The Impact of the Past Year on Friendships

I texted a friend the other day — a good friend that I’ve known since college but barely get to talk to much these days. “I miss you!” I told her, followed by something I feel like I write a lot these days.

“Can we catch up soon?”

She wrote back, and so we went back and forth listing our schedules. She’s a mom of two who runs her own business and has more availability to chat during the week, and I work full time and am in a black hole of digital media mayhem Monday through Friday, and finally get my head above water on weekends.

Needless to say, it’s been a week since that text exchange and we still haven’t nailed down a day or time to talk.

And this is for a goddamn PHONE date, mind you. Not even a real, in person plan— which I prefer, by the way.

This past year has negatively impacted so many aspects of people’s lives, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of this pandemic on friendships, specifically. My relationship with my husband is strong; same with our immediate families. But why am I feeling like so many of my friendships are struggling?

Well, it’s a simple explanation. I’m not seeing them.

My husband Leo & I have erred more on the side of caution — especially since this past fall when we realized a second surge of the virus had hit— and as a result, keep our routines pretty simple. We go to work: him, in a mask, in an office, and me: virtually, in loungewear in our home on Long Island. All of the weekly errands we run and activities we do are in masks: things like the chiropractor (for both of us; getting older is fun), Pilates (me), grocery shopping and pharmacy-type stores.

In terms of what we do more socially and for fun, well, that’s where it’s a bit more isolating. We don’t go to bars or restaurants. We don’t go to friend’s houses. We don’t travel. We don’t go to dinner parties or local breweries or steakhouses or any of the places we used to go pre-pandemic. We decided pretty early on in 2020 that we would continue to see our immediate families who live close by, so that’s helped immensely. Sometimes weekend plans simply just involve going to our parents or sibling’s houses to have a meal, hang with our nieces and nephews, and just get some in-person human interaction.

Because we need it.

But, we don’t see our friends. And while we do have some that live out of state or a significant drive away, we have quite a few local pals as well. And with busy lives and schedules that just won’t sync to get a proper phone catch up going, friendships are now reduced to vapid texts that often feel empty and cold. Not to mention, we’re all dealing with varying degrees of burnout, fatigue and demotivation — so after 5 straight days of work and constant video-chatting, a FaceTime with a friend can feel daunting. A text message gets read while you’re getting rung up at the grocery store, and you think to yourself: “I’ll respond when I get home!” but you forget. You play ‘phone tag’ with someone so often that you eventually just give up. It’s tiring, and it sucks.

Pre-pandemic, my life was still busy and I felt pretty unavailable to my friends during the work week. The difference is, on weekends we’d make up for it by making a slew of plans: brunch, drop-by’s at each other’s houses, a beach day, a birthday celebration. Without the ability to keep the momentum of a friendship going, you reduce the relationship to exchanging text messages like this one, after realizing you haven’t caught up in weeks:

this is an exchange with my best friend of 30+ years.

It’s hard. Even harder? Being one of the few people in your friend group(s) who is being strict about the guidelines and continuing to quarantine and social distance. The only thing worse than “it sucks we ALL can’t see each other!” is knowing that your friends still might all be getting together… only, without you. There’s an isolation that comes with the decision to be a bit more cautious and careful than perhaps others in your life. You start to feel like you’re being given up on; seeing pictures of friends hanging out at dinner or on a mini road trip, when you weren’t even asked. And why WOULD they ask you? You wouldn’t go. Not right now, anyway.

It’s a shitty feeling when you feel like you’ve hit ‘pause’ on life, and yet you’re still watching people you know continue to live it and forge ahead while you watch virtually, from a distance. And there’s no judgment here: how you’ve chosen to live your life this past year is your choice. I recognize that even with as little as I do, I still might be doing a LOT more than others who have barely left their houses since March 2020. And this past summer, my husband and I were a bit more comfortable going places and seeing people. We’re all constantly learning to navigate this new life and all the challenges that comes with it. But simply put? I miss my friends.

I know we’re so close — hopefully mere months away — from going back to some legitimate normalcy (whatever that means) and texts will soon go from “I miss you! Maybe we can try to find a time to hop on the phone this week?” to, “I miss you! Can we hang this weekend?” or, “I miss you! When can I hop on a flight and come visit?

But until then, be easy on your friends. If they’re seemingly distant or not as quick to reach out, they might be going through some stuff, not to mention maintaining a relationship on a screen/device is hard. Deciding to stay home and decline invites for social gatherings during a global pandemic isn’t personal, and while some of your friends might be social distancing — try to remember they’re not purposely distancing themselves from you.

Has the pandemic affected your friendships?

Sometimes writer. Born & raised New Yorker. Wannabe photographer. Social media junkie. Pop culture guru. Habitual line stepper.