Understanding the Effects the Covid Pandemic has on Friendships While Sharpening Your Friendship Skills

Have you ever stopped and thought, “What did the COVID pandemic do to my friendships?”  COVID has sparked many people to create a more profound friendship with themselves. The pandemic was an immediate halt of life. Every action of life now had restrictions and was redefined to a new norm. I can say professionally and personally, some friendships endured and evolved, while others dissolved with the distance. The mandated restrictions included social distancing and isolation, causing fear, stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. It completely dissipated normal, in-real-life connections and interpersonal relationships.   Needless to say, all our friendships were tested during this crisis.

Friendships became limited to texting, phone calls, and strangely celebrating with family and friends for holidays and birthdays over Zoom. The thought of shared social spaces like the gym, work, restaurants, outings became a distant memory. We’ve learned which relationships hold the strength of unconditional love and which ones permanently ended or drifted away through this. It is now clear which friendships were convenience-based and those who upheld the structure and meaning of a valuable friendship. Those you saw at the gym or coworkers with whom you spent much time within the office – these friendships carried out chatter during the day, sharing daily stories and shared interests. However, did you ever think about what substance those friendships bring to your life? Some of those friends were sustainable during the pandemic and showed the true worth of the friendship. While others have proven to be acquaintances, more so, they “served a purpose” for those moments.

Author and journalist the late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) is known for this quote, “What do you most value in your friends? Their continued existence.”  I resonate with the words “value” and “continued existence.”  It couldn’t be more relevant. The quote reflects our values, morals, beliefs and how they are tangible in our friendships. Friendships must be equitable with a bonding mechanism, which seemed cumbersome and progressively at odds during this time; inequalities suddenly were publicized. The pandemic-related crises intensified social disparities that were already present, which placed a restraint on what we could say to one another. It certainly didn’t coincide with Hitchens words “continued existence.”   The equality of friendship was married to class, race, and gender, and empathy became non-existent. Now I am not focusing on a political stance of the pandemic, but the key points of what the pandemic did to our friendships how we move on from here to rekindle and create new adult friendships.

Making new friends, nurturing friendships, conflict in friendship, and dissolving friendships have happened since the beginning of time. Ralph Waldo Emerson. (1803-1882), an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet of the mid-19th century wrote this essay, Friendship, First Series (1841). It is profoundly written, eluding to the entanglement of new and old friendships. Emerson looked deeper into the tension between a stranger and a familiar friend. Parts of his essay lacked sentimentality; however, he was writing during the midst of a crisis, like our present times. He seemed to detach himself with skepticism of group thinking.

As you further read Emerson’s essay, his strong belief inequality is necessary for friendships. Friendships form on a structural basis, the need for a connection, shared values, and gratitude for each other. Emerson shares his beliefs of the emotional and physical pleasures that friends can hold, developing new friends and fostering old friendships. Emerson states, “I do not wish to treat friendship daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidus thing we know. For now, after so many ages of experience, what do we know of nature, or of ourselves?”  We should not treat friendships delicately, yet treat them with strength, passion, empathy, compassion, and devotion. Each trait is a characteristic of yourself.

So why do I share Emerson’s essay with you? His beliefs about friendships, new and old, are powerful. We suffer from the same troubles, emotions, and perceptions in his historical sense.

As we reflect on ourselves, ask ourselves, “How do I define friendship? What does friendship mean to me? What do I bring to a friendship?”  Knowing the answers to the questions will allow you to develop new relations, cherish old ones, and re-evaluate others. First and foremost, befriend yourself, loving and trusting. I suggest you start by taking inventory of your life before starting up new relationships. You’re probably thinking, well, what does that mean? Here we offer some tips in our blog Taking Inventory of Your Life to read, setting the foundation to create a new social circle.

Let’s look at the silver lining of the pandemic. It coerced us to be more mindful of our thoughts and actions to ourselves and others. We were forced out of our comfort zone to an emotional place we never dreamt of feeling. If you have learned anything as an adult, all relationships take work. Friendships come and go throughout different phases of life; it is normal. But when your belief system is being challenged or disparaged, or the relationship is emotionally draining, it is time to make the change in your social circle.

The question we should all ponder is, “Where do I integrate myself in social settings? What social skills do I need to put myself out there?”  Natalie Kerr, Ph. D., shares her thoughts on making and strengthening social connections. Research states ways to become more likable, which quite frankly are pretty easy factors:

  • Be seen: Think about “being seen” in an overall perspective. The more exposure to something like popular products, trending fashion, popular music trends, and media, the more we become more familiar and eventually gravitate towards it. Apply this concept to yourself. Make frequent efforts for your presence to be known in simple ways like commenting on friends’ posts, engaging in social media groups, maybe even going to the gym at the same time every day to see the same faces.    Basically, make yourself visible.
  • Remember names: Remember someone’s name is a significant reflection that the individual was remembered and not just an encounter. This simple skill will make the person feel important to you.
  • Ask questions: Show them you are genuinely interested in who they are. When you ask questions (not authentic ones like how are you? How was your day?), those requiring a more detailed response show you are actively listening to them and genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.
  • Smile: Smiling at people sends off positive vibes. If you walk around with the commonly known phrase, resting bitch face, you appeal to be unapproachable and undesirable. Who wants to talk with someone who looks unfriendly? Smiling is a particular attractiveness, symbolizing you are kind, open, easily engageable, courteous, and more so, friendly.
  • Discover similarities: Think of the saying “Birds together flock together” well, it is true. You discover a foundation for friendship by sharing similar interests, values, and personality traits.
  • Make them feel good: Don’t be a “negative nelly.” Nobody enjoys being around a negative person. It doesn’t make anyone feel good. You want people to gravitate to you feel good around you. Humble gestures like giving compliments, being friendly and warm, compassionate, and showing empathy make another person feel worthy. We authentically have our anxiety, depression, and conflict but wait for moments when the relationship is genuinely trusting and more comfortable.
  • Express your liking for them: Liking is mutual and a powerful way to feel liked and show it in reciprocation. I don’t romantically mean this, but platonically you can say, “You had fun tonight.”, “Can’t wait to hang out again.”, or be cheerful when the individual enters a room.

Overall, be real to you and your newfound friend. These efforts do not apply to everyone you meet, so don’t force it. Instead, these are steppingstones to determine whether you want to grow the friendship. Be sure to evaluate if they align with your values, beliefs, interests, and morals.

So, where do you apply the skills above to create and nurture new and old friendships?

  • Join a gym, exercise class like yoga, or a sport. Not only is this great for your health, but a comfortable environment to meet people in a place of common interest. You may want to hire a fitness trainer to start, find a workout buddy and even join a team.
  • Join a networking group for your business or career. It is a relaxed environment where you must socialize and branch out—making new connections and contacts. Often these gatherings can be an opportunity for new business and lead to dinners and lunch meetings.
  • If you have a dog, take your pup to a dog park. A pet lover will engage in conversation, especially while watching their pets play with others. A straightforward statement to someone is, “Your dog is so cute and playing so nicely with my dog.” A simple way to strike a conversation and possibly schedule another time to give your pets a play date.
  • Join local Facebook groups. These groups are the easiest ways to interact with people. It is a great place to inquire about local businesses, ask questions, and silly banter back and forth. It is prevalent for people to make friends through Facebook.
  • Attend local food, music, or art festivals. These events are very social and for having fun. Sometimes these venues have games and competitions for your participation.
  • Join meeting up apps such as Meetup.com. It is an online forum to meet new people in your area. It is a great app to find people of the same interest in your local area. You can make connections to attend places and do activities together.

Conventional perception suggests you must go “out” to meet people. For some, that may not be your social style. Social media can have a successful impact on meeting new like-minded people. Casual banter and commenting on mutual friends’ posts, groups, pages, and tweets can easily connect to others. A quick message into someone’s DM about a mutual topic or reference can lead to a meaningful conversation and growth.

Keep in mind meeting friends is like dating. Your friendship circle should include people of similar interests, values, and morals. When you find someone you enjoy spending time with, it is crucial to put the effort in to have that friendship blossom. First, be attentive and listen to them, learn their characteristics and mannerisms, and understand who they are as a person. Show a genuine interest. Be assertive and invite them out for a casual evening, whether a movie, coffee, or a walk in the park, or simply come over, order in food, and watch a TV show or movie. As you are getting to know the person, ask yourself, “Are they align with your values and beliefs? Do they cause conflict in your life or alter your viewpoints?” Are these friendships giving you what you need and want? Be open with them, share your stories and life. Once you believe they can play a positive role in your life, allow them to be part of your world as much as you want to be part of theirs.

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