Article by Catherine Lambert /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
September 22, 2020 /
Click here to view original /
Networking is on pause, party invitations are shelved and life is in such limbo that there is little news to share.
All that’s left are the true friends for the deeper, unchecked, conversations and to share the pain, the hope and the coping strategies.
For many, the changing nature of friendship during COVID-19 has separated the fair weather friends from the tried and true. It’s what psychologist Brenda Heideman describes as the heart friends compared to the friends of alliance (work colleagues, university friends, networking) and fun friends (club members, party together or share a hobby).
“At the moment, we’re seeking out the company of our heart friends so that means we’re mixing with fewer but much closer friends,” Heideman says.
“It’s our basic human drive to create meaning in our lives and when we’re living under extra stress where we don’t have control of our environment, we look to friends to create meaning.
“We’re not really going out, we don’t have much news but we may walk with a heart friend every few days. Those walks are not around doing the activity as much as they’re around conversation. Our friendships are moving inward to meet some of those basic needs to create meaning, safety and a sense of belonging.”
Fashion stylist and women’s mental health campaigner Melina Bagnato has gone so far as to undertake a friendship cleanse during the pandemic, unfriending or unfollowing those who have let her down.
“The biggest thing I have learnt from this is that I don’t need an abundance of friends,” Bagnato says.
“I’m so grateful to have my husband, I miss my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law and there are probably five girlfriends I talk to every few days but if the world was to end tomorrow I wouldn’t miss anyone else.
“This time has made me much more clear on who to give my energy to and who to pull back from. I know who has reached out to me and who hasn’t and in some cases it’s been surprising when people who have been friends for 10-20 years haven’t reached out but strangers have.”
She has also decided to avoid those “friends” who are flooding her feed with political jargon and conspiracy theories, even avoiding social media altogether for days at a time.
“Someone I met through business did a big, long post about not wanting to wear a mask the other day so I just unfollowed that person,” she says.
“The moment I go down that rabbit hole, I feel anxious and I don’t need that.”
Heideman says some friendships may be challenged presently by differing, previously unknown political views.
University of Melbourne senior lecturer in social sciences Dr Lauren Rosewarne says that, with more socialising taking place online, it’s important to take control of managing it.
“If your friendship is just connected to your football club, politics probably never comes into it and it may say something to you about that person but if what you see on social media is bothering you, work out a way to limit it by unfollowing or muting,” Dr Rosewarne says.
“You can get a pleasurable social media feed rather than an irritant whenever you decide to do that.”
“I do believe some of our shared experiences over this difficult time and that sense of ‘doing it together ‘ may strengthen some of those heart friendships but may also lead to a sense of re-evaluation of friendships where we may have … felt let down,” she says.
Heideman suggests some patience with certain friendships now will be of benefit later.
“Our good friends help us manage stress because they care about our emotions and experiences,” she says.
“It’s important now to invest in friendships by putting effort into reaching out to those you know are vulnerable.”