FRIENDS – they’re great. They make you happy, lower your stress levels and are always on hand for sage advice. And as the popular TV theme song goes, they promise to always “be there for you”.
That’s why, when the pandemic first hit, we kept ourselves busy with Zoom quizzes, Houseparty and thousands of WhatsApp group chats. But by the time the third lockdown started, many of us simply weren’t talking to our pals like we used to.
Digital fatigue teamed with the struggles of working from home, juggling childcare, homeschooling and the monotony of our lives sans holidays, dinners out and drinks, meant it became harder than ever to maintain our close bonds.
Then there were those who found themselves arguing with previously good mates over sticking to the lockdown rules and wearing masks. As a result, our friendships have suffered, with a quarter of people falling out with colleagues and a fifth admitting that their personal friendships feel strained.*
Now, as lockdown restrictions start to ease with the return of the Rule of Six, plus outdoor drinks in pubs allowed from tomorrow, some of us may find it difficult to get things going again after months of silence.
Luckily, we’ve asked some top experts for their tips to help get you back on track with your pals.
The problem? You’ve Lost Touch
Forgive and Forget
Didn’t hear from your pals as much as you’d have liked? Cut them some slack. All our experts agree that now is not the time to hold a grudge. “We are all under extreme pressure, so be forgiving if a pal suddenly gets in touch after being very quiet,” says life coach Carole Ann Rice. “Remember, we all have our own issues, too.”
Reach Out First
“Focus on how you can be a good friend,” says Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, And Extraordinary Power Of Life’s Fundamental Bond.
“Being good at making and maintaining friendships is an important survival tool. So don’t wait for others to get in touch first.”
If you feel awkward about reaching out, relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan suggests: “Acknowledge the elephant in the room and say: ‘I know I’ve been out of touch, but I’ve had you on my mind. I’d love to catch up and see how you are.’ It’s genuine and addresses the cause of your nerves without making it a big issue.”
Break the ice
Want to get in touch, but feel you don’t have much to say? “A perfect ice-breaker is to send an image of you together and say: ‘Remember when we did X?’ or even just ‘I miss you’,” says Sarah Louise. “Letting them know how you feel will make you feel better, too.”
Try to stay upbeat. Your mood will impact theirs** – and leaving someone feeling happier after they have spent time with you is a crucial skill. “This works to remind them (and yourself) why you’re friends in the first place,” says Lydia. “But that’s not to say you shouldn’t listen to how they are, especially since so many of us have lost loved ones in the past year. Listen sympathetically and provide a space for them to share.”
The problem? You fell out
Focus on your Friend, not the argument
With 92% of us believing that we’re sticking to the rules better than others*, it’s inevitable that some friendships have been challenged in terms of differing attitudes to lockdown restrictions over the past year. But what if you’ve exchanged a series of judgemental texts with a former bestie? Can you get things back on track – and is it even worth trying?
“The friendships worth saving are the ones that sustain you, that make you feel good, that you can rely on and that are reciprocated. If a friendship has all of those ingredients, it’s worth trying to salvage,” says Lydia. And the best way to do so is to put the topic that created the argument to one side and focus on building bridges instead.
Sarah Louise explains: “First, accept that we will occasionally have differing opinions from our friends, no matter how close we are to them. If the row is pandemic related, remember we all have different coping methods.
You’re not in your friend’s shoes and may not fully know how they see things or what they’ve been going through. Practice the art of letting go of your ego. If saving your friendship is the most important thing, it doesn’t matter who is ‘right’.”
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When to Let Go
Not all friendships are forever, and quality matters more than quantity. “If the cost of staying friends is greater than the reward, it’s time to let them go,” says psychologist and friendship expert Dr Irene S Levine.
“Sometimes a rift may run deeper than the views this pandemic has brought up.” If that’s the case, don’t worry.
“While it helps to have a handful of people you can really count on, just having one good friend is significant for your health,” says Lydia. And letting go of people who no longer share your values means you can make space for people who do.
Making New Mates
One of the benefits of lockdown has been that it’s given us time to find new interests. So if you’ve made new friends online or locally, how can you nurture these new friendships and move them into the real world, or make sure they continue in post-lockdown life?
“An excellent way to do that is just by voicing your intentions as a self-assured statement, rather than asking from a place of fear of rejection,” says Sarah Louise.
“A good example would be to say: ‘I’ve loved getting to know you, I can’t wait for us to hang out in real life – when and how can we make this happen?’”
This puts you in a place of confidence, and that is an attractive trait that we look for when making new friends.
- For more information, visit Realcoachingco.com, Thefriendshipblog.com, Sarahlouiseryan.com
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