Laura Jane Williams is not kidding when she says coronavirus has made her reassess the meaning of friendship
Thinking about the meaning of friendship in the new normal took me back to the first few weeks of lockdown, when I was either talking on the phone, sending texts, or recording voice-notes. I’d never known such a collective pull towards connection. There was no sense of being ‘too much’ for anyone. We were all at the mercy of each other’s compassion, safe from the world in our individual homes but united in our grief at the sudden physical isolation.
Forging intimacy in spite of the distance looked like swapping messages on the daily briefings, or sending notes in the post and flowers just because. The simple act of asking, how do you feel today? took on a new tenderness. I’m ashamed that before the pandemic I would have both answered this question half-heartedly. And asked it half-heartedly too. I’d fire off a ‘Yeah, good thanks,’ without thinking. The pandemic made that impossible, and now there’s no going back.
I can see the ways I’d taken people for granted before. Rolling with the minutiae of life and assuming that whilst my inbox, the laundry or another episode of Schitt’s Creek couldn’t wait, other people could. I often spent my time on work when it would have had more value being used on friends and family. Lockdown opened my heart and my vulnerabilities. It made me grounded and present in relationships in a way I hope to hold on to forever. It’s reminded me what is important, that without continued attention to connection nothing else matters.
Friendship in the new normal, sees me wanting to keep asking the people I love, how do you feel today, and taking the time to listen to the answer. I want to nurture the softness I’ve made space for with my pals. I want to stop wasting myself on people who don’t deserve it. And I want to give more to the ones who were there when the world felt like it was burning.
President Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.’ That’s where I want to operate from moving forward.
What I’ve also realised about friendship in the new normal is that I don’t need to wait for the bi-annual weekend away with my far-flung friends. We’ve only had a couple of Zoom calls, but it’s been a couple more than we’d have had before. We’d never even thought about a video chat together. I really hope we continue the tradition now we’ve started. Hey, if it means we get to see each other more often, drink in hand but asleep in our own beds by 10pm – what’s not to like.
Social distancing means I’ve been seeing friends closer to home in the park, or in my garden. Friendship in the new normal means we’ve had to be inventive with the ways we hang out. We’re putting each other’s care and comfort at the heart of our plans. I’ve got cautious friends who won’t go out without a mask, and pals for whom lockdown died right about the time Dominic Cummings took an eye test at Barnard Castle. We have to be really open in how we communicate about our boundaries. That’s never not a good thing. ‘How do you want to play this?’ has become the cornerstone of my lexicon. It’s my way of saying, ‘I care about your health because I care about you. You set the tone.’
I suppose what I’m saying is that friendship in the new normal has meant I’m having to practise compassion – for myself, for my friends – in a radical way that I’ve never engaged with before. My heart has grown six sizes as it finds room for all the foibles and idiosyncrasies we’ve all got. In the new normal, we have frank discussions about boundaries and rules. There’s two choices: respect them, or don’t see each other. Either way nobody loses because who wants to hang out with a ‘friend’ who ridicules the way you want to protect your health?
I’ve experienced everything from awe at people’s kindnesses to shock at seemingly selfish behaviour. But mostly, it’s heightened my human experience and forced me to reckon with a core truth: even when it might not look like it, we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. We’re all just trying to stay afloat – and when that’s the case, kindness really is paramount.
* Laura Jane Williams’ new novel, The Love Square, will be published August 6th.