I remember when the restrictions were lifted last summer and we were all granted a modicum of freedom once again. I had expected to feel elated, ecstatic even; that I would be furiously making plans to meet friends for tapas, booking Airbnbs for mini-breaks, returning to my gym classes. Instead, I found myself anxious and socially awkward. On the one occasion when I hung out (outside!) with a group of people, I had to leave early because I felt so overwhelmed by the noise and chatter and overlapping conversations. It was, I reflected as I drove home, as if I had forgotten how to interact with other human beings. I tell you this because I don’t think you’re alone in worrying about the impact Covid has had on your friendships.
Some of us, especially those who have been living alone during lockdown, worry about our ability to return to face-to-face chats and physical contact, as much as we might crave it. For others, this crisis has highlighted cracks in the foundations of our friendships, ones we may not have noticed before. Perhaps we realise that we were not as close to certain people as we once thought, watching as the drifting apart happens oh-so-easily and no one makes any effort to stop it.
There was an interesting piece published this January inwhich posited that ‘the pandemic has erased entire categories of friendship’.
“I thought frequently of other people I had missed without fully realizing it,” Amanda Mull writes in the piece.
“Pretty good friends with whom I had mostly done things that were no longer possible, such as trying new restaurants together. Co-workers I didn’t know well but chatted with in the communal kitchen. Workers at the local coffee or sandwich shops who could no longer dawdle to chat.
"The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but these people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was also no substitute for them during the pandemic. Tools like Zoom and FaceTime, useful for maintaining closer relationships, couldn’t re-create the ease of social serendipity, or bring back the activities that bound us together.”
And even those closer friendships have been fraying over time. After a long day of home-schooling the kids and hoping the dog will stop barking during a conference call with your boss, who has the emotional bandwidth for yet another video call? The manic drive we had to connect in the first lockdown — all those online quizzes and games — has dissipated; the Zoom fatigue is very real.
We have spent the winter hibernating, waiting for the sun to return. But now the vaccines are being rolled out, albeit at what feels like a glacial pace, and tentative plans are being made for the country to open up again in June. We are all looking forward to the summer, of being reunited with friends and family once again.
(If you’re raring to go and flooding your WhatsApp Groups with enthusiastic plans for the sesh, be patient with those who are more hesitant. Respect their boundaries and their fears, even if you do not share them.)
I think one of the most troubling aspects of the pandemic, and certainly the one that will have had the biggest impact on our friendships, is, as you mentioned, the different attitudes to the lockdown itself. Seeing those we love share conspiracy theories on social media, attend anti-lockdown rallies, ignore social distancing rules, refusing to wear face coverings in in supermarkets and becoming belligerent when asked to do so — all of this will have taken a huge toll on our relationships.
When asked on Twitter, ‘What’s the one thing you learned this year that will stick with you for the rest of your life?’, the photographer Kat Arnett replied that, ‘There are two types of people: those who believe in doing what’s best for everyone even if it means personal sacrifice, and those who see their own inconvenience as unacceptable, no matter what.”
We have seen who the Lickarses™ are (*raises hand slowly*), the people who followed the rules and did what they were told to do; and those who behaved as if this entire pandemic was a personal affront. Friends may have behaved monstrously selfishly or like conformist sheeple, depending on one’s perspective, and it’s going to be very difficult to ‘un-see’ that.
I can only imagine that as a nurse working on the front line, it must have been incredibly frustrating to see friends break the restrictions with such flagrant disregard and I don’t blame you for cutting certain people out of your life as a result.
This last year has revealed who we truly are and if our core values don’t align with those of our friends, it’s almost impossible to maintain that bond. That’s a loss too, in a year full of them. If I had any advice for you, it would be to honour that, to grieve. And then to trust that there will be new friends, once this is over.