Lockdown has robbed us of plenty of things from job opportunities to holiday plans, but what about friendship? Here, Stylist’s senior digital writer Megan Murray speaks to five women about how the pandemic has caused them to reevaluate some of their oldest, closest female friendships.
They say there comes a time in life when old friendships fall away. I’ve always thought of this time as coming in middle age. From the life lessons sources like Sex and the City have taught me, milestones like children, marriage, working abroad or even loss are the catalysts for the refinement of friendships.
But in these unprecedented times, an unforeseen crack has shot rippling across the previously safe ground of well established friendships. Instead of our lives being upturned by motherhood or a big career move to show the lay of the land in our friendships, it seems like our real friends have become unearthed by the pandemic, with others falling from sight.
Personally, I’ve noticed both positive and negative outcomes from the way that lockdown has changed my friendships, but one thing is for certain, big changes there have been.
I have a few women I would call my ‘best friends’ and one in particular has become my almost every day support. A brilliant communicator, she messages me throughout the week sharing her news and always remembering to check in on how little updates in my life are ticking along. She’s instigated video chats, been flexible around my lunch time schedules and been conscientious in sending me photos of new purchases or ideas for her work. I haven’t seen her for nearly six months but strangely it doesn’t feel like it, I actually feel as close to her as ever.
Contrastingly I’ve been filled with shock when I’ve realised that I have no idea how other friends who I would consider some of the closest people to me are doing in lockdown. Selfishly, this shock first bled into my opinion of them as I felt resentfully calculated how long it had been since they left my Whatsapp message on read. Soon, though, I had to admit that I also hadn’t thought about them, let alone bothered to day ‘hi’.
It makes sense, really, when you consider that lockdown has been a life-altering event and created a physical barrier from spending time with our friends, cutting into our usual routines of Friday night drinks or a Sunday roast.
Indeed, these five months of isolation have sped up the process of cutting the wheat from the metaphorical friendship chaff, seeing some bonds crumble. It’s not just me feeling this change, either. To get an understanding of how lockdown is effecting our most precious female friendships, I’ve spoken to five women anonymously about how this time has made them feel differently about those they call friends.
“This time has exposed my obligatory friendships”
“I’ve been surprised by how easy it’s been to maintain a closeness to friends I adore but worried I wouldn’t hear from, and equally shocked by how difficult it’s been to feel connected to the ones I’ve never really questioned. But within that I’ve realised that there are a few (too many) friends who I’d fallen into a habit of seeing out of obligation, not because of a sincere desire to spend time with each other.
“It’s sad and almost a bit embarrassing that it’s taken something like the disaster of this year to realise that there are people I considered to be in my inner circle who I, actually, neither had anything to say to nor anything in common with. It’s a dynamic that is dramatically exposed when your last six months of WhatsApp conversation hasn’t gone beyond ‘Hey hun, hope you’re doing okay! You back at work yet? Fancy a drink? I’m sorry I’m busy. Don’t worry we’ll find a time….’ [five weeks later…] ‘Hey hun, hope you’re doing okay! You back at work yet…?’”
“I finally let go of my best friend”
“I’ve known Emma for 13 years. We met in sixth form and bonded over a love of dancing, travel and falling for the wrong boys. Fast forward to 2020 and our friendship has lasted living in different countries, multiple break-ups and helping each other piece together single life, fall-outs then making up feeling closer than ever and so much more. I thought it would last a pandemic, but it turns out we’re too different.
“I always knew we were different, I’m probably what most would deem ‘sensible.’ If I have something on the next day I make sure I go home the night before at a responsible hour (within reason, I still like to have fun) whereas Emma would be out all night and well into the next day. Somehow we worked as a duo, our friendship existed on being yin and yang. This worked well until the pandemic hit and our views on how to quarantine clashed.
“Neither is right nor wrong, but countless conversations about the world and its current state left me (and probably her) exhausted. When we were able to meet up at a distance it felt intense and unenjoyable – we would bicker about how to handle the situation and it became apparent we weren’t, and probably hadn’t for a long time been on the same page. I longed for our care-free fun but the pandemic has catapulted our friendship into a ‘new normal’ and I don’t think the old one is coming back anytime soon. Obviously it’s sad and I miss her terribly, but telling myself that losing a friend doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you’ve moved onto other things has really helped me process it.”
“Slowed down communication and living far apart has left me with unsettling FOMO”
“The pandemic has definitely changed the way that my friends and I communicate. Whereas we used to meet for dinner, we now stay in touch through a series of sporadic WhatsApp messages and calls – when we can find time amongst everything else going on, that is. And, while we still chat as easily as we ever did, there’s no denying that we speak a lot less nowadays.
“If I’m being honest, living so far away from them all definitely doesn’t help. I get jealous when I see them hanging out (in a socially-distanced fashion, of course!) on Instagram, because it feels so much worse than you’re usual FOMO: it feels like I’m becoming relegated to the role of ‘background friend’. I know that’s my own paranoia talking, though, and I know the solution is easy: find more time for phone calls, book a train ticket to their neck of the woods, don a mask, and go see them. Because it’s basically guaranteed that, once we’re back in the same room together, everything will go back to the way it was.”
“I’ve realised how important in-person contact is in my friendships”
“During lockdown, I’ve had a lot of anxiety when it comes to maintaining my friendships. As a generally anxious person, I need a lot of reassurance when it comes to my relationships, so not being able to see my friends face-to-face and enjoy time with them left me feeling insecure about my friendships and whether I’ve been doing enough to support others during this time.
“Although I’m sure my friendships will continue after the pandemic, there’s something about being distant from everyone which makes me fear things will be different after so long spent apart.”
“I’ve been shocked by how many people have disappeared easily from my mind”
“The state of my Whatsapp chat has left me feeling quite unsettled as lockdown has gone on. Although I’ve loved seeing the same few faces continuously at the top, keeping in regular contact and feeling in tune with how certain friends are feeling, it’s upset me to realise how many people I would have once considered a really good mate have just slipped out of my life in this time.
“I can’t believe that people I had previously sat next to at work everyday for eight hours a day or old housemates I shared a home with haven’t even entered my mind, and clearly I haven’t entered theirs either. But instead of feeling a culling spree coming on, I’ve actually felt a resurgence of love for these people and the good times we had, especially after months of sitting on my sofa with nothing to do. If anything it has made me grateful for the nights out and weekend walks I have enjoyed with a spectrum of people and encouraged me to get that back.”
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