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Losing and gaining friends in the pandemic

| Updated: August 20, 2021 14:05

In March 2020, I was visiting a friend in Goa when the lockdown was announced. What was meant to be a week-long visit suddenly turned into a ten-week stay. Those who’ve been through such an experience would know this doesn’t bode well for a friendship. First of all, it breaks down the distancing required for a good friendship to thrive. Knowing a friend’s eccentricities is fine, but having to live with them for an undue length of time is difficult. Within two weeks we were snapping at each other. In four weeks we began to avoid each other, except at mealtimes. Conversation, an essential lubricant to any friendship, became impossible. He eventually asked me to pay rent for my stay and the relationship then became formal. From friends, we changed to being landlord and tenant.  

Goa during the lockdown was not a fun place. The weather was hot, the beaches were off-limits, the restaurants and hotels were shut.  Getting around Goa is difficult in the best of times, but during the lockdown it was impossible.  In June, I took the very first flight back to Ahmedabad. I was happy to leave and my friend was happy to see me go.

After those difficult days in Goa, I quite enjoyed staying cooped up at home in Ahmedabad for a while. In October, I made a new friend, one who lived in my building complex. We would go on our evening walks together and would stop for chai at one of the SG Highway cafes, where we’d have hour-long conversations on everything from movies and books to Covid and curfew. My faith in friendship was somewhat restored again.

In his essay on Friendship from 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson says the only friend worth having is one who remains somewhat unknown. I’m sure most people have had occasion to mull this and other aspects of friendship recently.  

During the lockdown, in the absence of meet-ups, phone calls became the best way to stay in touch. But most of the names in our address book tend to casual friends, who we would not consider calling up for long chats. I finally distilled my list down to ten names and started a ritual of calling up one or the other every evening. It wasn’t easy to sustain. There wasn’t that much to talk about during the pandemic after you’d exchanged info on the state of affairs in your respective cities. Occasionally, someone would get Covid, which made for a nice long conversation as they described what they’d been through.    

Social media has seen a boom since the pandemic. The average number of ‘likes’ for my Facebook posts has doubled. I’m now a member of more WhatsApp groups than I’ve ever been and I’m suddenly in touch with distant friends again. Texting is the most popular form of communication, and it is ideal for second-tier friends who don’t quite make the phone call grade.

Then came Zoom and it was possible for everybody to have group conversations. These are not the same as face-to-face meets, but they did offer some traits of the typical adda. You could be with people you know casually and don’t consider close friends and you could just listen and enjoy being with the group, instead of having to talk. 

Now that the second wave has passed, friends are meeting up again and get-togethers at home are in vogue again. The list of people you invite may have undergone a change since the start of the pandemic, and that’s for the best. Those who added gloom need to be dispensed with.  When it comes to friends, only those who add cheer to your life are worth keeping.

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  1. CA Jayshree Karve

    Dibeyendu, Good analysis of behaviour , situational changes in relationships.Discovery of new friends and giving up a few.

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