The pandemic has been really lonely for a lot of people. Stripping back what I heard someone call the “fluff” of life, unable perhaps to leave the house, maybe having lost work or someone we loved, coronavirus has exposed the areas of our lives which we badly need to repair.
It has also made us, subconsciously or otherwise, test the depth of our friendships. As writer and philosopher Alain de Botton said on a recent podcast: “One good rule of thumb is, if you haven’t felt the need to be in touch with a certain person during the lockdown, maybe that person doesn’t really belong in your social life.”
In London after a few years, more and more of my friendships became what I can only describe as a series of “catchups”, booked in weeks or months in advance like dentist appointments.
A catchup friend is someone with whom you may have once had a rich friendship, but it has boiled and shrivelled down to an hour and a half together every six months or so, sharing the basic facts of your lives over a few expensive small plates in some hipster joint. This overpriced venue will be situated exactly halfway between your houses. There is no staying out late because, well, it’s likely a school night. You will eat and talk, pay about £20 to £30 each, part with a hug and hop into your own Ubers.
I think about when, pre-pandemic, I was messaging a friend to arrange a catchup and we consulted back and forth to find a date that suited.
“Can you do a weeknight?” they asked me.
I felt weirdly annoyed. I wanted a Friday night, or a Saturday night. I wanted to be a priority, a plan A. Was that not OK? Why did I have to be relegated to an hour and a half on a Monday?
Partly, it’s inevitable. As you hit your thirties, there are other priorities: partners (and their friends and families), children, work dos, hen dos, weekend getaways with all of the above, nights in, and cancelling on your pal last minute because you can’t be arsed. I have a friend whose pet hate is people being late or cancelling last minute, and I could never understand his fury. “My time is just as important as theirs,” he’d rage. It’s only now that I’m starting to cotton on.
Modern-day catching up is the polar opposite of how we learnt to be friends as children and teenagers. In high school, you knew every detail of your friend’s life. If they had some sort of identity crisis between maths at 10am and German at 3pm, you were there to witness it, analyse it, and maybe chat about it over the phone that evening.
But as adults living busy and important lives we sometimes barely recall the name of our good friend’s employer. We go to their houses so seldom that when we reach their street we have to send a quick WhatsApp message to ask, “What number are you again?” When we tell stories, we refer to people in our lives as our “boss”, or the “big boss”, or “my boyfriend’s friend”, because otherwise they might not understand who we are referring to, and vice versa.
Even before the pandemic, YouGov found that millennials were the loneliest generation. And no number of Instagram likes, coffee catchups and small plates on a Wednesday night will fix that.
The happy side of the pandemic is that along with exposing the weaker links it has also shone a light on the people who really do make an effort, and with whom you want to reciprocate. It has encouraged you to contact people you miss, and highlighted the friendships you want to repair.
For example, the women in my book club who arranged an extra Zoom session to accommodate people who were out of town. The friend who calls if she senses my WhatsApp message sounds a little off.
The friend who wants to spend time with you, even if it’s a Friday night. I’m so grateful for every one of them.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies