I’m the friend who’s known for keeping in touch. I text back within 24 hours. I schedule phone calls with long-distance besties. And I make sure to check-up on people if I haven’t heard from them in a while.
So when the pandemic forced us to go remote and isolate, relying solely on texts and FaceTime video calls to socialize, I knew it would be a challenge to maintain my friendships, but I also knew it was a challenge I could handle. What I didn’t expect, however, is how those friendships would actually strengthen as the pandemic wore on — an unexpected gift during a time when so much has been taken from us.
Video calls have forced us to sit down and really listen.
One of the primary reasons I found my friendships growing stronger during the pandemic was that I had more time to devote to those friendships. Usually, I’m scheduling calls with friends on the East Coast during my commute back from the office, on a crowded train or bus. I’m shooting them a text message as I wait for another friend to meet me for our dinner reservation. Or worse, I’m going through my messages as I listen to a podcast on public transit. I’m rarely, if ever, able to block off an hour or two to simply sit with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and genuinely catch up with long-distance friends. As such, having the opportunity to really focus on one another and listen has allowed these friendships, many of which had felt strained as the distance and time between visits grew, to flourish.
Friendships require vulnerability.
The pandemic became a shared experience we could all understand. I’m a young professional, so many of my close high school friendships have been on pause, or simply out-of-focus, in college and the years immediately following graduation. While I still reach out to these friends on my infrequent visits home, comment on their Instagram posts, and even check-in with a text every six to eight weeks, these are no longer the inseparable friendships of my youth. I doubt anything can recreate those experiences, but the pandemic has given us an opportunity to reignite our friendship in a way I didn’t anticipate. Also, this surge in virtual events has allowed us to build our friendship through Netflix Parties and escape rooms, without having to rely solely on conversations to carry us through.
That said, the pandemic has allowed us to be much more open with one another about issues we’d never broached before: our mental health, our worries, and concerns, the fact that our parents are aging. When I was in high school, situated in a predominantly Asian community, mental health was a taboo subject. Being able to open up about these subjects with childhood friends is an experience I wouldn’t have had if it were not for the pandemic. Moreover, these are some of the few people on the planet who know my parents intimately, and I know theirs, so there was both a shared nostalgia for the younger, more energetic people our parents used to be, and a shared concern for how a global health crisis could affect them. These are friendships I never expected to rekindle, mostly due to time constraints but further due to the physical and emotional distance between us, and while I doubt we’ll ever be as close as we once were, it does feel heartening to be able to call these friends close, again.
A crisis makes you realize who your closest friends really are.
Another thing the pandemic exposed? Who really cares. Like I said, I’m the friend who keeps in touch. But during the pandemic, there were days when I just didn’t feel like responding to texts or had to reschedule FaceTime conversations since I simply wasn’t feeling it.
And I was overwhelmed by the flood of support and outpouring of love I received from friends, in those moments. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve received check-up texts from others or had friends walk for an hour to socially distance and picnic with me. Many of these friends are people I’ve only known for a year, maybe two, who I haven’t even shared profound experiences with, but they nevertheless showed up for me and proved that they cared about our friendship as I did. In moments like these, when times are tough, that’s when it becomes abundantly clear who is around in your life just for the highlight reel versus the backstage story, too.
Now, this is not to say that every single one of my friendships has been thriving since the pandemic hit in mid-March. But, I’ve been surprised by the rekindled friendships, heartened by the love from those friendships I knew would be by my side regardless, and eager to let go of those who haven’t shown the same care and support. I am still coming to terms with everything that friendship means, in adulthood, without the expectation of passing your friends in the hallway or seeing them in the library. But the pandemic has shown that friendships can survive even in the most tumultuous of circumstances, when you can’t go to your favorite bar to dance away your worries or share a hearty meal of food in a crowded restaurant. That being said, I’m still very much looking forward to the day when I can give my friends a squeeze and the promise of a visit doesn’t feel quite so far away.
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.
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