What will happen to friendships in the pandemic?

Now that we’re living in an extended, endless state of quasi-permanent quarantine, I’ve been wondering about what’s going to happen to some friendships.

When lockdowns began in March, all friendships became virtual. I didn’t see anyone I knew in person, other than my husband, from mid-March until Memorial Day weekend. And when the weather finally got warmer in late May, and things started to reopen, people in New York began cautiously doing occasional “distanced hangs,” mostly in parks, where we could all sit six feet apart from each other on separate picnic blankets.

Even though we technically can see people again, there are still so many risks and logistical hurdles to clear, and planning hangouts is very fraught: you have to pick locations that are outdoors and that are walking distance so no one has to take the train, which limits you to friends that are very local (or have a car). The weather has to be nice enough for an outdoor hangout. You need enough space for people to be socially distant. Everyone has to mask up. It’s not really safe to share food, so picnics and potlucks are complicated. Restaurants are open for outdoor dining, but I’ve only gone to restaurants with my husband so far because if I go and share a table, unmasked, with someone who doesn’t live my household, that’s breaking social distancing rules, right? It’s all very stressful!!!

It’s just become so complicated to see people at all that we have had to pare down our social lives to only our absolute closest friends, and that means a lot of our other friendships might fall apart.

Personally, I’ve only seen a handful of close friends in person since New York’s reopening began in early June. But there’s other friends I haven’t seen, and I’m realizing now that I might not see them for several more months, or even a year. Those are the friends who maybe I didn’t see every weekend before the pandemic, but hung out with occasionally. Now, in the pandemic, I don’t see those friends at all.

Those “weak ties” — like your old work friends from your past jobs, or industry colleagues, or friends you saw for dinner or drinks every couple months or your book club friends or spin class friends — will recede. And friends who live in other cities? You might have been able to plan a trip with them every year or take a flight to go visit them in their city — but now all of those plans have to be put on hold.

Of course there are virtual ways to keep in touch: texting, social media, email, video chats, phone calls. But people have Zoom fatigue; there was a rush of Zoom happy hours in the beginning of the pandemic and then they slowly became less and less frequent. And digital contact is a pretty poor substitute for in-person conversation. I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, in which he draws on research from Sherry Turkle, who studies technology and social connections. He writes:

“In her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle draws a distinction between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. Turkle agree with the premise that conversation is crucial:

Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. Full present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the job of being heard, of being understood.”

Texts are not as satisfying as a long conversation over dinner. Commenting on someone’s Instagram of their new baby isn’t the same as getting to visit them and meet the new baby. “Liking” a friend’s post isn’t really a way to stay in touch, as much as Facebook wants us to think it is.

But in the meantime, we’re still really limited in terms of who we can see in person to actually have face-to-face interactions and conversations. There are so many friends that we won’t be able to see for a very long time thanks to the risks and precautions and logistical complications.

When we emerge from this pandemic — in several months or several years, who knows — I worry that some of those relationships will just be totally lost to time.

Cooking

This week I made these incredible sheet pan chicken and feta meatballs with tomatoes and chickpeas, and also this coconut-gochujang glazed chicken and broccoli. Also, I made my first galette! (pictured above). If you want to learn how to make a galette I recommend this edition of Alison Roman’s newsletter.

What I’m reading

The pandemic isn’t forcing women out of the workforce — dads are, Gen/Medium.

Hygiene theater is a huge waste of time, The Atlantic.

The gig economy is failing. Say hello to the hustle economy, OneZero/Medium.

“Success addicts” choose being special over being happy, The Atlantic.

On media-thirst guys, and the horrifying knowledge that you can only relate to people as brain-sick as you, On Posting/Substack.

Lonely girls: how the pandemic has deepened the isolation of adolescents, WSJ.

When did recipe writing get so… whitewashed?, Bon Appetit.

Coronavirus is making us all socially awkward, Vox.

“It was a losing fight to write anything that wasn’t ‘ethnic,’” Eater. How recipe writers of color are expected to write ‘ethnic’ recipes, while white people get to be generalists.

Why women apologize, Gen/Medium.


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