I said “love you” instead of “thank you” to the postman last week. TWICE.

The first time obviously by ­accident. The second time, haunted by the horror of the first, I was so intently focused on what not to say that I said it again.

The look on his face (both times) leaves me in no doubt that he does not feel the same.

After months of social isolation in lockdown, I’m struggling to interact with people again in anything close to a normal way.

I blurt things out. I make strange noises. There is no awkward silence I will not fill with something that’s either wholly inappropriate or mind ­numbingly boring, thereby creating a much longer, even more awkward silence.

So last weekend, when a friend managed to bag a last-minute pub table – the only available booking for a month – and invited us along, my burst of excitement was quickly overtaken by terror.

Work conversations I just about manage. I can get by in a shop. As long as there’s a purpose to the communication – something to cling to in case of emergency – I scrape through.

But idle chit chat, pleasantries, chewing the fat – no. Small talk has never been a bigger challenge. Along with professing my ­devotion to my mail carrier, I recently told a group of mums I only vaguely know from my son’s school how I lost my virginity, because there was a 10-second lull and I panicked.

I tried to say hello to my neighbour, but instead when I opened my mouth an ­impression of a sad duck being strangled came out. It’s like I’m at the mercy of an evil ventriloquist.

Terrifying strangers and acquaintances is one thing, but driving away friends is another, so I approached the beer garden with immense trepidation.

An experience that was once so normal – sitting at a table in the sun, having a few drinks, surrounded (at a safe distance of course) by others doing the same – is now strange, precious and somewhat overwhelming anyway. Being back with those you love, have missed, feels like a gift. I wondered how I would ruin it for everybody, what I’d say to ensure it became an excruciating ordeal.

But as I glanced around, I noticed that other people also looked nervous, slightly daunted, were holding on to their pints a bit too tightly. And then I remembered – duh – we’ve all been through this. It might take some of us – many of us? Most of us? – a minute to find our feet again.

And that’s OK.

It was truly joyful to laugh with my friends again, even if some of it was at me.

The sense of relief at the utter ordinariness of the afternoon made me realise that on some level I’d worried we’d never get back here. Right now, being together again is the only thing that matters.

So when there was a brief gap in the conversation, instead of scrabbling frantically for something to fill it I took a deep breath, smiled, and remembered the teachings of the wise philosopher Ronan Keating.

Sometimes you say it best when you say nothing at all.