We should be grateful for the connection to friends that technology affords us, but in the wake of furlough’s extension one writer voices her frustration at how trying to function in a group of friends living very different work lives has become even more difficult.
I lived in London for a decade until January 2020 when I moved to Brighton. Little did I know at the time that this move would separate me from the friendships I had built in that city for the whole of the next year. While my new seaside home was just over an hour away, with non-essential travel banned by March, it was impossible for me to meet my friends in real life.
Now, in a time as difficult as the one we’re all living through, you’d think that technology would be the thing to save my relationships with these friends. But in reality, the pressure to constantly text and voice note has created a layer of friction that never existed before.
The pressure to be accessible to my friends and the obligation to be present for them has only been exaggerated by friends’ experiences of furlough; and it’s a side effect that I didn’t see coming.
At its peak, the furlough scheme has catered for up to nine million people, so there must be thousands of relationships that have been affected by this sudden change in circumstance. It’s a secondary consequence of this big shift in everyone’s day-to-day lives, but the interpersonal side of furlough still isn’t really spoken about.
I would like to think that my relationships can withstand a change of circumstance for either of us involved, but the difference in lifestyle between friends who have and haven’t been furloughed has become jarring. It’s calling the strength of friendships into question even more now that furlough has been extended until September.
It is, of course, a relief to know that people who aren’t able to work will be financially supported for the next six months. But that also means that, for many, there will be hours everyday that would usually be filled by careers that instead may need to be filled by contact with friends.
For those who aren’t working this vast, outstretching time has meant an opportunity to keep in touch and stay entertained through messaging friends. But for those of us living the alternative reality, we’re likely to feel the opposite, and this is where the unspoken problem lies.
Feeling like there’s an expectation to respond to a message within a few hours or even a day is difficult. My reluctance to look at a phone at the end of the day conflicts with the need for interaction that I can feel from friends without the distraction of work or conversation from colleagues to rely on.
I can begin to feel like the ‘bad friend’ if I don’t reply to group chats immediately. Seeing a group’s message count ping passed 100 while working is a recipe for feeling like the only one not putting into the relationship.
So, what’s it like from the other side? Journalist Rosie Conroy has been furloughed for the entirety of the scheme’s period and says she understands that it must be hard for those still working a 9-5 from home, but it doesn’t mean she’ll stop using messages to fill her time.
“Being on furlough seemed like the dream at first, but it’s not just like being on holiday for a year. I live with my boyfriend who has been at the office the whole time, so it’s just me in the house all day (and there is only so much Netflix one human can watch). Because of furlough coupled with pandemic in general I’m feeling the need for human interaction more than ever,” she explains to Stylist.co.uk.
“As a generally sociable person the only way I can get my company kicks these days is by chatting to friends and family on WhatsApp, but even that feels a bit lacking. Everyone has jobs and families and their own lives to be getting on with.
“When I chat away to people and they don’t reply until the evening I get it but, it it also doesn’t feel great. I’ll check ‘last active’ times like a weirdo because I literally have nothing else to do, and a few times I’ve caught myself in a bit of an anxious spiral wondering if I’m annoying people with all my messages,” she continues.
Rosie says: “Lots of people joke that they wish they were on furlough too, but honestly it’s boring, it’s unfulfilling and it’s lonely. I can’t wait to get back to an office for that regular chat with colleagues and then I can happily get back to the normal rhythms of communication with friends too.”
The truth is, in a time like this no one is winning. All we can do is recognise what we need as individuals individuals trying to keep our heads above water and our communication needs catered for.
There’s no shame in stepping back from a group and admitting you can’t be all things to all people right now. If that’s messaging a friend to ask for a scheduled chat over their lunch break, that could be a better way forward for both of you.