International Friendship Day: Has the pandemic changed our friendships forever?

International Friendship Day: Has the pandemic changed our friendships forever?
Experts offer their advice for navigating friendships post-lockdown. By Katie Wright.

The pandemic has impacted our relationships in so many ways.

When it comes to platonic connections – whether they’re BFFs, work buddies or casual acquaintances – being separated from our friends due to lockdown restrictions has had both positive and negative consequences.

To mark International Friendship Day (julho 30), we asked two relationship experts to break down the pros and cons, and offer their advice for socialising in the post-lockdown world…

Deeper connections

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On the one hand, we’ve learned to use technology and social media to maintain connections during the pandemic, rather than just passively observing other people’s lives, or throwing a ‘like’ in someone’s direction every so often.

“Because you’re not with people as much, you have to go back to basics and learn to communicate on lots of different levels,” says Kim Rutherford, psychotherapist and author of 8 Wise Ways. “So we are learning to communicate without being able to meet in person.”

Some people have found that, when faced with lockdown loneliness, anxiety around Covid or other struggles, they’ve been able to open up more and share their problems.

Rutherford says: “I’m seeing an awful lot of young people who have really become more aware of their own mental health through [the pandemic] and are talking to their friends and their family more about that. And that’s a positive thing, bringing people closer together because there is much more depth to the conversations that are happening now than did before.”

Fading friendships

On the other hand, some friendships have faltered due to a lack of contact over the course of many months.

Friendships are massively important, but they do bring demands on time,” says psychologist Audrey Tang, author of The Leader’s Guide To Resilience. “And as things change and we have different priorities – we have children, we move away – they do become really hard to maintain.”

Agora, it seems people fall into one of two camps. There are those longing to reconnect with their mates, and those who’ve realised that, na realidade, they’re not so keen to go back to the days of being overloaded with social plans and having no time for themselves.

How can you reconnect?

(Alamy/PA)

“Start by doing one to ones with people,” says Rutherford. “Just go and have a coffee with someone, catch up. It’s about [dizendo]: ‘How have you been? What have you been doing? Sorry I haven’t been in touch for a while, but I really care and I really want to know’. Build each relationship back up.”

Tang advises easing yourself back into the social scene rather than cramming your diary full of friend dates: “Don’t see people back to back, don’t try and pack in five people in one day, actually spend the time with that one person.”

And if you feel like your social skills are a bit rusty? Remember you’re not the only one, she says: “Don’t let those feelings stop you, because a lot of the time you’ll probably find everyone else is feeling the same thing, so you just need to voice that, and that can help.”

Tang also suggests not abandoning online interactions altogether, but using them sparingly: “Given that the pandemic allowed us to be online more, we’re all a bit more tech savvy. Use that tool to be able to drop into someone’s birthday or say hi, even if you can’t be there physically.”

Reassess your friendships

You might want to take some time to reassess your friendships and decide where you want to focus your efforts. Rutherford suggests looking at your social circle and categorising people into one of three groups: true friends, mates, and acquaintances.

That way, she says, we can identify “who our people are, who’s our support system, and ensure we still grow and nurture and cherish those relationships,” while acknowledging it’s “OK to distance ourselves from the ones that aren’t as beneficial to us as we once thought they were.”

Tang says: “Look at your friendships and ask yourself: which friendships are reciprocal? Which friendships bring me joy? Which friendships allow me to be authentic? Which friendships can I rely on?”

By asking yourself those questions, you can help decide to whom you’re going to devote your time and energy, and who it might be time to distance yourself from. Rutherford continues: “It’s not about saying somebody’s not good enough for me, it’s just saying that we don’t bring out the best in each other.”

What’s the best way to make new friends?

What about if you’re looking to make new connections and find people who do bring out the best in you? Both our experts recommend seeking out hobbies like sports or art classes where you can join a group.

“Those things not only give us something to talk about when we meet people, but we get to meet like minded adults too,” says Tang.

“I’m a big believer in meet-up groups. I’m also a firm believer that if there isn’t one that exists, create one for yourself,” says Rutherford, suggesting online groups can be a good starting point if you’re nervous about rocking up at an in-person event on your own.

Em última análise, it’s about being brave and trying different avenues to find your people, she adds: “Just start interacting with people that you know will share your basic values, and then things can happen more organically after that. The reality of it is, we can’t have friends in this world if we’re not willing to put ourselves out there.”

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