2020 has been…intense. Few areas of our lives have felt the strain more than our friendships, relationships and social lives.
Image by Spyros on flickr
Months of social distancing and restrictions on where, who and how we meet have turned our usual ways of connecting with each other upside down. The way we socialised in 2019 is almost unrecognisable. Remember hugging? I miss hugging. I miss handshakes. I even almost miss air kisses!
“Remember hugging? I miss hugging. I miss handshakes. I even almost miss air kisses!”
Yes, friendships in 2020 have been funny old things, so when Ana asked us, “Have your friendships been enriched or strained since the pandemic? Have you struggled to keep in touch with your existing friends, has it come easily? Have you made new friends?” the volume of emotional responses quickly made it clear that she’d touched a nerve. It seems many of us have been thinking about our friendships recently – and that’s a good thing.
“Friendships need to be managed if they’re to survive the test of time.”
Friendships need to be managed if they’re to survive the test of time. They’re not necessarily ‘just there’ in the same way that many familial bonds are. And with the usual ways to maintain and strengthen those bonds out the window, we’ve had to find new ways to connect.
Instead of meeting in crowded cafes and bars, we’ve arranged catch ups in gardens and parks. We’ve swapped hugs for waves or elbow bumps. Zoom and FaceTime have become the norm – even for those of us who dreaded video calls BC (Before Covid-19). Limits on group sizes have forced us to put more thought into who we meet. And making new friends in this era of bubbles and isolation can seem straight-up impossible.
All this change zaps our time and energy, which may well already be in short supply; simply reading the news right now can leave you feeling emotionally drained. It’s also a time where everyone has an opinion and many people aren’t afraid to share it, which has put a strain on some friendships. “I'm still seeing three of my friends, but I rarely hear from my long-distance friends and one of my best friends got angry with me and dropped me. I'm a pretty social person so it's been very tough,” admits one of our members.
“I'm still seeing three of my friends, but I rarely hear from my long-distance friends.”
But there have been some benefits to our friendships too. Going through an intense experience, such as a global pandemic, together can help strengthen relationships, especially if you’re prepared to show how vulnerable you are. Being open helps deepen existing friendships, as another of our members found: “Many of my friendships are enriched as we become more compassionate, understanding, tolerant and mindful. So many folks are in extremely difficult circumstances. It is crucial that we support each other emotionally especially.”
Image by Neil Moralee on flickr
Sharing experiences can also speed up the bonding process in new friendships, as one of the members of our Facebook group told us in this touching story: “We are both widows and of a similar age. We met over the garden fence for coffee every day at 11am, even sat under umbrellas, as we weren’t allowed in each other’s garden or house. As restrictions relaxed, we went out for lunch. We were each other’s lockdown buddy and found that our new friendship was a lifeline when we couldn’t meet anyone else except virtually.”
The pandemic has certainly helped some of us learn which of our existing friends are worth making the effort for: “Some of [my friends] are not checking on the people living alone and being nasty about things. I guess you find out who are real friends.” For others, the process has been something of a mixed bag: “Some of my oldest core friends seem to be non-existent these days but a new group of friends have popped up that are incredibly supportive. I mourn the old but am very blessed and cherish the new.”
It’s important to understand that each person’s experience of the pandemic is different, and unless you’re able to properly talk, you may never know the reason why someone you thought was a close friend has disappeared off the friendship radar.
Being forced to socialise in smaller groups has proved beneficial to some. Mixing with fewer people means more time to properly get to know someone, making it easier to forge deeper connections. That’s certainly been the experience of one Thelma & Louise member, who told us, “I have definitely made new friends through my hiking club since March. Covid made it necessary to reduce the number of people going on a hike to six, whereas before there would often be 15 or more. This allowed all of us to get to know each other better.”
“While difficult initially, virtual groups have gone some small way to filling the gap left by the ban on face-to-face meet-ups.”
While difficult initially, virtual groups have gone some small way to filling the gap left by the ban on face-to-face meet-ups. Along with live streaming exercise classes and online networking, virtual groups have really taken off in 2020. Whether you’re into art, books or debating, there’s a virtual group for you to join, often via Zoom.
But if, like Ana, the pandemic has left you feeling deprived of the “new energy” that new friendships bring, striking up a new virtual friendship can seem like a poor alternative. “Starting new genuine friendships takes time, trust and many cups of tea and walks until that magic happens,” says Ana, “but I'm struggling to ask someone for a virtual cup of tea and a chat.”
“Let’s come together, virtually if we have to, and help each other through what looks set to be another rough patch.”
If you’ve struggled to find friends to help you through this most challenging of times, you’re not alone. As another of our members confesses, “I'm worried about the winter because most things will be indoors but we can't socialise indoors.”
This isn’t the time for retreating into isolation and bleak thoughts. Let’s come together, virtually if we have to, and help each other through what looks set to be another rough patch. As one of our lovely ladies says, “Try to be positive and strong. This site is amazing for connecting.”