, very me, and something that I’d wear a lot.

If I actually had a place to go to that required wearing a cute dress.

Here’s something that is not at all a secret — I am a reclusive, introverted misanthrope. Also not a secret; that I hate the hot weather. The last time I willingly stood in the sun was the time I was twelve years old and spent an afternoon on the beach playing frisbee, with the sun behind me. When the single ginormous blister that spread across my entire back and shoulders finally healed, I swore off that whole outdoors thing. Finding myself drawn to a punk/new wave/Goth aesthetic, I spent my teenage years avoiding the sun, living the pseudo-vampiric lifestyle of covering myself in black clothes and sticking to the shady side of the street. Trips to the beach were done on dark, cloudy days when you could watch a storm forming miles out to sea, as opposed to lying on a sandy towel, slathered in baby oil, literally attempting to fry yourself in the direct sun to achieve a tan. And I never adjusted to Toronto’s summer humidity, even after having lived here for more than 30 years.

Thus, that thing that most people do in the summer; that is, not just willingly going out in the hot, humid weather, but going to a place full of other people, has never been my bag. It is panic-inducing, if I’m being honest. Exhausting, both from the excessive interaction required, and from the weather itself. At least once a summer, after forcing myself to go out to some festival or event, I come home on the verge of tears, nauseous from heat stroke, likely sunburnt despite the large-brimmed hat and parasol I had with me, and generally wishing for winter when I could wear something with sleeves and when there was no pressure to “get outside and get some sun and fresh air.” The air is never fresh when it’s 32 celcius.

This year, of course, there are no things to force myself to go to. No street festivals, art fairs, food fests, or concerts. I do not have to feel guilty about bailing at the last minute on some event that I had convinced myself that I should want to attend, but when confronted with the prospect when it was time to get ready to go, I found myself preferring to stay home with a nice book. Plus maybe a cup of tea, if the air conditioner was pumping out enough frosty goodness.

And let’s be honest, because my title is misleading. I don’t really even have the “fear of missing out.” When I’m home with my book and my tea and maybe a sweater because the AC is blasting, I’m not thinking, “Aw, gee, I should have gone, I’m gonna regret not being out there crammed together with thousands of other people in the hot sun, listening to some mediocre band, eating over-priced street food, wishing I had worn different shoes, and doing my best to avoid all the other people who don’t seem to pay attention to where they’re going.” No, what I’m actually thinking is “Ohhh, so glad I stayed home. This tea is delicious. Seriously, fuck all that shit.”

What I mostly suffer from is the idea that society says that I should have the FOMO. That I’m supposed to want to be out there in the hot crowds — this is what everyone loves to do in the summertime, right? — and that by preferring to stay home, I’m some kind of weirdo.

The fact is, I am a weirdo, and weird does not equal “wrong” so I’m not even sure why I care so much that I’m not doing what everyone else does, or why I’m hung up on what society says I’m “supposed” to do. But every summer, I have this nagging, pestered feeling that I’m supposed to go out and do all the summertime stuff, even though I know that it will make me miserable, even though my natural summertime inclination is, and has always been, to find somewhere cool and dark and just sit and read.

Except this year, I’m off the hook. Which is fantastic, but also very strange. The relief I feel is gleeful, ecstatic, even. This summer, it’s okay to stay indoors with a book. Safer, healthier, better for everyone. It’s the people gathering in large groups in parks and on beaches who are now supposed to be doing things differently.

This re-balancing of power feels good. It won’t last forever, we’ll eventually go back to holding large gatherings and people will flock to them, after months of confinement, of there being literally nothing to do. But for this one summer, I’m going to read all the books and drink all the tea and not feel guilty; not worry that I’m supposed to be doing something else, outdoors, with people, in the gross, hot sun. I might even wear that cute new dress while I do it. Under a cozy sweater to ward off the chill of the air conditioning, of course.