Covid19 and friendships
March 23, 2021 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Covid-19 has done a number on my social life and relationships and I'm sure I'm not the only one. How do I process/grieve relationships that didn't survive a year of lockdown, differing attitudes to safety, and increased stress? How do I approach social relationships now?

Firstly... I realise this is not exactly a life or death problem.

I am a textbook extrovert, as I've mentioned elsewhere on MeFi. I love meeting people, including new people. I like being on my own too - but being in convivial spaces with others is a big part of what makes me tick.

The impact Covid19 has had on my relationships is this:

1) I have a few close friends. They have all been impacted in various ways by the lockdown, of course. I feel like our relationships have really been tested and I feel less close to/disillusioned/let down by some of them because of things like differing attitudes to lockdown/coronavirus (although we're all following the rules); emotional outbursts caused by stress; seeing how blind some of us are to our privileges; seeing the different ways we respond to anxiety and stress etc. One or two of us are very much on the same page, but some of us really aren't, and that has impacted how I get along with them. This could be the content of a few separate AskMes itself, but I'll leave it at that for the sake of brevity.

2) I am an outgoing person and in pre-Covid times had a wide circle of acquaintances, e.g. work friends, friends of friends etc. They fulfil a separate need for me and I always derived a lot of satisfaction from my ability to maintain friendly but not close relationships with many people. Since the lockdown, it has been extremely difficult to maintain these networks, apart from through social media and the odd Zoom hang (which I really hate).

As a result of the impact of lockdown on both types of friends I feel very isolated. Some of my close friendships have been negatively impacted by the lockdown and I basically have very few acquaintances whom I could just have a friendly, low-stakes catch-up with. I live in a country where restrictions are starting to open up, so I could potentially start hanging out with people in person again, I just... honestly can't think of that many people I would be able to do this with? I mean, maybe 3...?

I guess my question how to put this in perspective, how to process, and move on into a space where I feel less lonely and disillusioned, and can start to feel excited again about the potential of making good connections with other people. Should I take a hint from what coronavirus and lockdown has taught me about people's characters and move away from certain relationships, or should I look forward to a better time when they will be back to being the people I knew? What about acquaintances - how do I start to rebuild those networks given that I am still not in a place to actually see people much?

One positive thing I did recently was join an online meeting group of strangers to discuss a topic that interested us all. I felt really revitalised to be among people I didn't know well, talking amicably and openly about something that affected us all. I will seek out more of that sort of thing.
posted by unicorn chaser to Human Relations (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I'm very curious to see what other answers you get, as I suspect this is a problem nearly everyone has experienced to a greater or lesser extent.
I have found that the shared trauma of lockdown has deepened some of my friendships, and put others on ice, as it were. In some cases I found I was able to be more vulnerable with people who were previously just acquaintances. Receiving and giving comfort meant the friendship grew deeper. And that kind of trust is difficult (impossible?) to manage when you have different approaches to social distancing, mask wearing etc. Or when someone who has the privilege of working from home simply can't understand how different it is when you are a frontline worker, exposed every day with no choice in the matter as my husband is.
I have grown apart from friends who, to my mind, have behaved irresponsibly re Covid. But I have decided not to make any decisions about these friendships, not for a long time yet. I want to be patient, both with myself and with them, and have compassion for their different choices. That doesn't mean I will spend time with them at the moment. But I don't feel like I have to make a call, right now, while the world is still so upside down, on whether the friendship should end or not.
Of course it's different here in South Africa where we're still very far from this coming to and end. We're still in the thick of it.
I suspect though that even if these friendships continue, they will have changed. Maybe that's inevitable, seeing what a profound event we're all living through.
posted by Zumbador at 4:32 AM on March 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

This is an interesting question and I think you've pretty much answered it yourself, in the two ways that I see are open to all of us in this situation: 1) with regards to existing relationships, wait and see, and 2) keep looking for other options to meet new people such as your discussion group.

I think with existing relationships, as this is such an Unprecedentedtm time, in my opinion it's worth riding out the death spasms of the pandemic (let them please be shorter rather than longer) and seeing what makes it through to the other side in terms of your feelings about people, your priorities, your willingness to move past the weirdness that being in isolation has forced on individuals and relationships. None of us has done this before and I think it's really important we all cut ourselves and each other some slack and hope to re-develop our bonds going forward, rather than holding on to the twisted and disappointing version of relationships we've all had to make do with in the last year.

Covid has really forced a lot of us to just find a way to be ok with things being interrupted or completely stopped, compared to what we're used to in modern life. I think cultivating patience and a willingness to be open-minded and open-hearted as we look to the future (with friends both new and old) is the way to go here.
posted by Balthamos at 5:29 AM on March 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think it's maybe helpful not to think of these initial reopening steps as "OK, everything's getting back to normal so my life should be, too". Because in reality it's not - even in places where things are officially back to normal, many of us aren't going to be resuming things exactly as they were for a while longer.

Back in the pre-Covid days, there was probably an amount of natural churn among your friendships, some drifted away, but you were engaged in lots of activities that brought new people into your sphere and it all balanced out.

But for a year now, the departures have accelerated and the incomers have been stalled.

So while we're in this in between stage where we're not all back out doing all our activities at the same pace as before, that is going to continue, and it's probably useful to think of it as being an extension of lockdown. As and when we all feel more able to resume life fully, that inflow of people will resume too.

That doesn't necessarily answer your question as to how to deal with the sadness that that brings, but I guess just a different way to frame things - don't feel sad because it feels like things should be back to normal and they're not: Things are still not back to normal. It'll come, but it's going to take longer than we thought.
posted by penguin pie at 5:37 AM on March 23, 2021 [10 favorites]

1) When little kids start making friends and you ask them why someone is their friend they often give answers like "I like vanilla ice cream, and Suzy does too!" It doesn't fully make any sense unless you realize they're describing that feeling of being sympatico, that your friends are aligned with you in multiple ways.

Over time, in my friendships anyway, I've found that almost no one is sympatico all the time/in all the large ways. I have a group of six friends where we met in 1982 - like, there's been a LOT of change.

That's both because it's just not the case that all friends can be all things, but also because I get stressed, burn out, have years where I've grown a lot in understanding, and have years where I am struggling and get trapped in my own head/perspective. In other words, it's a dance, not a straight walk, where sometimes they are stepping backwards and I'm stepping sideways.

There are some immediate dealbreakers for me, but mostly I see things as a continuum so if someone gradually reveals that their values are different I might gradually fade the friendship but it's not like - something I have to Address Immediately All The Time. So I would see the pandemic times as information about your friends, both who they are under stress and how they see themselves and the world, but not be in a rush about Deciding. I see privilege as a big part of this - it's taken me a lifetime to recognize (some of; work in progress) my privilege, and although there might come a point where I don't feel the same way about people who don't...I can't really expect that they will suddenly see it in the exact same calendar year.

In your shoes (which I'm sort of in, although I think a lot of my friendships were stable probably 'cause we're generally Old and have been through a lot of health shit together), I'd just give these friendships time and meanwhile make sure I was finding ways to build joy in my life in multiple ways and not focusing just on the parts of my friendships that let me down.

2) I think all of us will be working this out together gradually - but depending on where you are in the world, we're not there yet. But it will come and we'll rebuild those experiences. I'm planning to create a walking/hiking group and some kind of reading/discussion group with a political bent - in September of 2022. I'm also hoping to join a choir again at some point, siiiiiiiiiigh. Your online group sounds great.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:46 AM on March 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I just want to put a vote in alongside Zumbador for a "watch and wait" approach to letting go of friends because of how they've behaved during coronavirus.

I get it, I really do. It's hard to watch people go out when you're staying in; hard to be the target of outbursts you don't deserve; hard to reach out to someone for support and have them turn away. There may be some friendships that you simply can't repair because of the harm that has been done, and that's heartbreaking.

At the same time, I think it's important to remember that we've all been through a fucking trauma. People are not at their best while they're experiencing a trauma. And even if from the outside, what's infuriating is people acting like everything was normal, or not taking this collective trauma seriously, well...denial is also a very common and natural response to trauma. It's not a good response! When large portions of the population retreat into denial to cope, they put other people at risk! But what makes a trauma response a trauma response is the fact that it isn't rational - it's reactive. It's people responding to circumstances that overwhelm them by doing what they can to survive.

It's also true that, on the internet, it's extremely easy to find other people who have made the exact same choices you did, in terms of quarantine safety, and whose feelings and behaviors match yours to a T, and then look at the much smaller selection of people you know in real life, who have acted differently, and treat that behavior as wildly beyond the pale, an ethically bankrupt and friendship-ruining choice. I see a question like this come up every week on Mefi - "This person I know did something I disagree with in terms of Covid safety, are they terrible and bad and should I write them off forever?" And there are a chorus of people ready to shout back: yes yes yes yes yes. It makes the friend's behavior seem like this wild outlier, and the decision to cut them off to be an obvious and ethical one.

But the people who answer questions like that are self-selecting; you've drawn them to you by asking the question. When it comes time to rebuild your life, afterwards, those people aren't going to be your friends. You're going to be surrounded by the much smaller, more imperfect set of traumatized humans that make up your actual real-life circle, and while your feelings (anger, sadness, disappointment, judgment) are valid, we were all unprepared happened to us, and - as the saying goes - we did the best we could with the tools we had at the time.

So I'd push back strongly against the idea that people's behaviors in quarantine showed their "true" colors. People are least like themselves when they're being traumatized, and if you were able to act in a more measured, reserved, and socially responsible way than someone else, then I'd like to gently suggest that's partly because you had the mental and emotional resources to do so. That is also a kind of privilege, and I think that a good use of that privilege, going forward, would be to do what you can to extend both yourself and other people grace. The decision to cut someone off because of how they behaved in quarantine won't have the magical power to go back in time and force them to make the more responsible choice - it won't even make them regret what they did in the present. It will just cut you off from a wide swathe of other people, when we all desperately need other people around us in order to heal.

I think your discovery of an online group is a great clue to how to move forward. Find ways to talk to other people about something other than Covid - both new acquaintances and old friends. Resist the impulse to rehash this past year, or to share your feelings about how they behaved, or to closely monitor what they're doing now. If, in a year, there's still something that stands out as so egregious you truly don't know whether you can stay in relationship with that person...well, you can revisit it then, when you'll both have the distance and resources you need to have a meaningful conversation. But for now, put it on ice. Talk about television shows, and novels, and hobbies. Go for walks. Start a game of Words with Friends. Be kind to everyone around you and forgive them your mistakes as best you can, and resist the urge to sit in judgment - not only for them, but for yourself.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 6:27 AM on March 23, 2021 [79 favorites]

differing attitudes to lockdown/coronavirus (although we're all following the rules)

Well this seems like something to interrogate; are there other places in your life where you feel this way about peoples' attitudes (not actions) in response to grief and trauma? Would you be rethinking a friendship if that friend lost a parent or a child or their home, and was quite angry or very grieved about it? This is no less an upheaval and a trauma, for absolutely anyone who is, as you say, following the rules.

Obviously without more detail I can't tell whether you are simply one of those relentlessly positive and resilient folks and you just can't abide a complainer, or whether people have been asking you to absorb their trauma and grief in ways that are unhealthy for everyone, or whether the attitudes you speak of are offensive in some other way.

Nobody's obligated to be anyone's friend. I've definitely lost some friends because this global pandemic was not kind to my chronic severe depression and frankly I haven't been much fun during this global pandemic. But I am working to cut them the slack I wish they would cut me, and try to internalize that they could no more handle a depressed friend than I could handle their zoom happy hours. If they pop up as though all is well, in 6 months or a year (as they have, in past depressive episodes), I don't plan to shun them. They did what they could.

And as you age, the aggregate stress and trauma levels of the people you know increases. So this is not a problem that ends with the pandemic; this is a problem you will run up against for the rest of your life. Rather than a time for making sweeping decisions, think of it as a time for starting a deep dive on who you are, and who you want to be, and let the friendships sort themselves out.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:49 AM on March 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

Re: differing pandemic attitudes: I mean, if your friends are out there getting indignant that they can't go to Applebee's just because some people are dying, or holding public mask-burning parties, that's one thing. The pandemic has revealed disturbing levels of sociopathy in some populations. These are people I'd be glad to be rid of. But if it's just that they went to see Grandma when they probably shouldn't have, or did outdoor dining at a legally open restaurant, etc., you have to remember that we have been and are going through an extremely long period of intense (and sometimes conflicting) demands on our discipline, our patience, our understanding, and our mental health. To some degree, people have had to make calls on risk just to keep functioning, and those calls could differ from yours without either of you clearly being wrong. And to the extent they seem objectively indefensible, well, I doubt you are morally policing your friends that closely in normal times, in part because you understand that we are all capable of lapses, have all fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, etc.

Watching ostensibly liberal populations start emulating the fundamentalists I moved away in part to escape has been a depressing, albeit enlightening, part of the pandemic. Extend your friends a measure of charity and grace.
posted by praemunire at 10:23 AM on March 23, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: You've already gotten some great advice above. One activity that might be helpful:

You could make a list of qualities you demand of each category of friend/relationship. While I strongly agree with the above point that how people respond to trauma/stress is not intrinsically who they are, it's merely who they are during trauma/stress, I also know that I want my romantic partner to be someone who handles trauma/stress somewhat similar to me. Someone who cannot handle anxiety/stress well is not someone I'd want to live or travel with, but it is someone I could easily enjoy a strong friendship.

Another way to work on forgiving people is to remind yourself that this was a very new situation for most people, and very few (none?) of us actually got it right 100% of the time. I mean, even the experts muddled the messaging around masks in the beginning. I know you're not in the US, but the NYTimes had an interesting article about how while Republicans underestimate risk, Democrats overestimate risk. Which of course isn't to say that there is no room for judgement, but there should be a lot of room for keeping an open-mind, on all sides.

Finally, try to cultivate a curiosity around how other people experienced the past year. I think part of why people have become so judgemental is that we all have been fairly isolated to our own experience. The past year has widened divides between generation, gender, race, class, single v. partnered, urban v. rural, you name it. Some of these responses by your friends that you find upsetting may be rooted in some of these differences, which you'll possibly only be able to realize if you really listen to them with an open heart. In short, we probably all need group therapy.
posted by coffeecat at 10:25 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Actually - to be clearer - when I talked about differing pandemic attitudes, what I meant was seeing friends I cared for, sitting in judgement of people who were legally using public transport to access open spaces, or to see their pods/bubbles because they were mentally/emotionally struggling living alone 24/7. I live alone and work from home, and I would take public transport (masked) to go and sit on a bench with someone for some company; but then I get told by friends that people like me are stupid and selfish. I'm not one to threadsit, but I am definitely not coming at it from the point of view of someone policing their friends' comings and goings. Rather I've seen friends doing that policing, and been disappointed by their lack of charity/understanding.
posted by unicorn chaser at 10:28 AM on March 23, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: when I talked about differing pandemic attitudes, what I meant was seeing friends I cared for, sitting in judgement of people who were legally using public transport to access open spaces, or to see their pods/bubbles because they were mentally/emotionally struggling living alone 24/7

Ah. This kind of behavior is indeed disappointing. To me, this would be a sort of warning signal. (None of my friends told me I was being stupid or selfish for somewhat similar behavior, which in my opinion under the circumstances at the time was fairly low-risk, so I guess I was lucky.) It's definitely something I would address after this is all over. I think some people looking back are going to be startled to realize how they spoke and acted, and that their conduct was not consistent with their values. If they are thoughtful people generally, they will take that message to heart. If they are good friends, to hear that their words hurt you should really bother them. Anyone who directly insulted you and doesn't apologize is someone I wouldn't want as a friend. Other people, though...I'd wait to see if they could take it on board once life is a little less relentlessly stressful.

We haven't really had what you would call a widespread left "moral panic" (it's not really a moral panic in that there was a real danger; I mean a danger that mobilizes people's authoritarian tendencies, for which I don't think we have a good word) in many years. There are definitely leftist subcultures, usually of younger people, who closely and dogmatically police each others' behavior, but those tend to die away as people get even into their late 20s. I think people, especially people who grew up in relatively humane environments as opposed to those of us who had the misfortune of growing up among or adjacent to fundamentalist populations, were not mentally prepared to recognize and try to counter certain natural human tendencies that arise in such situations, and some people succumbed. Hopefully we will all learn from this and apply the lessons in the future. I'm still a pretty judgmental person, but I think having been forced to confront that tendency in myself and others inoculated me against some of the pandemic excesses. It's not a fixed and immutable character trait.
posted by praemunire at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

Re: your update. Well, if it makes you feel any better we're in a similar boat (except I'm currently partnered after having lived a mostly single adulthood, and have been disturbed by the judgement some partnered friends have directed at single people just trying to stay sane). I'd say there is a moral panic among lefty spaces- yes, there has been a real danger, but as I've already linked to, it's been greatly exaggerated on the left. Which is to say, your friends are part of a larger global trend.

Anyhow, I'm trying to extend grace to the judgemental people too, by acknowledging that a lot of people have spent the last year in fear, and this has given way to a lot of black & white thinking. And given there has been so much bad behavior on the other end of the spectrum, it makes sense many people have drawn some hard lines of "right" v "wrong." Again, likely not people I'd want to live or travel with, and probably not people I want to talk about COVID with - when I see their judgy COVID posts on social media, I just ignore them. I can imagine I'll be able to talk to some of these people eventually about COVID, but not when emotions are so raw.

But ultimately, if your friends are incapable of being empathetic towards you, a friend, then they aren't really good friends. Which you are allowed to be sad about, because that is sad, and I'm sorry that's been part of your COVID experience. But I'd bet at least some of them will start to become a bit more charitable with time.
posted by coffeecat at 10:56 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: when I talked about differing pandemic attitudes, what I meant was seeing friends I cared for, sitting in judgement of people who were legally using public transport to access open spaces, or to see their pods/bubbles because they were mentally/emotionally struggling living alone 24/7

Ah yeah that's a slightly different bag from what I had guessed.* But the upshot is the same: grant them the grace you wish they'd grant you.

Basically what it comes down to is that most people, when afraid and disrupted, really do seek out ways to define, draw lines, protect, exclude. I try to remember that many people, actually almost all people, are more viscerally afraid of this thing than I am. And that fear puts them into a headspace we all get into sometimes, around something. It's a magical thinking kind of headspace: If we can do the absolute right thing at all times we will never die! If we shun the unbelievers the vengeful gods will spare us! Nobody consciously thinks this is what they're doing but it's often what's going on under the surface.

It maybe sounds like I'm being shitty and judgmental about this but I'm honestly filled with sympathy over it; it's one of our oldest impulses even if it's an unflattering one. My lack of fear isn't some kind of virtue I possess through thrift and hard work, it's just brain wiring really. Maybe you are the same way, and this same thing that gives you the emotional space to grant understanding to your transit-taking friends can be the thing that gives you the emotional space to grant understanding to the Judgy McJudgersons.

There's been a flurry of these questions every time the situation shifts: lockdown starts, lockdowns lift but no vaccines, holidays come around, vaccines appear. Every time, it's "how do people deal when [x] happens?" Well we don't know, because [X] has never happened in any of our lifetimes. We want answers to the unanswerable. We want certainty for the uncertain. We want people to tell us how to do a thing nobody alive on this earth knows how to do. Nobody can tell us. We just have to muddle through it, day by day, erring on the side of slow and forgiving.

*My social circle is currently having a thing where everyone is so much on the same page re: actions that they have started getting snarky about feelings, namely, that there is a "right" amount of sad to be (based on your circumstances) and a "right" category of Before Times to miss. (I'm the wrong amount of sad and miss all the wrong things, for the record.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:32 AM on March 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm probably on the other side of your situation in that I'm the one hiding away and judging. I don't post on social media but I see my friends' posts and I judge them quietly from home. I also have a husband with a compromised immune system which most of our friends don't even know about because it's none of their business and he wants that kept private. I have the privilege of someone to talk to every day and a job I can do from home. So yeah, I've probably gone a little overboard in my isolation. But here is what I know for an absolute fact: every person, including family, who is behaving in a way that I categorize as irresponsible, is someone that I had mixed feelings about before, and while I am sad that so many of my relationships will likely not survive this, I'm left wondering how much longer they would have survived if covid never happened. Maybe the pandemic has been a spotlight on already strained relationships, maybe the isolation has given me clarity, maybe I've evolved into an anti-social person, maybe some combination of all three. I'm finding a huge difference in my feelings between friends judging me for not wanting to get together ("but you're vaccinated, we are safe") versus the friends who say "totally understand, we are here when you are ready to be social in person again." To me this has been a year of awakening and a chanc to forge ahead with new insight into what is and is not toxic in my life. We are probably all toxic to someone for some reason.
posted by archimago at 11:45 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

(Just as a side note, if your friends own cars, they may simply not comprehend just how constraining it is not to use public transit if you don't own one. Once NYC infection rates came down, I started taking the bus for short trips, just because otherwise I was as a practical matter trapped within maybe a mile and a half of my house...permanently. I was lucky to have decent shopping within practical walking distance, but nonetheless that's quite difficult to sustain for a year on end. Because American culture is so car-centric, people whose lives are breezily buzzing from subdivision to strip mall to big box store and back, or who could drive to outdoor areas for recreation, etc., often just don't grasp that.)
posted by praemunire at 12:50 PM on March 23, 2021 [8 favorites]

I think you take it one day at a time. Right now there are three people you're interested in seeing. Go see those three people. Maybe seeing them will remind you of other people, of other things you've enjoyed, or introduce you to new folks.

You've been on bed rest for a year, socially speaking. It's ok if you don't want to go right back to marathons, no matter how much you loved them, you may just have to start by walking around the block once or twice. It'll feel better once you've gotten the wind on your face again.
posted by Lady Li at 2:04 PM on March 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have soooooo many feelings on this topic and have been waiting all day to get off work and get back to this.

1. People who are spending the pandemic alone are having a hugely different psychological time than those living with their families/SO's. Like on the one hand, you're safer and you can limit your exposure, but on the other hand, you find yourself in fun psychological games about how everyone who's no longer talking to you has decided they suddenly hate you. You kinda lose the ability to socialize with people in a normal manner (well, that's something we literally all have had to stop doing). I've been ashamed of myself the few times I broke bad and did something risky, but at some point everybody ends up failing strict quarantine. The people who have remained habituated to having people around really have no idea what we've been going through.

I'm not going to super get into the whole "covid has made my friends kinda jerky" thing, because while I have certainly thought "How could you do X, that's risky!" a lot, I almost never actually have said anything to anyone about it (other than begging my mother not to go to funerals and weddings), because I'm a crazy person who went agoraphobic and literally everyone discounts my craycray. I'm outnumbered, lemme tell ya. I think that one's going to be up to you, in a "eh, let's see how it plays out" sort of way. You don't need to try to reconnect with them now, especially if you are not in the mood, don't wanna be judged, etc. We don't know how this stuff is going to play out in the end right now anyway, blah blah unprecedented, etc. If they are normally judge-y people and are just getting more judge-y, that's perhaps different from someone previously being fine and then turning Pandemic Safety Judge-y, for all we know.

2. Links I feel I should pass on to you that have helped me:
Washington Post: Why isn’t she texting me back? The pandemic has us doubting our friendships. This one really talks about the headgames and deducing while you're alone how everyone hates you.
Captain Awkward: “I want to reach out but I have no idea what to say.” and “Pissed off during the post-pandemic party because nobody kept in touch.”
Another toll of COVID-19: Lost casual friendships and their uplifting value

3. I have found that the shared trauma of lockdown has deepened some of my friendships, and put others on ice, as it were.

In my experience, the friends that end up lasting in my life have been the "online chatty" ones. The ones who only want to connect in person, who say they can't text, or just have nothing to say, or whatever, are the ones that I feel like I am losing, and I don't know if we can connect again if there's a post-pandemic. Especially since we all met/bonded over pandemic-forbidden activities that are probably going to be forbidden to come back here unless it ever ends, sigh. People NEED to be able to communicate at a distance these days, and if they can't or won't....sigh. I don't know if this will ever work out again or not.

So yeah, I guess I second this: "I think with existing relationships, as this is such an Unprecedentedtm time, in my opinion it's worth riding out the death spasms of the pandemic (let them please be shorter rather than longer) and seeing what makes it through to the other side in terms of your feelings about people, your priorities, your willingness to move past the weirdness that being in isolation has forced on individuals and relationships. None of us has done this before and I think it's really important we all cut ourselves and each other some slack and hope to re-develop our bonds going forward, rather than holding on to the twisted and disappointing version of relationships we've all had to make do with in the last year."

As for your question:
What about acquaintances - how do I start to rebuild those networks given that I am still not in a place to actually see people much?

I wish I knew the answer to this one myself. The activity/circumstantial friends haven't wanted to connect outside of the activity and I think I'm just resigned to not seeing them again until everyone's fully vaccinated, at this rate. Some people we may just have to wait until in-person is an option. I'm tired of banging my head against a wall trying to make friendship happen, it's not going to happen if the other parties aren't reciprocating. Maybe just start with the three people you mentioned, and take it from there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:02 PM on March 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Balancing hyper-vigilance as a result of anxiety with needing to take slightly higher risks for the sake of basic mental health is tough. It breaks down by personality and circumstance. This does sound like politics of small differences to me and lockdown has been extraordinary heightening threat perception and social isolation at the same time. Hopefully things will settle as we come out and these extremes will lessen as we start to have actual lives again.

I think the question for you is if it does go on do you feel comfortable with feeling judged or does it make you feel bad enough to taper off contact for a bit? Or is your frame of mind more that you can forgive this kind of judgy behaviour and move on? Think time will tell.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:20 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

A perspective - while I wasn't very vocal about it, there were moments in this pandemic where I was one of those moralizing friends in my head and my heart. I wasn't expressing it publicly, but I did create an EXTREMELY tight bubble with my partner, and it became a problem with his family. Once or twice I got testy with his brothers who, to be fair, can be very strident about very wrong positions, but I wasn't in the right either. Ultimately, my fear was so extreme that my partner was losing his mind with my crazy behavior and I was infantilizing him. It took me a number of months to realize and accept this.

I'm in a much better place now (I can handle my partner going to Costco without melting down! WOWEEE) and, looking back, I now know the moralizing messaging tied to safety interventions was a bit of a powder keg for me. I'm anxiety-prone to the point of having diagnosed periods of disorder, and in the absence of clear understanding of COVID in the beginning and middle, I was probably always going to take it too far and lean toward agoraphobia. Now, imagine what happened to my brain when my unproductive psychological patterns were not just accepted, but celebrated. I had the news telling me my extreme position was a moral good, and since I wanted to be as risk averse as possible, I felt justified. I wasn't, the moral tradeoffs are so much more complex than I was allowing for, but I couldn't see that at the time because I was very scared.

It's weird to reflect on my behavior even a few months ago because it really feels like a different person. Since I've had some experience with extreme anxiety in the past, it's not as jarring as it was the first time I experienced it, but it still feels wildly remote from my identity and personality. I suspect some of your friends may go through a similar moment of reckoning when the dust settles a bit and they come out of their mole holes. Hell, I have friends who were more extreme than me who I saw melting down on social media writing walls of text spewing anger and screaming about unfriending people for posting a photo of themselves out of the house. I thought that was over the top, but I understand it was a more extreme version of my own behavior, and for that I'm hoping they will gain some perspective with time.

I wouldn't be so quick to write your friends off forever. By all means take a break, but I'd allow for the possibility that down the line this could feel different after a heart to heart and a long hug. For all our sakes, I hope so.
posted by amycup at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2021 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for everyone's useful replies. I'm sorry I didn't include the full context in the OP, but I still think that the answers I got before I updated were really useful too and I hope this thread proves useful to readers at either end of the 'caution' spectrum (I would put myself solidly in the middle). I've best-answered a few, but appreciate everyone's perspective.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:47 AM on March 26, 2021

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