‘When covid is over’ sounds like ‘when I meet Harry Styles’: The new pandemic meme, explained

But the thing about pandemics is they tend to drag on. Though we finally have vaccines, the wait to return to normalcy can feel interminable.

It can also bring to mind other painful waiting periods — so vividly, in fact, that in the past few days it’s become a meme to compare the phrase “once covid is over” to other events that might never arrive.

As YouTuber Alex Elmslie tweeted, “ ’once COVID is over’ is starting to sound a lot like ‘when i fix my sleep schedule.’ ”

Some users compared the feeling to things we say we’re going to do — but often don’t get around to.

One tweeted, “ ‘when covid is over’ is starting to sound a lot like ‘we should hang out sometime!’ ” Another tweeted, “ ’When COVID is over’ is starting to sound like, ‘when I’m all caught up on laundry.’ ”

In one particularly relatable message, comedy writer Camilla Blackett tweeted, “ ’when covid is over’ is starting to sound a lot like ‘when I lose 10lbs.’ ” Another user suggested that the end of the pandemic is about as likely as finally making a budget.

Or in a particularly spicy tweet: “when Amy Adams gets her Oscar.” She’s been nominated six times, after all.

Some compared waiting for the end of covid to hoping for new material from their favorite artists. Many people are wishing for a new album from a variety of musicians, including Paramore, Hozier, Twenty One Pilots, Rihanna and the Jonas Brothers. One “Game of Thrones” fan tweeted that the phrase sounds like “once George R.R. Martin finishes The Winds of Winter.”

People have long used memes to make sense of the senseless and to fight sorrow with a touch of humor, which has been especially true throughout the pandemic. One of 2020′s more popular memes was a short video clip of a troupe of Ghanaian pallbearers who dance as they carry a coffin. Another, colloquially called “2020 Bingo,” was an image of a bingo card with (usually) horrible things listed in each little box — horrible things that actually happened, like “murder hornets” and “stock market crash.”

It’s all a form of gallows humor, dark comedy meant to make palatable something that’s too terrible to contemplate, and it’s been increasingly popular online since last March.

Still, as Quartz journalist Karen Ho said in a series of tweets, perhaps the phrase “once covid is over” is useful in helping us navigate utter uncertainty without losing our marbles: “ ’Once covid is over’ is an optimistic but non-specific way for people to look forward to or plan for the future and try to avoid disappointment when timelines change due to various circumstances.”

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