“Is this your first time?” a stranger asked me in an elevator at the Met as we tried to find our seats at the St. Vincent concert a few weeks ago.

Stunned, I stared back at her, trying to form an answer. How did she know? Did I look stricken by the nerves I’d felt bouncing around for weeks as I tried to decide if attending a public event was finally safe? I eventually nodded.

“You have two masks, just like me. It’s my first too,” she said. We both knew she meant it wasn’t our first concert ever, but our first pandemic outing.

I didn’t realize how profoundly being home with only myself and my boyfriend for company had affected me until we started venturing out into the larger world. For the last few months, we’d been going to a local grocery store to supplement our Instacart deliveries, but beyond that and work interactions, we hadn’t been close to such a large group of people since before the mid-March 2020 lockdown.

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I was expecting to enjoy hearing St. Vincent perform for the first time, but I wasn’t prepared for the sense of catharsis the communal experience would be. I looked around at my fellow concertgoers, at the dazzling chandelier, at the dancers and musicians onstage, and felt deeply grateful that I’d said yes to attending. In August, I’d reluctantly had my boyfriend sell our long-awaited tickets to see Sleater-Kinney and Wilco at the Mann Center, even though that was an outdoor show. The risks felt too great.

But having received my Pfizer booster shot two days before the St. Vincent show, and knowing the Met requires a COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test, I felt that was a risk worth taking.

On another recent night, we returned to the Met to see Elvis Costello, a more crowded show, and I felt even safer. Maybe pandemic socialization is a muscle I’ve needed to build, with each foray fortifying my confidence.

The most challenging aspect of mid-pandemic life for me now is having to make these decisions on an ongoing basis. It feels like no matter how much I read about the latest CDC and epidemiologist recommendations, there’s never going to be a right answer. Is a concert OK, but a long bus or plane ride too dangerous?

I’ve been unable to find comfort in turning to my usual trusted sources, because almost everyone I know is choosing a different variation of pandemic activities. I have one parent who only recently stopped wearing a mask while bike riding, and another who’s about to embark on an international trip. I have friends who’ve been traveling throughout the pandemic, and others who are still getting all their necessities delivered. The lack of consensus among those in my immediate vicinity makes every choice feel fraught.

The specter of COVID-19 still looms large in my mind. As a freelance worker, if I were to be knocked out by flulike symptoms for even two days, I would lose money. I have asthma, and worry about the long-term effects on my breathing. I’m also in the process of applying to adopt a child, and don’t want any indicators of ill health to mar my prospects. Additionally, I have elderly relatives I’d like to visit.

These calculations feel so mentally draining sometimes that I find it’s easier to stick to what I know — a quiet life at home in Egg Harbor Township, where I make weekly trips to the library and occasionally get takeout. At some point I will have to decide whether I’m ready to take more daring steps, like flying cross-country and abroad to visit the new babies in my family.

During the St. Vincent show, she sang the haunting “Slow Disco,” with its line, “I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave.” I’d expected perhaps I’d feel the same about her show, enamored by the music but jittery from nerves. All I felt, however, was the first half of that line.

Reentry into a society I took for granted pre-pandemic isn’t easy, and still feels scary when I read news stories about kids dying or becoming gravely ill. But it also feels like a beautiful gift, to listen to live music and know that life and art beyond my home are there for me, whenever I’m ready.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance writer based in South Jersey. @raquelita. rachelkramerbussel.com