Has the Pandemic Changed our Friendships Forever?

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Pandemic

Photo: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/ Getty Images

Friendships, like romantic relationships, are subject to various external forces that either strengthen or chip away their quality. They must be developed and require intentionality even if that comes more naturally to some than others. A mismatch between the social connection we desire and the amount that the environment provides can leave us feeling lonely or even depressed.

While Covid-19 has applied pressure to our friendships, it has also proven their importance. The research was already there long beyond the pandemic – close friendships boost life expectancy. Researched conducted by Harvard University in 2017indicated that meaningful social connections play an important role in health, happiness, and longevity. In 2015 British-Swiss writer Johann Hari said during his TED talk that, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” Whenever we deny the connection, we deny the medicine that can save us. There is ample evidence that shows that healthy, close friendships do us better than we realise.

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Socially and culturally, for many people, friendships have either for the first time taken on deeper meaning and value or for others has caused a revival or return to their prior value and appreciation for relationships,” psychologist Dr Thema told us. “Relationships can be therapeutic sites of healing. As we connect, we feel seen, known, understood, and valued. As the African proverb teaches, ‘I am because we are.’ In our connection to each other, we discover new aspects of ourselves.”

My experience of lockdown helped me learn an important lesson of how steadfast or fragile friendship can be. Like many people who lost loved ones during the pandemic, I went into a very low period dealing with the combination of the death of loved ones, isolated alone in my apartment, and the struggle of absorbing a lot of what was going on around me – the burden of an empath. Next came the racial reckoning of summer 2020, which left me emotionally drained. In a short space of time, my much-needed space of peace segued into an overwhelming sense of grief, a period that changed what I value in a friend. I learnt the difference between acquaintances that I had developed social bonds with from countless engagements over the years versus those who were able to relate to every aspect of my life and could still hold space for me as I did for them, irrespective of what was going on around the world. Those calibre of friends are very few, and all the more precious for their rarity.

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