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Friends Behaving Badly: Changing Friendships During the Pandemic

It goes without saying that everybody's social lives have taken somewhat of a beating over the last year. Government restrictions have meant keeping friends at arm's length and forgoing nights out, coffee dates and visits to each other's houses. We have been forced to adapt, innovate and improvise new ways of socialising (Zoom pub quiz, anyone?) and whilst it has been frustrating, we can all agree it has been necessary and for a good reason.

But what if we can't? Beyond the practical and logistical challenges Coronavirus has posed to friendships, it also has the potential to expose deeper rooted issues. What if your friends just don't seem to care? Differing reactions to the pandemic and varying degrees of regard for restrictions can cause disagreements, bad feelings or even irreversible rifts between mates. As therapist Dr. Rachel O'Neill puts it, 'This situation has illuminated the different ways people choose to progress through a situation that impacts everyone [...] Some people have adapted their life for the greater good, while others are taking a more individualistic approach.'

I count myself lucky that throughout this time, the majority of my friends have had opinions and experiences that align with my own. In its own strange way, the pandemic has reaffirmed and strengthened a lot of my friendships, and for that I am eternally grateful— their support has carried me through. That said, it hasn't all been plain sailing; I have seen friends struggle with their mental health, while other friends complain about having to wear a mask to the shops. I have watched friends jetting off on multiple holidays abroad and attending large parties, while others face losing their jobs, homes or even loved ones. Though it may be idealistic to expect total consensus on rule-following (especially when the said rules have often been so vague and contradictory), in what has been, for many, quite literally a life-or-death scenario, it can be hard not to take things personally.

If, like me, you have lost faith in your friends over the past year, you will know that beyond the frustration there is a lot of sadness. It is hard to watch friendships change at the best of times, let alone in such uncertain ones as these. I have to constantly remind myself that I do not know everything. Whatever social media tries to tell me, I will never know the full story behind the picture or the angry status. Likewise, comparing and quantifying struggles is not a productive use of anybody's time. Yes, I am worried about the long term effects of lockdown, such as people's health and wellbeing and suffering industries like hospitality and the performing arts. Yet, I am also just desperate to escape the house and get my hair cut. With an awareness of the bigger picture, all fears and feelings surrounding Covid are valid.

Outgrowing friendships is a painful yet inevitable part of life. Though the past year has in many ways felt static, it has been a hugely transformative time. It has been near impossible to remain unchanged in the face of the pandemic, not to mention all the other momentous, often distressing events that we have seen unfold across the globe. If you feel like a totally different person to who you were last March, that's okay. If your friend isn't who you thought they were either, that's okay too. But however you choose to proceed from there— whether you decide to distance yourself or discuss your concerns with them, cut them out of your life or agree to disagree— it is worth remembering that everyone is more fragile than usual at the moment. Tread with kindness.


This article was written on March 21st 2021.


Emily is a postgraduate student studying Early Modern Literature in London.
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