The Daily Gamecock

Column: The plight of friendship in a pandemic

Living in a major historical event has taken its toll on all of us and inevitably changed our lives, in most instances for the worse. The negative effects on mental health and resulting feelings of isolation have forced changes in not only how we interact with our close friends, but also our acquaintances.

In this crazy new world we live in, I can't help but feel the pandemic has affected things beyond just our health. Our friendships and emotional connections have been tested beyond what they would have in our pre-coronavirus lives.

In Amanda Mull's Atlantic article, “The Pandemic has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship,” she explains that relationships referred to as “weak ties” and “outer circles” have been erased in lieu of social distancing guidelines.

The weak ties in my life, such as friends-of-friends or the person you sit next to in class, have indisputably faded. Despite their proximity, these friends-in-passing still affect your mental health and sense of belonging.

“Casual friends and acquaintances can be as important to well-being as family, romantic partners, and your closest friends,” Mull wrote.

The lack of these relationships can make you feel alone and secluded despite the friends you might have maintained throughout the pandemic.

Students Carla Vaca Pinacho, Kylie Tindal and Haven Stephens each described their social lives this year as “different,” “interesting” and “diminished,” respectively. 

As group get-togethers have dramatically decreased in size and frequency, students might feel stressed when deciding what activities can be deemed appropriate. Close friends take precedence over those distant relationships.

“During these times I’ve been a lot more stuck to my inner circle; you know, I can’t really go to my outer circle,” Tindal, a third-year social work student, said.

When you are seeing the same group of friends each time you socialize, acquaintances can fade and become even less of an option.

Study groups were a common way for these outer circles to blossom on campus. Third-year tourism management student Vaca Pinacho said her friends used to study together but can’t anymore because of the regulations at the library. Organized study groups with a range of different people for each class strengthened acquaintanceship within the student body; necessary library regulations erased that opportunity.

Closer friends can also be difficult to meet with if there are differing levels of social distancing involved.

“A few of my friends tried to meet up with me, and I met up with them, and they didn’t really care,” Stephens, a second-year political science student, said regarding his friends’ thoughts on social distancing. “People have invited me to stuff that I really wanted to go to, but I just tell them, 'I can’t do that,' and it has kinda worn down on me.”

Close friends can be easier to reach out to over text or Zoom, but turning down in-person invitations can wear on a relationship if there isn’t enough communication about boundaries. Although these more intimate friendships allow for more understanding, being on different sides of the social-distancing spectrum can be awkward.

“There’s two sides to every story,” Stephens said.

With options such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom, social distancing does not have to mean isolation.

“I, honestly, have been using FaceTime a lot more,” Tindal said. “Reaching out to friends I haven’t talked to in years.”

While these weaker ties might feel intimidating to reach out to, I encourage you to take that leap and trust they are thinking of reaching out to you, too. Take this time to reconnect with people you miss.

We need to take a moment to remind ourselves humans are social animals, so if you are feeling isolated in this weird time, you are not alone.

“I definitely lost contact with a lot of people that I wish I hadn’t,” Vaca Pinacho said.

Remind yourself you are loved, things are rapidly changing and it is hard. It is important to remind ourselves of our circumstances.

“Being isolated, I guess, is just part of it, you know; once it's over, it's over," Tindal said. "But until then, do your part."

Editor's note: The photo attached to this column was changed on Feb. 15 at 9:59 p.m. to better match the focus of the piece.


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