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Friendship is important at any time, but I’d argue that strong, solid connections with friends have never been more essential to our mental health than they are now. And yet, the pandemic can also bring new challenges for friendships.

For me, the connections with my friends are fundamental to my emotional and spiritual health. G getting together with my friends is one of the great joys in my life. I’m grateful that we live in an age where we can easily connect with friends via video chat, email, text and phone even when we can’t be with them in person, but as wonderful as those online connections are, they’re not the same as being able to hug your friends, or even just sitting across the same table from them.

Early on in the pandemic, I did a lot of Zoom calls with friends, but I found those increasingly frustrating as time went on.  It took me a while to figure out why these Zoom sessions were so unsatisfactory for me, but then I started seeing more and more articles about “Zoom fatigue.” Finally, it made sense to me.

“When you’re online, sometimes not only is there a little bit of an artificialness to the interaction but there’s literally a lag that’s built in from the technology, and that is quite off-putting for our brains,” said science journalist Lydia Denworth, the author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond told Greater Good Magazine. “Our brains recognize that as a different kind of interaction, and they don’t like it very much. I think that’s one reason why some people are being driven crazy by Zoom. And if you have a group on Zoom, it’s very hard figuring out who’s going to speak next. There’s a way that we handle that with nonverbal cues in person that is harder to pull off virtually.”

I’m grateful that it’s still safe to do outdoor visits with friends, as long as both parties are comfortable with doing that. Nothing short of holing up in your house and never leaving is 100% safe, but I consider outdoor visits while observing proper distancing safe enough. The minor risk more than offsets the benefits to my mental health.

While no one in my circle of friends scoffs at public health recommendations such as wearing masks and physical distancing, I’ve still found that even among my close friends, comfort levels with what feels safe and what doesn’t can vary widely. I try not to judge anyone. I have one friend who’s not comfortable seeing me even in an outdoor setting. That feels excessively cautious to me, but it’s her choice, and while I miss seeing her, I respect her position.

Some friendships may not survive this pandemic. “I think we’re going to see a shift in what friendships continue going forward, based on discrepancies in values and how they are reflected in social-distancing measures,” Grace Dowd, a psychotherapist in Austin, told health and psychology writer Ashley Abramson. “A lot of people aren’t sure if they can go back to a close relationship with a certain person because of what they’re seeing.”

Abramson suggests that you consider context and character before you judge another person’s behavior. Does your friend have a history of behaving irresponsibly, or do you simply have different levels of risk tolerance?

Communication is key to navigate friendships during these times, but keep in mind that everyone is feeling overwhelmed these days, and emails and texts may not get answered as timely as you’re used to. “The mark of a good friend during these times shouldn’t be how often we’re checking in on one another; it should be how well we recognize that our friends’ priorities must be securing their own oxygen masks before helping us with ours,” writes Anna Borges for Self Magazine.

And finally, a word about the term “social distancing:” I wish that people would stop using it. We’re being asked to maintain a physical distance, not to avoid all contact with other human beings. We never needed social contact more than we do now, and the term “social distancing” undermines that need in subtle ways. Won’t you join me in eliminating “social distancing” from your vocabulary and call it “physical distancing” instead?

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10 Comments on Sunday Quotes: New Friends

  1. Friends do give energy to the soul, especially when they’re felines. These 2 beauties are so precious, I could just squeeze them and give them millions of kisses.

  2. Thank you for your post! That helps put things in perspective. Social distancing always makes me cringe. Nit because I don’t follow all protocols, but because it misses the mark. Physical distancing is what we are trying to accomplish. Not using ‘Social ‘ anymore either.

  3. I never really thought about it, but physical distancing really is a better term and much easier for some people to understand. I haven’t seen anyone except my husband since all this started. I only have one friend in town and her work has actually increased since covid and the only free time she has, she spends with her family. When my husband is home on weekends, his face is buried in the ipad so he’s not too much company. At least I have my cats and online friends.

  4. The term “social distancing” has made me angry since the very beginning of this Covid-19 saga. Who came up with this stupid term and why did it catch on? A six foot measurement has to be physical. There may be proper uses of the term social distancing, but it is not proper in this situation. However, I think I am now detecting social distancing as a side effect of lock down, masks, distancing, and germ phobia. I was at the commissary yesterday and I noticed that every person I passed in the aisles averted their eyes. No one would make eye contact, much less speak! This is completely alien to me. I don’t think people even realize what they are doing. But it is so, so sad. We need human contact– visual, verbal, and physical– to maintain our mental health. We are changing into anti-social, self- involved, suspicious, phobic, judgmental jerks.

    • I think people are so focused on just getting their shopping done because it’s so stressful that they avoid anything that is going to prolong the experience. I think you’re right, most people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it. It is sad how this has affected society in so many different ways, and I suspect we haven’t even scratched the surface of the psychological damage this is doing to all of us.

      • I so agree about people not wanting to make contact.
        As a cashier at a drugstore, I greet people, ask how they are, etc. and sometimes don’t get any response!
        Yesterday my manager was late and as we couldn’t get in, there were 7 employees waiting by the door.
        People completely ignored us and tried to go in anyway.
        Of course they couldn’t but instead of looking or asking us, they looked at the posted hours, then left.

        • That’s really sad, Sue. You’d think now more than ever, people would have a kind word for cashiers and store clerks. You’re risking your health every day just by doing your job!

    • I’ve noticed this too Sharon when I grocery shop which I do once a week. There isn’t much eye contact and everyone seems so sad. I at least try to go to checker I know so we can make small talk. I live alone with my cats so I especially need that interaction. Regarding physical distancing, I remember when all this started our mayor here in Sacramento saying how much he disliked the term social distancing. I agree completely and will never use that term again especially with it being reinforced here. It has nothing to do with being social. We are just further apart for health reasons. Thanks Ingrid!

      • Yes, the only people in the stores who will make eye contact and speak with you are the checkers (and the baggers in the commissary). It’s awful. I am a friendly, outgoing person who usually makes conversation with anyone that I am near for any period of time.

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