How to do friendship in a pandemic
Advice Column #2
Welcome to At The End Of the Day. Hi new subscribers! 👋
I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter for a people-first perspective on the news. We’re over 80 newsletters deep into this thing! And we’re getting *so* close to our goal of becoming a podcast. Pay-what-you-wish to make it happen.
Happy new year! (That’s my wish to you, not an actual description of current events).
Schools are closed and the kids are in online school. The news is consistently terrible. I got a booster shot (yay!) followed up by a panic attack (boo).
And frankly, I found the holidays exhausting.
So today, in Advice Column #2, I’m focusing on the glue that is holding me together: friendship.
New town, new friends? 🏔️
We’re relatively new arrivals where we live.
The kids are making friends at school and maybe some of their parents could become friends. I chat with them at the school drop-offs and could invite them over for a cup of tea, but the pandemic makes social invitations even more awkward.
It’s also complicated by a sizeable portion of unvaccinated folks.
Should I keep new friendships at bay for now? Or find a safe way to open up our circle? — Nostalgic in Nelson
There’s a candy store that my kids miss. I used to unleash them in there on Fridays after school.
Make no mistake: For you, school pick-up time is your candy store. Parents standing around in a schoolyard is the closest thing you’ve got to a party right now. It’s outdoors, which is as safe as it gets, and while small talk may be awkward, you’ve already got a built-in starter topic for everyone — your kids. Talk enough times and you’ll hit on shared interests so you can drop the ruse of discussing Pokemon trades and unicorn stuffies.
As for assessing people’s POV on Covid, scan the “room” to pick people with masks. If you really want to get direct, make small talk on Covid and maybe ask an innocent question about vaccine logistics for kids. You’ll find out very quickly who to keep chatting with and who you want to socially distance from.
I imagine being a newbie in town during a pandemic can get lonely. Even for those of us with lower stakes, I believe new friendships are crucial.
While I’m deeply grateful that I went into this pandemic with a crew of lifelong friends, my new friendships have been so special. They have a bit of a spark that’s like romance — and we need sparks badly right now. On the days that feel flat (so, so many flat days), laughing with new friends and hearing different stories send me on a high for days.
There is very little opportunity to mingle socially with new people in person. So appreciate your candy shop and show up early. Take a deep breath. Embrace the awkward phase. Your rewards on the other end are immeasurable.
Do my friends even like me? 🥺
I feel like my friendships have regressed to high school vibes. I made a lot of new online friends on Instagram who have translated into fun IRL friends but now I’m at this deeply insecure phase where I wonder, Do they even like me? That feeling has crossed over into my secure long friendships now, too.
How do I work on my friendship confidence and security and give up friendships that aren’t working out to work on the important ones again? How do I feel like I’m an awesome friend and not a mediocre flake? — Friendship Goals
There’s a lot going on here. There’s insecurity (check), evolving friendships in text chats (check), balancing a range of relationships (check) and wanting to be there for people (check) during a time of constant flux (you’re not a flake).
I can definitely relate. Let’s start with the easiest things to tackle.
Are you a flake? It’s not you, it’s the pandemic. Next!
How can you work on important friendships? Have a conversation with your actual human voice. If you can, meet up for a walk. I have lots of friendships that now subsist on DMs and group chats. I love them all but text messaging makes everything feel like it has the same level of importance. Notifications all have the same sense of urgency (unless you’ve got that figured out, in which case I salute you). In real life, an encounter in the grocery store aisle and a heart-to-heart with a friend in need are not the same thing. Bump up the people closest to you with some real human talk time.
Do your friends even like you? Oh, sister. This is the big one. Insecurity is such a beast. I’ve been there. You have to start with you. Spend minutes, hours, as much time as you can, doing something you love and are good at. At minimum, it grounds you. Maybe you paint pictures, bake fancy things or you can do the splits. Make it a thing that isn’t paid work.
Then think about the people you trust most and bring up your feelings of insecurity with them. Again, with your human voice. If your friends are worth their salt, they’ll express how much they love you. As for the newer friends from your DMs, think about how you feel after you hang out. Some of them may be dream people that technology has delivered to your doorstep. But some are not. Everyone can have fun in the moment, but how do you feel immediately afterward? Anyone who consistently brings negative energy, especially with a more tenuous recent connection, is an easy person to let go.
Introverts love friendship, too 🌱
I've always been an introvert. Throughout the pandemic, I've watched my friendships shrink and wither like a collection of neglected houseplants. I'm also terrified of getting Covid.
Some folks are gathering with their closest and best pals — which isn't me. There might be the occasional big event, but that's not for pandemic-nervous introverts.
I want to start bringing old relationships back to life or cultivating new ones but I am so scared, both from the pandemic and my fragile emotional state. I'd like to start putting myself back out there. How do you start meeting people when no one is meeting other people?
Thanks for your advice! — Lonely Introvert
Eeee! It makes me so sad to think of your friendships as dying houseplants, so let me start with the positives. Being Covid-cautious is definitely a good thing. Being an introvert is also truly great (we need deep, reflective people all around us).
I’m an extrovert myself but I don’t think it matters whether you like quiet evenings or hanging from the chandelier. I think the key to all friendships right now, new and old, is sharing interests.
For example, I’m new to a book club I love. The core of the club is a group of old friends and a bunch of us are new. While there are a few aspects some of us have in common (profession, kids, location) our most basic common denominator are the books. A bonus is that this friend group is pushing me to do more of what *I* love, which is read.
I see the power of shared interests with my son, too. When we go birding, he makes a beeline for anyone with a giant lens. He knows who his people are. He walks straight up and asks, “What are you looking at?” This simple question always turns into a conversation, and there can be some real pay-off (we just got a new lifer, which is when you see a bird for the first time, and it was a snowy owl!).
My kid isn’t making lifelong friends among birders at the park (the age discrepancy — it’s real), but I love to watch all the shyness fall away when there is a shared passion to discuss.
Don’t forget social media: I have a love-hate relationship with it but magical things happen when you open up. In 2020, I began to shed my reluctance to be publicly political. Stating your values is a way to connect, or re-connect, with people around you. When people advocated for safer schools in September 2020, I got to know two women who are now dear friends. I learn so much from them and we party pandemic-style, which means sitting outside in lots of weather (we’ve talked through snow and rain – I just refill their glasses and bust out umbrellas).
When you share what matters to you, people come out of the woodwork.
For example, every time I share my love of BTS (don’t laugh, my love is real), I end up chatting with people in my DMs, many of them strangers. This is the way I met a new friend whose daughter is in the same class as ours. Amazingly, even though we were dropping off our kids to the same patch of grass back when school was in-person, our schedules were different and we never crossed paths. That is, until we bonded over BTS on Instagram.
I think my new friend and I each thought we were the only 40-something freaks who got very deep into BTS fandom during this pandemic. We recently met up for the first time and had an outdoor cup of tea in a blizzard (mittens on, snow gathering on our toques — you just have to laugh).
If you’re a fan or expert or passionate about anything, don’t hide it — share it. The power is real. Take it from Jamie, who wrote to tell me about deepening her existing relationships over a love of BTS (fans call themselves “ARMY”):
I’ve become really close with people in my professional network who are ARMY. We’re Gen X and Boomers, male and female. I also started a private Facebook group for my college’s alumni network and there are 50 of us, constantly sharing (we have one ARMY who has seen them live 15 times!) and learning from their experiences.
The takeaway is connecting over what you love and value.
What are your passions? Can you talk about them more? And for the moments when all of this friending gets overwhelming, you can retreat into these things you love to do.
My mom has said for years that she doesn’t “worry” about my kids because they have passionate interests (you know my older child loves birds – our younger kid is the world’s tiniest seamstress). Now, during a time of isolation and hardship, I’m really understanding what my mom means. So many things flow from there.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in with questions and thank YOU for reading.
Overall, it’s an exhausting and frustrating time right now. Let friendships buoy you rather than stress you out. Reach out to someone and just give them a call.
✨✨✨ At The End Of the Day is edited by Laura Hensley ✨✨✨
How To Make Friends After A Pandemic Move, Chatelaine
Take small steps to rekindle friendships in the new year, The Washington Post
Social connection is the cure, Canadian Mental Health Association. Groups who live on the margins of society are at greater risk of being socially excluded and isolated, including the elderly, youth, and people who are unemployed, racialized and otherwise stigmatized. The good news is, research the world over tells us that loneliness is a reversible condition.
The cruel, ridiculous reality of 'virtual learning,' Macleans. “Ontario, the province that has deprived its children of education and normalcy more than any other in Canada, and more than virtually any other jurisdiction in the world: it feels like we are all actors in a commercial that says things are basically fine when they are manifestly not.”
RAT Tracker, The Local. A citizen-powered tool for anonymous reporting of rapid antigen test results in Toronto public schools
Canada is flying blind with Omicron as COVID-19 testing drops off a cliff, CBC
Canada’s highest-paid CEOs profited during pandemic, The Toronto Star. “People at the top are able to maintain their income, in fact, their incomes are growing by massive amounts while so many other people are struggling,” said Blaikie. “We’re not going to be able to correct that problem…without thinking seriously about how we tax back some of that wealth at the top.”
Not a sprint…it’s been a marathon ✌️
I started writing At The End Of the Day in March 2020. I know that what I believed then remains true today — we need to feel connected if we want effortful, brilliant, evidence-based news information to be empowering rather than simply overwhelming. So that’s what I try to do — boil down what really matters to us and keep a news-informed perspective.
One year after I launched ATEOD, I turned on a pay-what-you-wish aspect via Patreon. The goal was for you to chip in, according to how much you value this newsletter, with the money going towards paying for this labour.
I already work with an amazing editor, Laura, and I know that many of you have expressed how much you’d love an ATEOD podcast — me, too!
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I’m trying to do things at a human scale and this human is tired. But I’m also the luckiest person ever, as I get to work alongside incredible humans, building Media Girlfriends, a podcast company (and scholarship, too!).
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It took a year of writing before I added a pay-what-you-wish option and it will have taken another year before a podcast comes to fruition. But I think it’s worth that time, effort and money. Thank you for your support.