Woe Is Me! “I’ve Lost Friends Since During the Pandemic. How Do I Get Them Back?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“Since the lockdown started in 2020, I have lost a considerable amount of friends. I don’t fight at all but I had started to feel distant and very different from them yet I did not stop communicating with them. I felt bad when they started to leave because at some point in time we’d had a good time together, and that’s the only reason I gave it a try with all of them. But things did not work out; soon conversations became a blame game, and again I felt that I had changed under lockdown; so, maybe, it’s okay if my friends changed too? But the disruption of our friendships is still quite troubling. What do I do?“
— On the verge of a friendship breakup
SM: The one thing that has helped me deal with similar situations is to realize that in difficult times, we all evolve and grow in different ways, and often, that means growing apart and away from friends who we were close to at one point. But the advantage of friendships is that they are a more fluid relationship. I’ve had experiences where I haven’t spoken to friends in years, and then when we’ve gotten back in touch, we pick up right where we left off, and have sometimes become even closer. So the important thing is that the moment you do reach this point, where even after trying, you can’t seem to connect as you did before, you just let go a little bit. Stay in touch and keep the affection you had at the center of how you view that person and their memories, and more likely than not, you’ll connect with each other again at some point in life.
SK: Friendship break-ups really hurt. The pandemic, when life indoors and online changed all of us so intrinsically, has definitely made it harder to keep a friendship alive — harder “to make the effort,” so to speak. There are two ways you can make peace with it. One, and this is what I’ve gleaned from my experience, Is understanding that the lockdown has changed our emotional priorities. People may prefer their individual selves over the company of others; just because interests don’t align in anymore. And I can truly understand how taxing it must be to stay in friendships that require “work” and give little in “returns”; something so supportive could become so transactional.
Two, and this is the more important, it’s really okay to outgrow friends in general. For the sole reason that we change, and so do others. It’s understandable why anyone would want to hold onto friends — especially during a global pandemic when isolation and chaos reign supreme. But I hope you’re able to process the guilt and sadness of it all by first accepting that it’s okay for friends to fall by the wayside over time. It’s also important you do this because knowing whom to let go of helps you realize your own boundaries. One piece of advice I always like to think of when it comes to friendships is everyone has the agency to construct their own “friendscapes” — as a psychologist put it. Ask yourself, now more than ever: “who’s close by, who do we want to be around, and who do we want to surround us?” It’s not a golden ticket to an answer, but it may give you some clarity.
At the end of the day, we love people but we have to let them go. Or they’ll let us go. Some change, some grow. It’s only human, after all.
PB: Such is life. Isolation tends to do that to a lot of people — you begin to realize who really matters to you, and who you wish to speak to on a daily basis. I think, after the pandemic, all of us are left with a much leaner, more dedicated crop of friends. People you connect with and leaned on during the trying times of the past two years.
I commend your efforts to keep in touch through thick and thin, but I implore you to not feel guilty. Friendships fade away very often, and we spend too much time lamenting the loss of a closeness- rightfully so. In time, however, we must learn to appreciate the time we did have, and remember them as companions who we cherished once in life. People move on, life moves on, and we move on.
You changed, and your social life did with you. It’s okay to let friendships go. It’s always okay.
DR: Here’s the thing: I believe our idea of friendships are a little too inspired by their unrealistic, unsustainable portrayals in pop culture, where people drop everything at a moment’s notice to fly by their friends’ sides — as if they don’t have lives of their own, or can afford to just hit pause on it without consequences. Unfortunately, when we see this narrative repeated over and over again in multiple shows and movies we religiously watch and love, we’re conditioned to expect nothing less from real-life friendships. And since unrealistic expectations are, by definition, not rooted in reality, they’re never realized — setting us up for disappointment, preventing us from cherishing our real-life friends and the bonds we share with them, and causing resentment to build up over time.
I could be completely off the mark, of course, but it seems to me that you — and your friends — are struggling to bridge the gap between unrealistic expectations and reality, too, while trying to navigate a new, unprecedented normal that’s characterized by mass trauma. So, no wonder it’s not going very well!
My advice: give each other time and space. I don’t think forcing connectivity will lead you anywhere. But, perhaps, every once in a while, check up on them — or, share a meme, if you will. Either they reciprocate, or you realize after a point that you’ve drifted apart, which is also quite natural — people evolve all the time, and outgrow their careers, hobbies, interests, friendships even. And it’s okay; mourn them, if you will — the void left by friendship break-ups can be immense, and the pain it causes, barely discussed and underrated.
Here’s some good news, though: in time, you’ll have new friends, who you will be able to resonate with and connect to. Then, one fine day you’ll wake up and realize that even though you do miss friendships from an era that’s best described as “bygone,” the voids left by them aren’t as prominent as they once used to feel like — and you’ll know you have moved on.