Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Covid-19, friendships and loneliness

Some of the consequences of Covid are fairly apparent, whether that be the loss of life or the economic damage that is simmering away at the moment. However, our mental health is also taking a battering as a result of lockdown measures, with the spectre of Covid making us feel more anxious and bored.

In past times, we could possibly feel a little better by meeting with our friends and interacting with others, but that’s no longer possible. Covid has changed the very nature of friendships, leaving many of us without that vital support network.

In an interesting article for The Atlantic,  Amanda Mull explores how the pandemic has stripped away many categories of friendship. Sure, we obviously can’t see our best friends in person, but we’re also missing out on people we sort of know – people who may only be social media friends, people you see randomly and infrequently, the kind of people you’d say a casual hello to on the street if you recognised them.

We need relationships, and relationships of many different forms, to thrive

We have lots of people like this in our lives, from co-workers to people who work at the local shop who you vaguely know, and they also contribute to a fabric of friendship in our lives. Not every connection has to be a best friend to have value.

Mull quotes communications professor William Rawlins, who says: “Friend is a very promiscuous word. Do we have a word for this array of friends that aren’t our close friends? I’m not sure we do, and I’m not sure we should.”

The professor also notes something very important; that we need relationships, and relationships of many different forms, to thrive: “Living well isn’t some cloistered retreat with just a few folks. The way worlds are created is by people sharing with and recognising each other.”

The lack of interaction has caused an epidemic of loneliness throughout the UK

Of course, trapped away with just a few people to interact with is the state of the world at the moment. I thought about this in relation to my own life. I only really have any significant in-person interactions with my grandfather, who I live with, and his partner, with whom we’ve formed a support bubble.

Extend it to people at the local shop and our neighbours, who I see infrequently, and I doubt we’re at ten. We try to mitigate the gaps with Zoom calls and phone conversations, but I think we all know that it just doesn’t feel the same.

The lack of interaction has caused an epidemic of loneliness throughout the UK, as people are cut off from their friends and family. When you have to be physically distant, it often results in a feeling of emotional distance too. According to research from UCL, people who felt most lonely prior to Covid in the UK now report even higher levels of loneliness. I know that pain, I am one of those people.

Stuck at home for months on end, I feel lonelier and more bored than I ever have

I’ve always felt lonely, especially when I’m around other people. I’m someone who sits in the corner, smiling on the outside, but with questions like ‘would my friends care, or even notice, if I wasn’t here’ constantly running through my mind.

There are crushingly few instances in my life when I feel as if I’ve meaningfully connected with anyone, and it made it really hard just to be with people. It’s a hard thing to describe, that inability to feel connection, that feeling that your impact on someone else’s life is like footprints on the sand as the tide sweeps in.

Now, stuck at home for months on end, I feel lonelier and more bored than I ever have. Those small moments – from swinging into an office and having a brief chat to the occasional hello when I saw a familiar face on campus – they’re all gone. I’d love to sit down for half an hour or so, and just have a conversation with someone. I want to try and find those connections.

Loneliness weighs in my heart heavier than ever before

It’s funny because before the pandemic kicked off, I hated maintaining the illusion of friendship. Yet now, stripped off all interaction, I realise just how much it actually meant to me.

Mull writes in her piece that hopefully after the pandemic has passed, people will realise how vital friendships of all shapes to our lives. I certainly have. Now loneliness weighs in my heart heavier than ever before, I want to see people. I want to have these connections, large and small, and be a friend. We’ve seen how isolating life can be this past year – let’s try and change that, for ourselves and others.

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