Back in March, when we were asked to stay home because of this “novel” coronavirus situation, most of us had no idea what we were in for. At first, when we thought we’d be home for a couple of weeks — at most — we couldn’t imagine how our world and our lives were about to change.
One thing I didn’t expect to change? My relationships — particularly friendships. But seven months later, I can say that’s been one of the biggest surprises of the pandemic — its effect on my friendships.
Although it started slowly and gradually, it did not take long for things to evolve. In fact, I noticed right away how some friendships were moving in one direction while others were moving in the other. And in discussing my experience with others, I’ve realized I’m neither alone nor in the minority in terms of how things have shaken out in the last few months. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Some friendships have grown deeper and stronger.
At first, I actually got in touch with faraway friends. We started having Zoom happy hours — something we could have done before the pandemic, but it had never occurred to us. Now, we were making it happen! We were able to get closer at a time when we were unable to see each other in person even if we wanted to.
One friend shared something super relatable with me about one of her relationships that has unexpectedly grown. She said, “I have become closer friends with one of my sisters-in-law because we both felt the same way about the precautions we needed to take in order to protect our families, while many in our extended family did not. We bonded over this and have become closer.” Another woman I chatted with added that it made her realize who her friends are. She said, “I learned that those who adapted and just wanted my company regardless of the form it came in were, in fact, my friends.”
It seems that whoever was still there for us, or still stuck around, while being unable to truly connect in person or as closely as we had before, were our true friends. And once that became obvious, it was like the gates opened up for whatever we had to offer in these friendships to be fully welcomed into the other person’s life and vice versa.
Some friendships grew weaker or fizzled.
Some friendships haven’t made the cut. And this has been particularly hard for those of us who already felt somewhat isolated to begin with. I noticed that after a month or two under stay-at-home orders, I just did not hear from certain people as much. In some instances, I still reached out; in other instances, they also did not hear from me as much. Almost as if there had been a mutual decision. But in digging deeper, I realized that my belief that these were true friends prior to the pandemic may have been wishful thinking. Now, when we were stripped of most of the small talk at a Friday night happy hour or a playground playdate, there wasn’t much else there for us.
Some of us have had to grieve friendships that ended during the pandemic. These have actually felt like losses. As I’ve talked with other women about this, I’ve noticed patterns centered around values.
Some friendships fizzled because one person took the pandemic and restrictions really seriously while the other did not, leading to one person feeling slighted when the other made plans with folks who felt like they did.
Other friendships ended over the way one person used social media to express opinions about everything happening in the world during this time. Again, this seemed to come down to values. If a person values being realistic and expressing themselves or using their voice publicly while the other sees this as being “negative,” perhaps there is more that they disagree on, and this was just the trigger needed to move on, painful as it might be.
But… the pandemic may have helped.
This has been an incredibly life-changing time for so many in more ways than the pandemic alone could explain. I firmly believe that the values we each espouse are now, more than ever, helping us discern which relationships are worth continuing to invest our time and emotions into.
What I can say with some degree of certainty is that this pandemic has helped us really figure out some of our most precious values and opened our eyes to see who in our lives shares similar values and who doesn’t. Once we know whose values are well aligned with our own and whose values aren’t, we can then make the hard but necessary decisions about whether we want to make things work regardless, or whether we are ready to move on.