Quarantine may have altered your relationships—in some cases, permanently.

By Lisa Milbrand
June 08, 2021
Advertisement

The pandemic has had us reevaluating pretty much every aspect of our lives-where and how we work, where we live, what matters most to us-and even our friendships.

As we did most of our celebrating, commiserating and caring over computer screens or six feet apart over the past year, our relationships have shifted, as some became closer (hello, pandemic pods)-and others? Not so much.

I found that my very dearest friendships deepened, and thanks to weekly virtual get-togethers, I rekindled college-era friendships with people I haven't seen in person in nearly a decade. But I also lost friends, as people who I didn't see eye to eye with on COVID and vaccines started peeling off my social media feed.

And that same story has been playing out with billions of people around the planet.

"The pandemic made every person in every part of the world reflect at the same time about the value and meaning of our friendships and relationships," says Kat Vellos, author of We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships. "Being forced apart made us realize which bonds and whose closeness we craved the most, and whose we were OK going without. Many people realized that some of their former friendships were just based on convenience or habit, and that they lacked depth or true commitment."

So now that we're heading on the road toward normal, we need to figure out what that means for our friendships post-pandemic. Are we content with our close-knit crew, or do we want to rebuild those relationships that may have been pushed to the side? Here's what you should be thinking about as you reassess your friendships.

If you feel guilty for being out of touch-don't

There was a lot going on for most people over the past year, even if they were safely quarantined at home-shortages of toilet paper or groceries, mental health issues, juggling remote school and work. And without those easy moments to reconnect on the playground or around the office water cooler, your relationships may have lagged. You shouldn't feel bad about the fact that even your closest friends may not have gotten more than a weekly (or monthly) "still alive" text during the worst stretches.

"Friendships that suffered during the pandemic may have struggled for a number of reasons," says Kyler Shumway, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Formula: How to Say Goodbye to Loneliness and Discover Deeper Connection. "Maybe it was a pruning effect, and you realized you didn't actually care that much to stay in touch or that neither of you had the bandwidth for the relationship. Sometimes, this can actually be quite healthy."

If it isn't a friendship you're ready to let go of, it's easy enough to start it back up. "A simple check-in text or email, an awkward 'hey, I hope you are OK, I've missed you,' or an invitation to go for a walk or grab coffee can go a long way," Shumway says.

Prioritize quality over quantity

Our social circles are probably smaller now than they've been in the past-and for some people, it may stay that way.

"We've seen that the quality of our connections matters more than the number of friends we have," Vellos says. "Does your heart really want to reestablish a big social circle, or is it silently pleading for you to keep things small and mellow? Reflect, listen deeply to your core needs, and base your priorities and future actions on that."

You have limited time and energy to devote to your friendships, so make it count. "You are making a subconscious calculation of which of your relationships are worth investing resources in-which relationships actually matter most? Which connections bring you the deepest sense of meaning, joy, and belonging?" Shumway says. "Be intentional about maintaining those connections."

Consider whether it's worth reconciling with friends who don't share your values

The past year brought to the forefront a lot of issues that strained or even broke relationships. "There have been plenty of controversial issues for us to have conflict about," Shumway says. "The pandemic became highly politicized. Protests and violence shook the nation. And because all of us want to belong, it was too easy for us to affiliate with a cause and see people with different views as the enemy-we call this 'other-ing.'"

While it may not be worth reconciling with a casual acquaintance who clearly doesn't share your values, Shumway says to consider trying to heal rifts with close friends. "Despite the pain and suffering experienced during those conflicts, I believe there is healing to be had through reconnection."

Carve out time for your long-distance friends

For many people, the pandemic gave us time to reconnect with friends who lived far away. (After all, if you're seeing everyone over Zoom, why not connect with the friend who's six states away as well?) Now that we're getting busier and back into in-person get-togethers, you'll need to be more intentional if you want to maintain those friendships.

"The four seeds of connection are proximity, frequency, commitment, and compatibility," Vellos says. "Having all four makes things easier, but you don't need them all to be at 100 percent to still have a healthy friendship."

Vellos recommends continuing to carve out time to be in touch with these far-flung friends to demonstrate your commitment-and perhaps start making some travel plans. "This is a great time to think about how safer travel can support you seeing these long-distance friends in real life, either by visiting them in their town or taking a trip to someplace new together. Creating a new collection of shared memories besides lockdown life is a great way to deepen your bond."

Understand that you may drift away from your pandemic pod

That super-tight circle was essential in the thick of the pandemic, but they may become less important as we start to open back up. "It reminds me of the intensity of summer camp where you make fast friends with the people that you're enmeshed with for weeks or months, but then those friendships often fade away when you return back to your normal lives in different towns," Vellos says. "Some friendships are for a season, and some are for a reason. It's not sustainable for every friendship you've ever had to be maintained at their highest level of intensity forever." 

You may even want to talk with them about it. "Let the other person know how much staying connected to them mattered to you during this past year," Vellos says. "If you know that you won't be able to maintain the same level of availability in the coming months, be honest about that, and let them know that this change in no way diminishes the appreciation you have for what you've shared so far."

Don't ghost somebody

Rather than just ride off into the sunset, let them know-in the nicest way possible-that you aren't able to maintain the same level of friendship. "You might say that you'd like to stay connected but you're just not able to hang out online as much as you used to," Shumway says. "Or you might let them know that you love being invited to do things but will have a harder time making it work these days."

Whatever you do, don't just disappear-ghosting is just as terrible in friendships as it is in dating. "As a therapist, I can't tell you how often I hear stories from clients who have been ghosted or otherwise abandoned by people they thought cared about them," Shumway says. "It's not just painful because of the rejection-it's painful because of the lack of closure."