Rebuilding Your Social Life Is Going to Be Awkward

Our circles have shrunk but not permanently

There hasn’t been a single friend who I didn’t think was mad at me at some point over the last year.

I’m not usually like this. Typically, an unreturned text or an ignored Instagram DM would spark mild annoyance. Maybe a little bit of hurt. But not this level of profound paranoia — reply or no reply, I knew I’d still see the person again. In the time of our great social distancing experiment, though, I’ve interpreted any silence to mean the end of our friendship once and for all.

Of course, this wasn’t the case. But given the option of shivering in an outdoor environment for a brief hangout this winter or yet another Zoom call at the end of yet another long day, it’s no surprise many of us simply opted to pause on some friendships for a while. And without closure, it can feel like these relationships are done for good.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on friendships. Casual relationships, like professional colleagues or boot camp workout buddies, are inconceivable without the physical locations where they occur. Conflicting approaches to distancing, masking, or vaccination have created rifts in even the most solid of friendships while exhaustion and burnout have made maintaining even the closest of relationships a heavy lift.

But when we fail to see and even keep in touch with our connections, they can fray. Anyone not considered a part of your inner circle might as well be a stranger. (One recent study found that this is especially true for women, who tend to be more intimate and emotional in their friendships.)

Our constricting social circles can allow us to believe these relationships are irreparable. As a fun exercise in torture, I sometimes think back to a few summers ago: A tight-knit group of friends and I would hardly let a day go by without seeing or talking to one another. Between concerts, happy hours, and lazy nights eating ice cream, we always had something to do, things to talk about — and it never once felt exhausting. I took comfort in the fact that I could text any one of them at a moment’s notice, and suddenly the day would turn into a social event. Now, when making plans is a master class in scheduling, I mourn those days, the ease of maintaining those connections.

But in those moments, instead of mourning relationships I’m not even sure I’ve lost, I’ll do little things to remind myself of the opposite, like send a quick check-in text. Even if I don’t get a reply at first, inevitably, it does come. And, at least for the time being, I’m reassured that my friends don’t hate me. While I know we’ll never recreate the way in which we seamlessly built our lives around one another, the relationships are not dead. We’ve just been taking a breather.

Writes about lifestyle, trends, and pop psychology for The Atlantic, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Washington Post, and more.

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