The complex task of making friends during a pandemic

During move-in day, they confidently walked into my room and introduced themselves. Shortly after, we played games in a large group, ate dinner around a crowded table with our hallmates and walked freely in and out of each other’s rooms as we decorated the walls. Then followed the late-night talks on the floors of each other’s rooms, the awkward first parties and the trips to explore Appleton. This was how I met and grew close to my first friend at Lawrence. None of this could happen today. 

It has been almost a year since our conventional ways of making and maintaining friendships vanished without warning. In the time since, we have been left with little guidance as to how to fulfill our need for social connection. Though some of us have been successful, many of us have been left feeling isolated and detached from the world, wondering why we cannot seem to adapt to this new way of life no matter how hard we try. It’s important to remember, however, that this shift in the way we interact with others is much more complex than it may seem. 

The way we cross paths with new acquaintances looks much different now than it did before the pandemic. Long gone are the days of chatting with the people sitting next to you before class starts or at the Café while waiting for your order number to pop up on the screen.  Opportunities to interact with acquaintances are now much more intentional than before. Instead of meeting new people coincidentally as we go about our lives in college, it’s now been tacked on as an activity we have to make a conscious effort to pursue. 

Though this may seem easy to some, this often feels foreign to those who are introverted and usually fill their free time with solitary activities to recharge. The same goes for those who are shy and rely on others to reach out to them first. Whether it is attending an event on Zoom or working up the courage to DM someone you have never met in person, suddenly we must be extremely proactive in creating relationships. If this is not something that you feel natural at, friendships are hard to initiate. 

Even after we make the first step to start a friendship with someone, building the relationship is a whole other world. We are all familiar with the stages of a friendship that range from an acquaintance to a best friend. We often cannot believe that at one point our best friend was just someone we made awkward small talk with. However, all of these phases, no matter how tedious they may be, are necessary to build up the trust and familiarity that comes with having a close friend. 

The small talk that usually would happen on walks to the Commons or over a study table in the library are now forced to happen over the internet or in planned, distanced gatherings. Getting to know each other looks much different than we are accustomed to. With casual, in-person interactions being much more limited, small talk now happens over a much longer period of time. Even with friend dates over video calls or text messaging, we are still interacting with each other much less than usual, dragging out the process of becoming acquainted with a new person. 

This can be especially difficult for those who have a hard time opening up to others and need lots of experience with someone else to be themselves. The same goes for those who struggle with small talk. People often feel stuck in an endless loop of trivial conversation that never seems to get anywhere. This becomes increasingly difficult for anyone, as there is significantly less happening in our day-to-day lives than we are used to. Thus we have much less small talk to make and find it hard to know someone well enough to talk about more personal topics. 

Apart from this, there are many different love languages that people gravitate towards.  While relationships are often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about love languages, these apply to friendships too. Although making friends through text messaging may be successful for someone whose love language is words of affirmation, this is not going to work so well for someone whose love language is quality time. A person who bonds with others through physical touch is likely struggling too. Right now, it is simply harder for some people to connect with others. 

It is also important to note that you and everyone you encounter are all coping with the loss of normal life in different ways. Essentially, nobody is fully themselves right now. Some people are getting through this by socializing more and some by spending time alone.  Some get energy by socializing online, and some people feel drained at the thought of doing so. No matter what, it is crucial to be patient and understanding with one another to find a healthy balance. 

I mention all of these things not to make you feel hopeless but, instead, to help you understand why ­— at no fault of your own — making friends right now may seem so difficult.  In being aware of these things, we can learn from them and make positive adjustments that can help us from this point forward. 

Something you may consider is finding ways to put yourself out there, even if it is not in a way you are familiar with.  Since we cannot make small talk with our classmates anymore, if someone on a Zoom call catches your interest, don’t be afraid to send them a chat message or email to get their contact info and set up a time to talk. This may seem awkward and unnatural at first, but just remember that, in this day and age, this is the equivalent to casually chatting with someone on your way out of a classroom. 

If nobody in your classes catches your eye, keep a lookout for virtual and distanced events happening at Lawrence. Even if you can’t chat with people individually at the event, this still gives you an opportunity to meet someone that you can reach out to afterwards. 

Do not be afraid to think outside of the box. Many people who are not interested in dating are using apps like Tinder or Bumble to make friends at their college. As long as you do so safely, these are great ways to meet people looking for friends too. 

Once you meet someone, find ways to have casual, daily interactions. Although it may not be as convenient as walking with someone to a class, there are still lots of things you can do. From asking them to walk with you to the Commons, wait for food at the Café or sit near you in the library, there are still many ways for you to see new friends multiple times on a daily basis. 

Lastly, do not get frustrated with yourself or with others for the struggles of building a friendship right now. This is all new and is going to take time to learn. In the end, this is temporary and with vaccines rolling out, things will move back to normal before we know it. 

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