Female friendship is one of life’s greatest treasures, and the lifting of certain restrictions means that women around the country are reuniting with their pals. Stylist spoke to six of them about their experiences.
“My tickets are booked, the dinner reservation has been confirmed, I can’t wait to see you!” Never have these words caused such an emotional, overexcited response – it feels like we’ve been waiting for them for years and years.
As restrictions from the Covid-19 nationwide lockdowns have gradually begun to lift over the last two months, we have been given the opportunity to socialise with friends in a way that we haven’t been able to in such a long time.
While we may still have a way to go until we are completely out of the woods and social plans involve no precautions at all, plenty of women have taken full advantage of the opportunity to reunite with their very best friends – and to have as much fun together when they do.
Stylist caught up with five women on their big reunions – and how it felt to be with their closest ones after months apart – as well as gathering the best expert advice on easing yourself back into social engagements.
“We did a lot of screaming and hugging – then remembered we weren’t actually meant to hug”
“Living so far away from most of my friends with no real way of seeing them for the best part of a year made finally meeting up after lockdown an amazing treat,” Annie, 31, from Greenwich, says.
“I was definitely excited but I was a little nervous that the government would change their minds last minute. I also feel like the effort to get ready, trying to figure out what to do with my hair, walking to the restaurant and getting home has left me feeling exhausted but socially fulfilled.”
“When me and my friends first saw each other, we did a lot of screaming and hugging – then remembered we weren’t actually meant to hug – but then hugged each other anyway. I was so excited to see them, I accidentally knocked my cocktail all over myself – luckily I had already taken pictures for my Instagram!”
“Covid has made me look back at the good things in life, and how much I’d missed my friends”
“Meeting up with friends after lockdown was like meeting them again for the first time,” Sandra, 44, from Galway says. “In fact, we talked a lot about how we met and funny stories about the early days of our friendship. It felt nostalgic in a way. I think Covid made me look back at the good things in life I have and how much I missed them.”
“We were all nervous to meet beforehand – but it was so worth it. So much had changed for both of us over this time and catching up in person was so important.”
She adds that the meetings were still very carefully planned to be as safe as possible, a huge difference in comparison to pre-Covid times: “We thought a lot about where we would meet so in the end, we met outside and went for a walk. We both wanted to feel extra safe as we both have elderly parents and this has always been in my mind. I never want to put them in any danger.”
“Really belly laughing with a group of girls again has been like therapy”
“It has been such a tonic to see friends again after the lockdown – getting ready to actually go out again with a bunch of mates is just fantastic,” Sophie, 53, from St Albans, says. “I had forgotten how much it made the work day go faster and how great it is to have something to look forward to in the evening. Even deciding what to wear is fab!”
“I’ve been to some amazing places with groups of girlfriends because we haven’t been out for so long, so we don’t mind spending more money now. We’ve been to restaurants on the Thames with Tower Bridge as our backdrop, and a rooftop bar in the City where we could almost reach out and touch St Paul’s Cathedral!”
Meeting up in person has also given Sophie the chance to really check in with her friends. “With my girlfriends, we’ve caught up about some of the serious things – a couple of my friends have lost relatives to Covid and one has broken up with a partner – and these are things that it’s much better to talk about in the flesh rather than on Zoom or WhatsApp.
“We also all have teenagers, and so sharing stories about living with them in a pandemic has been fun and just really belly laughing with a group of girls again has been like therapy. I hadn’t thought I was too badly affected by the lockdowns, but my mood has really been lifted since I’ve been able to get out again.”
“I had no reservations about going whatsoever – it’s been a big weight off my shoulders”
“My friends and I went for a meal to my favourite restaurant and just chatted,” Rebecca, 30, from Huddersfield says. “Nothing spectacular, but it didn’t need to be anything more than what it was. Good company and great conversations with friends was a breath of fresh air.”
She adds: “It was so good to see my friends and be able to have conversations with adults. From deep conversations about what we’ve missed out on in life to just general rubbish, it was so nice to just be able to be around them. I had no reservations whatsoever. I was ecstatic to get out and so excited to see them.”
“Not seeing my friends and being able to socialise during the lockdown has been the hardest thing for me and left me feeling unsatisfied with life in general. I have felt so relieved to be able to actually see people and socialise – it’s been a big weight off my shoulders being able to get out and do things alone and child free.”
“We met for an ice cream – it’s the simple things I’ve missed”
“I met up with my best friend of 25 years by doing what we love best – going for a walk in the park with an ice cream,” Aishah, 29, from Leicester says. “It may seem simple, but it’s the simple things I missed. It was a happy feeling of relief to be reunited.”
“After having my baby during lockdown, it made me appreciate even more how much I just like having people around in the simplest ways. For me, isolating for a lengthy time away from family and friends made me so lonely and anxious about being a first-time mum.”
She adds that she didn’t feel too nervous about reconnecting with her closest friends, because of how great it felt for them to meet her daughter. “I was dying for my baby girl to meet all the people who love her.”
“Actually being able to have an in-person conversation was incredible”
Birdie, 23, from London told Stylist that she “felt like a weight had been lifted” when she finally reunited with her closest friends. “I’m someone who likes to be around people, so lockdown was difficult for me.”
“We had decided to be spontaneous, as most places are booked out until September. We chanced it and got a table as a walk in. We didn’t do anything major but the feeling of just being out and actually being able to have an in-person conversation was incredible.”
Not all friendships have been picked up as they were before, she found: “I think it was quite strange to see certain friends, as I felt the dynamic had changed slightly. Some friendships were harder to maintain and I slightly feel like I have to start all over again.”
An expert advises on how to deal with reuniting with friends
“It can feel strange to meet face to face again. For those who were totally isolated during the various lockdowns due to being vulnerable, it can even be overwhelming,” she says. “Take small steps as you return to normal life and reflect on what support you need during each stage and communicate this with your friends.
“For example, let them know if you prefer to eat outdoors or enjoy an intimate dinner inside. Speak to them about how you are feeling, without offering any judgment on how others choose to act. This is a transition period, and transition means our brain relearns the sensations and our experiences of meeting. Remember that we are all different and choose to move at our own pace.”
There are also some things you can do for yourself before seeing friends and family: “Take some time to prepare,” she says. “You might like to try some meditation or breathing exercises to help calm your mind.”
After all, fitting in some in-person contact with your friends is important to your mental health. “A man is not an island, we live to form connections with others,” Ben-Ari adds. “Touch also helps to regulate our nerve system after any non-symbolic connection that we missed in lockdown, such as eye contact, holding hands, sitting close to each other and so on.
“Meeting in person is different from meeting on Zoom. Having eye contact in real life regulates us and offers a sense of safety and connection. We can feel and experience the energy of others, as our brain picks up things that are beyond our awareness. Of course, the ability to be physically close and to hug is also important.”
“We thrive when we feel connected to others. Our body regulates itself by the relational space we create with others. Meeting in person again is in itself a process of growing and establishing trust again, and accepting how one feels, but healing comes through connection with others.”
Images: Annie Amusu/Sophie Banks/Sophie Bird