wellness

"I haven't seen them for months." 8 women on how the pandemic changed their friendships.

Living through a pandemic has given us many intense challenges to navigate as we collectively adapt to a new-normal way of life. 

For me, knowing that freedoms can come and go in an instant and that an unchecked cough could shut down an entire school means that I have never needed my friends more. 

During the recent lockdown in NSW, my weekly walks in the sunshine with a couple of close friends were also therapy sessions. 

When one of us had experienced a terrible week of sick kids, homeschool and COVID tests, the other would listen and offer condolences. It was a chance for us to unpack and feel heard while getting time away from our homes and family. There was also plenty of laughter too.

The things we'll never say in 2021. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

But I know that this is not the case for many other women around me. 

While some have formed unbreakable bonds with people they barely knew; thrown together by circumstance, others have let unfulfilling friendships fade away.

We asked eight women how pandemic life changed their friendships. Here's what they had to say:

1. The friendship fade-out.

Ellie says that her friendship circle had not been right for sometime, but that she wasn't forced to make changes until COVID came along. 

"I was happy to partake in a meaningless social life because it wasn’t causing me any harm," Ellie says.

"I had actively curated a circle of friends around me because I wanted to live out the narrative of someone in their 20s that had a solid 'squad'. What that resulted in was me taking on a sort of performative identity. I was willing to sacrifice part of me in order to ensure I had weekend plans and dinner reservations every Saturday.

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"I had convinced myself that it was more important to be surrounded by people and to keep busy, than not be surrounded by anyone at all.

"Which is why coronavirus was a blessing in disguise. It provided the perfect foundation for the friendship fade-out that I had been forever avoiding. I leveraged the pandemic to my advantage to do something I already wanted to do. I capitalised on the enforced aloneness to finally break away from the people who made me feel alone in the first place.

"And then I met a new friend. We connected over Instagram after realising we had a lot in common. We’re both sober, both hikers, both foodies, and both had long-distance relationships. We got really close. It was like all those years I had wasted on unfulfilling friendships was being made up for in the space of a few weeks." Ellie.

2. The toxic friendship reflection.

Jo* came to a similar conclusion after the pandemic allowed her to put distance between herself and a toxic friend.

"It sounds awful, but the pandemic gave me the opportunity to distance myself from a friendship that really wasn't good for me," Jo says.

"The last few times that I saw this friend in early 2020, I realised that I always felt awful afterwards. 

"She was really judgmental about virtually everyone else in my life, and she constantly gave me back-handed compliments. I feel like the pandemic allowed me to reflect on what I wanted from my friendships, and I realised that this friendship really wasn't adding anything to my life. It was just making me feel... sh*t. 

"In the end, lockdown meant that we naturally just drifted apart." - Jo.*

3. The friendship rethink.

Leah has found that while some friendships have blossomed during this time, others needed a rethink.

"I’ve found that I’ve become closer with some friends but rethought other friendships over the lockdown period," Leah says.

"I used to talk to one friend in particular every month or so, but since lockdown, we’ve talked almost every day. 

"I’ve found it’s super helpful to check in with each other and to be there for each other when either of us is going through a particularly hard time. So, I guess we’ve bonded more even though we haven’t seen each other in four months or so. 

"Whereas with other friends, I haven’t seen them for months and we haven’t talked and it’s actually been a bit of a relief. So I’ve been rethinking those friendships and considering if maybe they aren’t as beneficial as I once thought they were." - Leah.

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Listen: The Mamamia Outloud hosts discuss the epidemic of broken friendships. Post continues below.


4. The re-connection.

Going for regular walks during lockdown rekindled Charlie's bond with an old friend.

"I developed a really close relationship with an old school friend that I used to see maybe once every three months.

"We started walking before work once or twice a week, every week, and still never ran out of stuff to talk about. 

"Now that she's gone back to school (she's a teacher) we've realised how much we miss it and have decided to make it a regular thing again. 

"It's one of the highlights of my week and I'm so glad we've become close again." - Charlie. 

5. The long-distance friendship.

For Gem, the pandemic completely changed her relationship with her closest friend.

"My closest friend lives in Melbourne, and when lockdown started last year, we would walk and talk simultaneously every Sunday morning," Gem says.

"We've done it ever since and have no plans to stop. 

"We used to just text constantly, call occasionally. But now we just save it all for the walk. 

"It's a really important time to us now, to just blabber on and get everything from the week off our chests. So it's improved our communication style, and made us even closer." - Gem.

6. The local friendship turned penpal.

When Emma went into lockdown in NSW, she was separated from her best friends who lived outside her Local Government Area (LGA), forcing her to reconnect with a friend who lived nearby.

"I reconnected with a friend who I was never too close to prior to lockdown as we were both living outside of the five kilometres of our typical friendship groups, but in each other's," Emma says.

"I remember when we first connected again, I had to force myself to get out there for a catch up. It's so tricky meeting with people you don't feel super close to, particularly when you're in the depths of lockdown burnout.

"During most of lockdown, we'd catch up for a walk once a week, until one week she let me know she was over being in lockdown, and was going to move home to Switzerland!

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"After she moved, we've stayed in contact ever since and it's actually lovely. 

"We will send each other little pictures or updates throughout the day and there's absolutely no pressure or rush to respond. It's a really, really beautiful friendship that I'm grateful I got to nourish before she moved back home.

"I also lost contact with a lot of friends who, in hindsight, were purely my friends by sake of convenience. 

"Lockdown was a good opportunity to assess why people fit in to my life, and a lot of the times it was because we liked getting drunk and going out together. 

"There's a place for that sure, but I definitely think COVID overall solidified stronger friendships and broke weaker ones for me." - Emma.

7. The lack of energy for friendship.

Sara* found that COVID has been very tough on her friendships when as a working mum-of-two, she is just busy trying to survive each day.

"I feel like everyone has been so busy just surviving the work/kids/lockdown/homeschool juggle that I haven’t had much energy to give to my friendships," Sara says.

"I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert meaning I haven't always had the emotional bandwidth to reach out during lockdown where others have. 

"This is pretty isolating and I think personally it made me feel like I didn’t have many close friendships because I just didn't hear from anyone much, which is not necessarily true, but it feels that way when people are busy with their own families and lives. 

"I think the intentional letting go of unhealthy people/friends happened naturally for me years ago once people got busy with careers and kids, not so much during COVID, but I can see how that would be convenient for others right now." - Sara.

8. Navigating a friendship shift.

Jen* has noticed a shift in how she relates to certain friends thanks to competing ideologies post-lockdown.

"In different friendship groups I note that people have to be more careful about what they say," Jen says.

"I'm not losing friends necessarily but noticing the shift in dynamics when it comes to opinions on being pro or anti [vaccine] mandates. There's a fear of being seen as selfish or too selfless.

"We've all been in echo chambers on social media in lockdown (generally speaking of course) and coming out of that, we're socialising with friends who would have differing views and it's a bit of a shock to the system when we've been hearing the same narratives during lockdown.

"I feel the energy shift when asking about a friend or family member's vaccination status with curiosity rather than judgement and this has been a big thing to try to navigate through." - Jen.

*While these women are known to Mamamia, names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Getty

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