This article was written for and published in Emotional Alchemy Magazine
During a recent conversation with my boyfriend discussing the lockdown and how people will cope with having to live next to one another 24/7 without a break provided by work and a buzzing social life, my wonderful other half suggested that there will probably be a baby boom starting towards the last quarter of the year. I laughed and replied, my cynical side taking over: “Yes, either that or a hell of a lot of divorces!”
My flippant comment has no intentions of wanting to predict the future, but it got me thinking about relationships and friendships during this peculiar time. Many of us are so used to living busy lives, jetting from one meeting, task, to-do list and duty to the other, that we often lose track and focus of what the other people in our lives are doing. A fleeting kiss – hours after returning home, doing chores whilst the kids are in bed, like passing ships at night, or a quick phone call with the partner who works away: many of us co-exist, muddling our way through frantic lives, barely touching ground to check how we are. All the reasons for why we first wanted to be together drowned by responsibility, accountability and due diligence that society thrusts upon us every day. The sudden change brought upon by covid-19 turns routines and formed habits upside down as we find ourselves in the company of those we wanted to be with in the first place. Some will embrace this new way of life, enjoy the togetherness and closeness, celebrate partnerships and family time, rediscovering each other and the things that brought them together initially. Others may find it trickier, yearning for the freedom, change of scenery and variety that a busy and varied lifestyle brings. With no place to hide, run to or go to, relationships will be tried and tested, pulled and stretched, some to their limits, others to new and better places.
Closeness is beautiful but it can be tough, it can test us, it can provoke and question. Enforced closeness can be even stronger than that. Maybe you will rediscover what you loved about your partner or spouse in the first place, perhaps you will find the new arrangements limiting and claustrophobic. I read about people who have to live with their ex-partners, because the corona virus did not have the courtesy to check about timings but sprung upon them during their already challenging time of a break-up. I also heard of separated couples with shared children, having to rethink their dealing with one another. Some use this pandemic to assert their power over the other, denying the ex-partner access to a child or children. Some are learning to do things a different way, re-engaging in a more pleasant way as fellow human beings, putting the mental well-being of their offspring first. My personal belief is that, no matter what the eventual consequence of this current way of life is, that you get through it with love, dignity, tolerance and understanding, remembering that you are in this together, whether you will remain that way or not. Of course, all this is easier said than done and when emotions run high, love and compassion may be the last thing on your mind. I am no relationship expert and my views are personal, but one thing that works most of the time is communication: open, honest, heartfelt talking about what goes through your mind and how you feel. None of us are mind readers and last time I checked using crystal balls was frowned upon. Talking is free and the best way to nurture tolerance, understanding and, maybe even acceptance.
Whilst some of us are being talkative and are zooming it across our family and friendship circles, others may go quieter. I recently saw a post on Twitter that exclaimed that now was the time to see which friends really cared and are there for you. I was still pondering over this when I scrolled across a reply that scolded the comment for being too self-involved and ignoring the fact that many people stop communicating when they struggle and are less likely to verbalise their anxieties, for a variety of reasons. I stopped and thought for a moment about my own friendships, near and far. Communication has stepped up with some and slowed down with others. I find that I am particularly verbal with my “mum-friends”, vocalising my ups and downs and the new chaos that is home schooling whilst also working full time. I also chat more to those who I know won’t mind a little rant and won’t judge me because I have had the worst day and am close to a major tantrum, rivalling that of my two-year-old. I know my friends, and I know to whom I can talk to when and about what. That doesn’t make those I don’t talk to for a while less important or valuable. However, I do believe that covid-19 could have the ability to shed light onto our friendships in a different way as the enforced distance bans us from being close to those who form and shape our lives outside of our homes. Being apart may also highlight that some friendships are not working for us anymore and it may show us, so I believe, who is worthy of our time and headspace. A friend of mine recently wrote an article about how she reconnected with her former best friend. They had been inseparable but fell out a couple of years ago, no longer speaking and losing touch. The virus made both re-think what mattered to them, brought back reasons of why they had loved each other in the first place and subsequently reignited their friendship.
Such outcomes from the virus are heart-warming and reaffirming, showing us what is really important. It can make us reflect on those friendships that make your heart sing and highlight those who you will want to hug first, once lockdown is over. I spoke to a colleague of mine who felt increasingly agitated that he couldn’t see any of his friends in real person anymore. “Talking on the phone or via Zoom just doesn’t do it for me. It lacks warmth.” He also told me that he jokingly suggested to his wife that they have friends over to sit 3 metres apart in their garden, sipping champagne and catching up. His wife was not impressed, reacting to his idea as if he had suggested an orgy. Whilst anecdotes like this keep me amused and uplifted, I realise there may be a very different outcome for some friendships. I believe that the lockdown may weed out those who have not fulfilled their roles as indispensable humans, who have caused us more disappointment and distress and have left us feeling empty and drained after we have been with them. Distance often makes us discover ourselves and others anew and detachments can provide clarity and the power to make necessary changes. It will show who gives you that fulfilling, warm feeling after a phone call full of natter, giggles, snippets of their thoughts, an intimate chat, a meaningful conversation, an insight into their life and soul. You may notice that drama kings and queens, game players and those who always like you to second guess everything have no place in your life. Because life is too short to be wondering if you are worthy of their friendship and time or not.
My thoughts on relationships and friendships during quarantine have been evoked by a new normal that is confining us and makes us think differently, not only about the safety of our loved ones but also about how much we rely on human interaction, especially the kind that we have been used to all our lives. The invisible force of a virus has turned what we know upside down and revealed new challenges surrounding human closeness and intimacy.
The silver linings of lockdown and isolation may well turn out to be some reformed and reshaped relationships, rediscovered and discarded friendships and within all of it, hopefully a better and more gentle relationship with yourself which, in return is beneficial for those we hold dear and close to our hearts.