'Five things I’ve learned about friendship during the pandemic' says best-selling author Phoebe Morgan

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


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.


Best-selling author Phoebe Morgan

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.


Phoebe's latest novel The Wild Girls is out now

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.

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

Hello Marie Claire readers – you have reached your daily destination. I really hope you’re enjoying our reads and I'm very interested to know what you shared, liked and didn’t like (gah, it happens) by emailing me at: maria.coole@freelance.ti-media.com

But if you fancy finding out who you’re venting to then let me tell you I’m the one on the team that remembers the Spice Girls the first time round. I confidently predicted they’d be a one-hit wonder in the pages of Bliss magazine where I was deputy editor through the second half of the 90s. Having soundly killed any career ambitions in music journalism I’ve managed to keep myself in glow-boosting moisturisers and theatre tickets with a centuries-spanning career in journalism.

Yes, predating t’internet, when 'I’ll fax you' was grunted down a phone with a cord attached to it; when Glastonbury was still accessible by casually going under or over a flimsy fence; when gatecrashing a Foo Fighters aftershow party was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and tapping Dave Grohl on the shoulder was... oh sorry I like to ramble.

Originally born and bred in that there Welsh seaside town kindly given a new lease of life by Gavin & Stacey, I started out as a junior writer for the Girl Guides and eventually earned enough Brownie points to move on and have a blast as deputy editor of Bliss, New Woman and editor of People newspaper magazine. I was on the launch team of Look in 2007 - where I stuck around as deputy editor and acting editor for almost ten years - shaping a magazine and website at the forefront of body positivity, mental wellbeing and empowering features. More recently, I’ve been Closer executive editor, assistant editor at the Financial Times’s How To Spend It (yes thanks, no probs with that life skill) and now I’m making my inner fangirl’s dream come true by working on this agenda-setting brand, the one that inspired me to become a journalist when Marie Claire launched back in 1988.

I’m a theatre addict, lover of Marvel franchises, most hard cheeses, all types of trees, half-price Itsu, cats, Dr Who, cherry tomatoes, Curly-Wurly, cats, blueberries, cats, boiled eggs, cats, maxi dresses, cats, Adidas shelltops, cats and their kittens. I’ve never knowingly operated any household white goods and once served Ripples as a main course. And finally, always remember what the late great Nora Ephron said, ‘Everything is copy.’