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Ways That Coronavirus Is Boosting Relationships

The pandemic is helping to revive old friendships


Part of the The Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need to Know Special Report

Back in January or February, you may have thought that “liking” someone’s Facebook post qualified as catching up with a friend. But if you’ve been self-isolating at home since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, you’ve probably upgraded to phone calls and video chats.

This dramatic change in interpersonal connection has been one positive effect of COVID-19, fueled partly by concern for others and partly by the free time which people may have when they’re sheltering in place.

“This pandemic has completely shifted where our social needs lie and what we’re craving,” says Marisa Franco, a psychologist and friendship researcher based in Washington, D.C. “People often talk themselves out of reaching out to others because they assume people are too busy to talk. But now, we assume that others have more time.”

Many people are enjoying phone check-ins and Zoom happy hours with their usual circle of friends, rather than relying on texts and social media.

Others are seeking old friends whom they haven’t spoken with in decades, re-establishing meaningful connections amid the health crisis.

“Finding her is unquestionably the best thing that has happened to me during this horrible pandemic.”

“When we’re faced with stress and uncertainty, what we long for most is comfort and security and a sense of protection from the current threat,” says friendship expert Suzanne Degges-White, professor of counseling at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. “Reaching out to friends from the past is a way to reconnect with a feeling of safety and familiarity.”

Reuniting by Chance

In April, Lisa Collier Cool of Pelham, N.Y., was surprised to receive an invitation to a Zoom virtual reunion for her former elementary school because her family had moved away before she’d graduated from that school. Cool replied to the group message with the names of her three closest friends from 5th grade, hoping to re-establish old relationships. Within a day, she received an e-mail from her long-lost best friend, Felicity Blundon, who had seen her message. Elated, Cool responded, and two days later, the women attended their Zoom reunion together.

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“I was so thrilled to see a tiny thumbnail of my BFF and then to see her full-size when she shared a bit about her life with the group,” says Cool, 67, an author and journalist.

Since then, Cool and Blundon have e-mailed each other regularly, and they may schedule another video chat soon. Cool also hopes to meet Blundon in person once it’s safe to socialize again.

“Finding her is unquestionably the best thing that has happened to me during this horrible pandemic,” Cool says. “I cherish each of her e-mails as a wonderful connection to happier times and a beautiful friendship that began sixty years ago, in 1960.”

Reveling in the novelty of a re-established friendship may make self-isolation easier to endure, because you’re entering new territory without going anywhere.

The appeal of old friends is the nostalgia and mental time-traveling,” Franco says. “They bring us back to our past selves, our past memories, [at a time when] people are seeking to transport themselves outside of the walls of their home.”

Deepening an Existing Connection

Rhonda Rees of Los Angeles was already connected on Facebook with Susie Worster, a favorite friend from nursery school and kindergarten whom Rees had lost touch with as a youngster because they’d attended different schools. They’d reconnected twice but had never met or spoken as adults. During the first week of April, when Rees had been in mandatory lockdown for three weeks, she reached out to Worster to schedule a phone call.

“I had some more time on my hands due to the pandemic… so now seemed like the perfect time to reconnect with her this way,” says Rees, 61, principal of a public relations company. “I was also seeking meaningful connections from my past, as that was much more of an easy and simple time period.”

“The sound of a comforting voice on the other end of the phone can quickly transport us back to another time.”

“We left our phone call with the feeling that this may be the start of a brand-new, decades-old friendship,” Rees says. “Once the quarantine lifts, we do plan on meeting.”

Connecting by phone may help to bridge the years.

“The sound of a comforting voice on the other end of the phone can quickly transport us back to another time,” Degges-White says. “It brings a greater sense of presence, warmth and personal connection that texts just can’t provide.”

Taking the Virtual Plunge

When Jenna Glatzer’s college friend, Miles Cliatt, posted on Facebook that he was hosting a Zoom happy hour in April, Glatzer decided to attend. She hadn’t had a conversation with Cliatt in 22 years and thought it would be nice to catch up. Because she joined his Zoom meeting late, she stayed on the call while the group dwindled down.

“We got to talk for a long while to end the night,” says Glatzer, a New York-based ghostwriter in her 40s. “I got to introduce him to my daughter, too. Pretty cool.”

Reuniting with a friend via video chat may help lift your mood during the pandemic.

“Just to be able to see another person’s face and look into their eyes can lift our spirits immensely and help us feel like we are a part of a community,” Degges-White says.

Deciding Whether to Reconnect

If you’re wondering about a long-lost friend, now may be the time to reach out.

“Keep in mind how wonderful it can feel to hear from an old friend from your past,” Degges-White says. “By reaching out, you let someone know that they matter to you.”

Don’t worry that you haven’t spoken in years; your friend should be flattered that you thought of him or her.

If you reconnect with a friend and eventually drift apart again, appreciate that your interactions helped you survive the pandemic.

“The most common way people end friendships is not because anyone has done something malicious, but because they’ve simply gotten busy and fallen out of touch,” Franco says. “Now, we have the time.”

Sustaining a Rekindled Friendship

A one-time check-in with an old friend feels right for some people. Others may want more. If you’re hoping to re-establish a friendship, it helps if you’re both on board.

“We have to recognize that friendships won’t thrive unless they are nurtured over time,” Degges-White says. “As lockdowns ease and we are able to engage in the activities that busied us before the pandemic began, we may realize that the relationship isn’t meant to endure.”

If you reconnect with a friend and eventually drift apart again, appreciate that your interactions helped you survive the pandemic.

“Even if we rekindle a friendship for now that doesn’t last,” Franco says, “in these moments, that friendship really helped us and meant something.”

By Lisa Fields
Lisa Fields is a writer who covers psychology and health matters as they relate to the workplace. She publishes frequently in WebMD and Reader’s Digest. Read more of her work at Writtenbylisafields.com.

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