Rebuilding Friendship After Social Isolation

Ben and I carried our new child, Auggie, into the house, but I was feeling dejected. It wasn’t postpartum depression, just a sense of foreboding. We’d heard that morning that the country was shutting down in unprecedented ways — Broadway going dark, all major sports leagues canceling their seasons, Disney World closing. I wasn’t sure what it all meant at the time, but as evening set in and I settled back into our home routine, I knew I wouldn’t be doing my celebratory outing with Ben anytime soon.

Every time I’ve had a baby, I make plans to get out of the house. Usually it’s for a short stint out with a friend to grab frozen yogurt or a smoothie, but a grim and unsettling knowledge swept over me that this wasn’t going to happen for — who knew how long?

While the world became crippled by fear, many of us tried desperately to cling to our faith in God. The delicate balance between appropriate caution when venturing outside our homes and complete isolation feels foreign to all of us. What is “right” and “wrong” in this situation? How do we navigate our real-life friendships as the nation begins to slowly reawaken after a long and strange slumber?

Begin By Reaching Out

If you haven’t already, reach out to your friends. I saw a popular meme on Facebook floating around during the height of the national shutdowns that read something like, “Check on your friends with small children. They are not okay.” That’s generally true for all of us in different ways. Some of us felt old wounds reopened when the terror and uncertainty of the pandemic flooded our newsfeeds and clouded our minds.

 

It’s easy to send a quick text, email, message on social media, or call to just say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you. Let’s try to chat sometime soon.”

This is not brain science for any of us, but it still requires intentional thought. I had friends text me at seemingly random times with messages like, “Hey, do you guys need a meal? We can drop one off tonight” or “Check your front porch. There’s a surprise Easter care package outside.” We can all do these small, creative ways to foster our relationships, and we all have to begin somewhere.

Try One-on-One Get-Togethers Outdoors

It’s weird to think of going back to “before COVID-19” in terms of being around other people face-to-face. Whenever I’m in a public building, I have a face mask on, per the requirements of each organization or medical facility. But outside is a different story. A good friend of mine commented, “Maybe it’s good that businesses are slowly starting to open up in the summer, because the weather is nicer than in the winter.” I thought about that.

It’s true that when we cross the threshold of our homes and venture outdoors, our spirits can be instantly uplifted. We don’t have a lot of days in the Midwest that are conducive to porch sitting and iced tea sipping over carefree chitchat. But somehow, our friends and neighbors have made the effort to do just that.

Ben and I took the kids on a daily walk around our neighborhood when we could go nowhere else. Once our state opened up at 25%, a neighbor-friend of mine reached out to ask if we wanted to meet at the playground. We chatted under a shady silver maple while our kids frolicked and giggled.

For Veronica’s third birthday, we set up an outdoor canopy with tables and chairs while Ben grilled hot dogs. A few close friends and family members celebrated with us outside.

Fresh air works wonders. It’s no surprise that God uses His creation in innumerable ways to help us cope, keep us connected with nature and each other, and to provide necessary immune-boosting vitamins from the sunshine.

Opt for Video Chatting for Larger Groups

I’m part of a long-standing women’s Bible study group that meets monthly. We rotate among each other’s homes. Out of the fourteen of us, I’m the youngest member (at nearly forty years old). We’ve been video conferencing each month to check in, as we would in person, because some of us have smaller homes with cramped spaces.

Everyone has varying degrees of comfort levels regarding life going back to “normal” post-pandemic. It’s okay if you have friends who still want to stay home, who feel their risk factor is enough that they would rather not gather in person yet. Even if you are healthy and not at risk, you can maintain your friendships from afar by using the technology at your disposal, at least for the time being.

Have the Conversation About Smaller In-Person Gatherings

One afternoon on our daily stroll to the neighborhood park, I passed a neighbor’s house and we exchanged friendly hellos, smiles, and a wave. My older two girls stopped to say hi to their kids, who were playing outside in the front yard with sidewalk chalk and bicycles. It was the first awkward moment, in which my neighbor asked, “Do you feel comfortable getting together yet? We’d like to have you over for dinner.”

Sighing with relief, I nodded in agreement. From then on, it has been like a domino effect. I open the door to conversation with that question to other friends, sometimes they to me. But the point is that we have to start talking about how we feel about what’s going on. We have to allow ourselves to admit when we are lonely and how we can alleviate the isolation before it becomes a larger mental health issue.

I don’t personally believe that the world will ever get back to “normal” after what some have called The Great Pause. Normal is a relative term, and it shifts with the cultural swings that happen on a regular basis. What’s important is that each of us maintains a deep connectedness to God and that we understand how He is asking us to bring our care and concern to real people — friends and family, yes, but also neighbors and acquaintances and even strangers.

At some point, each of us will have to ask ourselves, “Am I making this choice out of fear or love?” When we allow love to rule our relationships, we know that God is at the center of everything that happens. Maybe the pandemic will teach us to be deliberate, thoughtful, and to slow down before we rush into hasty decisions. No matter, it’s okay if you are still confused about what’s going on.

And it’s okay if you need a real hug, too.

Photo by Ben Duchac on Unsplash

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Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who writes about the moving through grief, the value of redemptive suffering, and how to wait for God’s timing fruitfully. Her books include Navigating Deep Waters, From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore For Those Who Grieve, and Waiting with Purpose. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic periodicals. Jeannie, her husband, and their three daughters (plus one baby boy) live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com.  Follow Jeannie on social media:  Facebook | LinkedIn |Instagram

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