Are You Having a Tough Time Maintaining Friendships These Days?

Are You Having a Tough Time Maintaining Friendships These Days?

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Do you find it difficult to keep up with your friendships in a time of social distancing? Do you find it hard to make new friends in the era of remote schooling, and when people are spending so much time more at home? Has the pandemic brought you closer together, or moved you farther apart, from friends?

What does friendship look like for teenagers in 2020?

In “How to Deal With a Friendship ‘Quiet Season,’” Anna Goldfarb writes:

Friendships need four elements to grow, according to Kat Vellos, an author and connection coach: close physical proximity, regular interactions, a compatible outlook on life and a shared commitment to being there for each other. In her book, “We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships,” she calls these factors “seeds of connection,” because when they are all present, a healthy friendship can bloom. However, if any of these components are lacking “due to circumstance or not being actively nurtured, the greater your likelihood of failure,” she wrote.

If you’re feeling disconnected because you haven’t been able to spend time with your friends, it’s understandable. When we don’t engage in regular communication and do activities together, even the closest bonds of friendship decay, according to a 2015 study that appeared in the journal Human Nature.

Unlike family relationships, friendships are completely voluntary. Therefore, “they’re the relationships we put the least amount of effort into usually,” said Sabeen Shaiq, a licensed clinical social worker.

Another reason you might be feeling isolated from a friend is because you recently realized your ethical beliefs aren’t as similar as you’d assumed. Clashing viewpoints on social issues may reveal incompatibilities too distressing to ignore. Recent social movements are “really showing more about who people are, what they value, and what’s important to them,” said Ivy Kwong, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “And that’s changing a lot of friendship dynamics.”

Ms. Goldfarb provides some recommendations on what to do if your friendship has been rocky the past few months or if you have been experiencing emotional or physical distance. Here are three of her tips:

Express gratitude.

Write a handwritten letter telling your friend how much they mean to you. Voicing your deep appreciation could help strengthen your bond. “It is scary to do though, because they could not reciprocate,” Ms. Shaiq said. “But sometimes we just have to be authentic to ourselves.”

Try not to take a “no” personally.

If someone says they can’t talk to you right now, don’t spiral into negative questions and assumptions. “Whenever anyone says no, it’s basically them taking care of themselves,” Ms. Kwong said. Respect their decision and let them know your door is always open to them.

Consider this moment as a break, not a permanent chill.

Some relationships can’t thrive in this moment, but you may not want to give up on them entirely. “Allow yourself space to come back to them whenever things are more normal,” Ms. Denworth said. “Sometimes there are people who circle back into your life at different times.” She likens it to discovering a forgotten sweater in your closet that suddenly fits you perfectly. “That could happen with friendships again down the road,” she said. They don’t have to be “all things, to all people, all the time,” Ms. Denworth said, “including during pandemics.”

Students, read the entire article, and then tell us:

  • Are you having a tough time maintaining friendships these days? If so, tell us the challenges you are experiencing. How have they affected your mental health and your emotional well-being?

  • What does friendship look like in 2020? What kinds of things are you no longer able to do together with your friends? Has the quality or quantity of your friendships changed? How much time are you able to spend in person? How much is virtual? How does that compare with previous years? Have you experienced any tension or conflicts with friends over expectations around social distancing, mask wearing or hand sanitizer?

  • What have you been doing to sustain your friendships during the pandemic? Do you have a bubble or pod with friends? What are some creative ways you are staying connected?

  • Do you agree with Ms. Goldfarb that “some relationships can’t thrive in this moment, but you may not want to give up on them entirely”? Which of her recommendations do you think you might try?

  • What tips and advice would you give to others struggling to make new friendships or maintain old ones?

  • Ivy Kwong, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that current social issues are “changing a lot of friendship dynamics.” Does that resonate with you? Have you experienced “clashing viewpoints” about politics, the Black Lives Matter movement or anything else? If yes, how have you addressed these differences?

  • The author says that you “might emerge from 2020 with fewer friendships, and that’s OK.” Do you agree? What have you learned about the nature of friendship during the pandemic? Has it made you appreciate friends and friendships more?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.