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Friendship fallout in a pandemic: “I realised that nobody had picked up the phone to see how was I doing”


by Niamh Ennis
04th May 2021

@taylorswift / Instagram

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In a year spent tucked up with our families, our friendships have come under a microscope. No longer sustained by nights out and coffee dates, some bonds have fractured and that’s okay, writes Niamh Ennis.

Friendships last forever. That’s what we believe isn’t it? If we are being fully honest it’s more what we hope is the truth. We just want to know that the deep connections we make along in life will remain and that the friends who understand us most as teenagers, who are beside us as we learn about life’s thrills and disappointments, will still be there to watch us stumble into our adult life.

As we progress from each stage in our lives, we simply want to believe that the new friendships we make along the way will enhance and increase our collection of friends even more.

 

A clarifying time

This last year, we have made many new discoveries about ourselves, most notably, how we’ve adapted to being asked to stay away from those we love and to put a pause on all of the things that we’d totally taken for granted. Overseas travel, the places where we work, where we eat, drink and socialise and yes, even our friendships have been tested.

I’m an introvert trapped in an extroverts body so I need to be fully transparent and admit that I’ve secretly enjoyed the total freedom that comes from not having to be anywhere I don’t want to be. I’ve genuinely found it liberating to have had the time to spend doing just what I wanted to do and taking care of myself without any of the pressures from social or work engagements.

Lest I sound like a total anti-social hermit, I should say that I’ve missed my closest friends so much. I’ve missed sitting down to dinners and long conversations in our favourite restaurants and I cannot wait for that time again, which is finally starting to feel more imminent.

Yet I truly believe now, that it is perfectly okay to admit that I’ve loved this time to myself. This incredible sense of space really gave me permission to acknowledge that.

I’ve wasted so much time pursuing the life of a people pleaser, wanting to belong, to fit in which resulted in the majority of my decisions being based on what I believed others wanted from me and what they expected me to do. I was stuck doing what I did because I thought that where I was, was all that there was.

This last year has allowed me to release that pressure and to tune in to what it is I want to do and connect to that. I now know differently and it feels very powerful.

 

Under the microscope

Not everyone has enjoyed positive experiences within their friendships this year and I’ve been hearing lots of stories from my own friends and clients who’ve discovered the true status of their friendships throughout the pandemic.

One such woman, Cathy, 31, Kilkenny City, shares her experience.

“I’m single and therefore my friendships are my lifeline. I have a great group of girl friends who are all in the same boat and we have so many shared interests. Before all of this happened, we’d constantly be on the phone to each other several times a day, our WhatsApp group was constantly pinging, with invitations to meet up for walks, cinema trips, nights out and always planning our next getaway. Lockdown happened and inevitably interrupted the flow of all of that.

What surprised me most was that, week by week, the communication levels really slowed down. I get that we were all desperately waiting for things to get back to normal so that we could all meet up again but one month into it, I realised that nobody had actually picked up the phone or checked in with me directly to see just how was I doing. I didn’t pay too much attention to this at first and continued to reach out to the others, but it got to a point where I couldn’t ignore the obvious. I tested the waters by not being the one to initiate contact and that’s when my suspicions were confirmed. My phone went silent.

This group of friends whom I believed were all connected at a deep level were in fact friendships of convenience. I felt so let down when this dawned on me and I’ll confess more than a little stupid. This pandemic opened my eyes to lots of things and one of which is that from now on, if I don’t feel my relationships and friendships are reciprocal then I don’t invest. It was a hard lesson but a valuable one”

For many of us, being forced to stay apart really tested our friendships but it is only when they are put under the microscope that we can see them for what they really are.

Think about the people in your life that you invest your time with. Do you think your friendship is equal? I’m not suggesting for a second that each time you give you must receive, but that you feel that those in your life are happy you’re there and do all they can to ensure you stay. True friendship is not about being there when it is convenient, it’s about being there when it’s not.

We each evolve and change as we get older and inevitably our relationships will too, but the friendships that remain will understand that at times we may simply need space to go off and do something different, but that we will always come back home to them when we are ready or when they need us, whichever happens first.

So rather than measure your friendships by the number you have accumulated, think of them in terms of who really has your back. Even my freedom-loving introverted self acknowledges that to be fully human requires us to have deep connections and I know that my life would be so much the poorer without mine.

I also know exactly who my real friends are. They’re the ones that are still here, in spite of me having changed everything in my life during this last decade and yet they love me just as I am and can still make me laugh until I feel sick. My life is so much richer with them in it and that’s my measure. Do you know yours?

Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach and Founder of The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme and host of The TOUGH LOVE ENERGY™ Podcast. She’s known for her practical solutions to life’s challenges and her ability to tell you not what you want to hear but always what you need.