August 1, 2021 3:15:16 pm
Among the several waves of change we surfed through the last year or so, the one that wiped out many sand castles was a tidal wave that impacted friendships. Many, of course, survived and built endurance. But whether dissolved with distance or evolved and redefined, the impact of Covid on friendships has been undeniable.
The restrictions that had to be imposed resulted in distancing, isolation and loneliness. The usual support we had from meeting friends, switching off from stress in mindless conversation and laughter, or bonding over structured and planned activities like travel and treks, were all halted.
Popular sayings indicate friendships are truly tested during a crisis. I personally have never accepted it. I feel friendships are dynamic — can’t be tested or judged and the experience depends heavily on one’s own cognitive and emotional balance at the time. One’s own perceptions, stories and moods spill all over the experience of a relationship. Covid made many people vulnerable, and that has had diverse effects, significantly depending on individual differences.
To understand friendships simply, in any given moment, either they exist or they don’t. There is much conjecture on the intensity, trust, honesty and genuinity, but according to me, it is a friendship only if these constructs are present. It also happens that sometimes the relationship is very much there, but it gets lost in life’s changes and challenges, which is normal and not indicative of any failure. It is not to say that it does not leave us with a sense of loss and pain, but to take away from what we experienced in that relationship by saying it never was genuine– the good times and the true learnings –would only compound the difficult feelings.
Covid exposed us to a crisis laden with fear, stress, disease, anxiety, isolation, helplessness and frustration. This explains why the popular means of demonstration of love and camaraderie became limited, the nurturers, providers and flag bearers of concern and support, as well those who needed attention and depended heavily on relationships, were compelled to stay with themselves without escaping into company. Friendships felt the heat worldwide.
A survey on mental health conducted last year by University College London found that 22 per cent people found their friendships deteriorated, almost half reported no changes in their relationships with others, while 15 per cent reported deepened and strengthened bonds.
A crisis sets the stage for awakening, questioning, rebuilding and learning, if we are open to receiving it. What did the yearnings, the loneliness, the virtual coffees and showers teach me about friends, friendships and myself? The quiet quality time with self that was imposed on us, the deprivation of meeting friends and socialising, pushed some to figure that some of their friendships weren’t meant to be, or were just not practical. For some, the silence and absence led to enhanced ability to tune into their inner voice: how did I define friendship, what did it mean to me and what did I bring to the relationship?
In the last one year, as a therapist, I have observed the impact of Covid on friends. Some took appointments for their friends who were manifesting emotional difficulty, paid for their sessions and helped them with following up. I know a family who took flights to pick up the children of their friends, a couple, who got the virus and had no family in the city. Friends who helped support businesses and forged alliances. Friends who called or messaged regularly or delivered delicious delicacies. Friends who came together after many years and rekindled their bond. But, also friends who became bitter over expectations, distance and lost each other.
Covid definitely turned more people inward. And this has kindled a new and precious form of friendship for many people — that with themselves — figuring, loving, trusting and befriending themselves. The way we see ourselves — how dependent, fallible, perfect, complete or not — impacts our relationships much more than any pandemic ever can. What Covid did do is that it compelled us to become conscious of our thoughts, leading to a positive impact on friendships. And for that we can thank any crisis that pushes us out of our comfort zone.
The meaningfulness gets deeper and stronger, because we choose to experience them even through the distance. In fact, some old ones got repaired because the crisis showed us what matters. The key is to accept the dynamism we bring to the table. The deep ones, at times, hurt as much as the casual ones. The casual ones please as much as the significant ones. This depends on how we receive and experience them. One way or another, friendships have an opportunity to evolve or dissolve, provided we take the onus of the experience, the flexibility and acceptance of letting something go when it exists only in our fantasy and contentment, and show gratitude for the ones we can experience right now.
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