David Siegel, CEO of the community-building platform Meetup, says my journey reflects trends he’s noticed en masse in Meetup users. In March, Siegel says, when waves of Americans began losing their jobs, the company noticed growth in professional networking groups. (Tech-related groups also saw a boon, because for the most part they had an easier time moving events online.) During that period, engagement with outdoor-related groups plummeted: the northeast was still freezing, and even the outdoor-devout were still terrified to leave their homes.
“Now outdoor is going like this,” Siegel says, shooting an arm exponentially upward. The company has seen 66 percent growth, year-over-year, in the “health and well-being” category: “hiking” is now the top search term, followed by “yoga,” which has enjoyed a 329 percent increase in search volume since the start of the pandemic, and “tennis,” for which there has been a 188 percent increase in search volume. (Interest in basketball groups, Siegel says, has gone way down.) Predictably, fitness and outdoor outfitters have also seen growth this summer: a representative from DICK’S Sporting Goods noted a great shift towards athletic apparel and “active lifestyle product.” I, for example, now wear a kicky tennis dress around the house all weekend.
Siegel attributes the particular growth in stress-relieving activities in part to parents of young children, who, he says, are “so beyond stress.” He also points out that an exceptional number of Americans have, like me, relocated recently, and are on the friend-prowl. Singles, in particular, may be turning to Meetup. “Bars are different experiences now than they used to be,” Siegel says, “and if you’re able to do social events that also happen to be good for you, and relieve stress—there’s stress everywhere right now, and it’s not just the pandemic—all of that is pointing people towards health and well-being.”
I was also motivated to pick up new pastimes by a desire to make up for the exercise I was missing in my commute, by a need to untether myself from my phone, and by a devil’s bargain I made with my TV in those awful months of deep, militant lockdown in the spring: I could binge-watch as many shows as I wanted, as long as I started spending my time differently as soon as I was able.
But mainly I turned to wholesome extracurriculars because, as Siegel says, I longed to de-stress. Drinking wasn’t cutting it. Zoom happy hours can be fun, but they can also leave one bored of talking about the pandemic, bilious from too many White Claws, and certain that one has missed every social cue and that all of one’s friends now hate… one. At a time when I already felt numbed by circumstance, the idea of checking out further—especially during the limited time I got to chat with my loved ones—started to seem repellent.
Activities are not as stressful as I’d previously thought. Or at least—at a time when even a trip to the grocery store requires planning and carries a built-in social anxiety—they’re not any more stressful than leaving the house during a pandemic already is. Plus, I’m desperate: without non-repetitive pastimes, the empty, boozy, Netflixy weeks unspool in my little hands.
I still drink frequently, just in conjunction with my extracurriculars. I have canoe beers, hike Claws, and aprés-tennis canned cocktails. I’ll bring a to-go margarita on a stroll. It’s not very satisfying to talk about a drinking come-to-Jesus that doesn’t end in sobriety, but I do feel that my attitude towards drinking has changed in the past six months in a very important way: before the pandemic, I never saw the difference between drinking to augment an activity versus drinking as an activity.
Austin does get chilly. At some point soon I will throw open the door, feel the wet wind, and say, “Not today, activities.” Perhaps then I will have board game beers and puzzle wine.
But for now, I’m in a canoe!