As a survey states friendships have deteriorated over the last year - thanks largely to three lockdowns, Phoebe Morgan shares five key lessons she's taking way beyond 2021
When I was young, I used to wear friendship bracelets. I wore them all up my arms, until they were threadbare. Eventually, I grew out of it, but in January 2020, a friend gave me one, and then, the pandemic hit. I haven’t taken it off since. That bracelet has become important to me, because for all these long, lonely months it has acted like a little talisman, a reminder that my friends exist. All of us are feeling the impact of lockdown had on our friendships, and in a survey run by UCL, a fifth of people said that their friendships worsened over lockdown. This is a big deal, because according to a New Scientific study, loneliness can be as bad for us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That shocked me, but it confirmed what I already knew: friendships are important. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this year…
1. You can celebrate the small things
I went for a picnic last week and we had a hilarious moment where someone asked whether anyone had done anything exciting. We’re all women in our thirties – was anyone pregnant? Engaged? Changed jobs? Nope! We ended up going round in a circle, clapping like lunatics as we listed our achievements, which ranged from getting new braces to making a cake. The support of these women has always got me through, and we have started to work together on Zoom, with an ongoing group call in the background, which has been lovely. We don’t talk that much as we’re working, but knowing they’re there makes the days feel much less lonely.
2. You have to make the effort
As we began to work from home, I realised that I could no longer take for granted my easy office friendships – the morning coffees, the after-work drinks, the gossipy kitchen chats. Without being together physically these friendships could easily falter. I go out of my way to put in virtual wine time with my colleagues now, and make sure we talk about things other than work. Last week, I was shocked when a friend said she had sold her flat – I hadn’t known, because I wasn’t part of her day to day life any more. I felt like I was missing out on the details that make up a person’s life – not just the big stuff, but the small stuff too, like the fact that she’d snort-laughed whilst listening to Sentimental in the City. So although we’re all sick of screens, do make the effort to put those chats in – they’re worth it.
3. You can always be a better friend
As the pandemic worsened, I found myself with more time to reflect. Friendships have always been vital to me, but I started to wonder if I’d always been as good a friend as I thought I had. Had I really shown up for people? Had I put their happiness first? Or had I often put my own needs first, stuck to my own views on things without taking theirs into account, or taken their friendship for granted? I looked back at my behaviour and found that it seemed at times lacking. I’m not suggesting I was a terrible friend, but could I have been better? I found myself coming to the conclusion that yes, I could. And so I resolved to work harder on my friendships, in or out of lockdown.
4. There’s always room for more
With stay local very much the rule, I’ve been delighted this year to make some new friends around where I live. Sitting in one of their gardens last week, I (drunkenly) grabbed her hands and told her how happy I was that we’d met. I used to think I didn’t really know anyone in my area, but this year there have been a handful of people who have suggested walks, told me to stop by their gardens for coffee, or offered to bring me groceries. It has been joyful to step out of my flat and be able to walk over to meet someone else, as opposed to the usual 40-minute round trip on the tube I had grown to expect as a Londoner! I believe there is always more room for friendship in our lives – so if you live in Newington Green, let me know!
5. Quality not quantity
When researching this piece, a friend said a fascinating thing: ‘I used to think I had lots of friends, but when there isn’t a performative aspect of friendship, there are lots of people I haven’t needed. No point needing names on a guestlist when you can’t hold a party.’ This is true, I think – there will be some that fade away this year, but the ones that matter will weather the storm.
* The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan (published by HQ) is out now.
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