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Image / Editorial

Covid friendship: Has a constant tide of bad news eroded our desire to engage with each other?

by Louise Slyth
17th Oct 2020

Throughout these troubling times, it is more important than it has ever been to tend to your friendships, writes Louise Slyth

When I first moved to Ireland, one of the things that struck me was how incredibly friendly everyone was. It wasn’t possible to queue for a pint or so much as purchase a stamp without some pleasant banter.

That suited me well – I’ve always considered a stranger to be a friend I haven’t met yet. My husband often tells me that one of my gifts is my ability to make friends wherever I go. I rarely leave a party, a job, or a course without forging a new and interesting bond.

My friendships have always been like oxygen to me, so at the onset of lockdown, I set up lots of Skype chats with friends and my diary was as choc full as ever. We all needed to connect, to vent, and to seek some sort of reassurance. Sometimes I was the lighthouse for others, and sometimes they were there to ensure I didn’t crash into stormy waters.

Over time, some of these regular chats have slowed in cadence, or tailed off altogether. That is understandable given we are juggling competing priorities and some of us are really struggling.

Make friendships a priority

Much has been written about the fact that the psychological scars of living with Covid will remain long after a vaccine has been found. It’s fair to say that a constant tide of bad news has eroded our desire to engage with each other. One friend put it well when she complained “apart from Covid there is nothing to talk about”.

Whilst it may not be as easy as it was, we can still choose to make friendships a priority in our lives. There are plenty of digital ways to stay socially connected, but it is undeniably harder. It’s also simply no substitute for the thrill of getting dressed up to meet up in person, going to new places and the buzz of everyone chiming in at once with their stories. I do think it’s important to persevere though – there are worse things than a lost connection that’s stuck on an unfortunate facial expression, and that’s losing our friendship connections altogether. It’s at times like this when we need social bonds more than ever.

My guess is we will be in social limbo for many months to come, as we move in and out of restrictions. For those of us who are able to go out, my observations lead me to believe that people fall into three camps; those who are fearful and who are keeping face to face interactions very limited, those who are being measured but sensible, and those who feel no fear and treat our new social norms as an inconvenience. I make no judgement here, but I do think that your “Covid tribe” may have long lasting repercussions for friendships.

The ability to maintain connections when expectations diverge will be a challenge, coupled with possibly different approaches to acting responsibly and safely.

I’ve tried throughout these troubling times to always look for the upsides, but these receding friendship tides are worrying. Will this social withdrawal be a hangover we endure after Covid, (without even the party to justify it)? I must surely be close to reaching stalker status for the more taciturn members of my group, but I don’t care: friendships are like plants – you can’t leave them
un-watered for months and expect them not to wilt. Time to get those gardening gloves on…

Related: Keep your friends close: the best friendships can be lifesaving

Related: The incredible sadness of breaking up with a friend

Related: Why toxic friendships have no place in a pandemic