Throughout the lockdown period, many of us made great sacrifices and adjustments that impacted our professional lives, our mental health, and our social lives, and are thought to have long-term consequences.
I know that for myself and many people I’ve spoken with, lacking social contact was one of the biggest challenges. Although there were video calling apps which helped substitute face-to-face contact with online conversations, I think we can all admit, it’s not quite the same.
Your family are your family and that’s never going to change, but what about your friendships?
It is thought that without adequate time investment, friendships can collapse easier than you might think, with some saying it only takes about three months.
The Roots of Friendship
Friendship is something that has been inherited from primates. The idea of strong social bonds and membership of a stable group helped to protect primates from other predators. It can therefore be explained in evolutionary terms as to why many of us cherish our friends as though our lives depend on it, with many people admitting to being closer with friends than family members.
However, in the same way that these bonds cannot be established without effort and time, they can also not be maintained. And quite often, the strongest bonds need the most maintenance as prior research has demonstrated that in humans and monkeys, the quality of a relationship depends on the time invested in it.
It also explains why we can’t all have an infinite number of friends as it requires a great deal of time and effort to form and nurture friendships, so we tend to have a limited number of social contacts.
Friendships During Lockdown
That is not to say that our social circles have only been negatively impacted by the lockdown and social distancing. Many new relationships have been formed, for example local communities have banded together and neighbours have been brought closer through helping and supporting one another. For many people, it might be the first time they’ve invested effort into their relationships with neighbours etc.
But as lockdown continues to ease, some of these new friendships may replace older ones that have not been maintained effectively.
Obviously, this should not concern close, lifelong friendships, however for those marginal friendships which we don’t prioritise, it is thought that many of these will have suffered.
The Benefit of Physical Contact
We have all spent much more time engaging with apps and digital modes of communication and even though people continue to be somewhat satisfied by this,sychologists have said there is no substitute for face-to-face contact, and that human beings require touch.
Many people have said that this is what has made it difficult in maintaining friendships during lockdown: not being able to hold someone’s hand or give them a hug. These are ways in which our social connections are strengthened, and what has come to be ‘normal’ for us in our relationships.
Chimps have this same need and is why they often engage in one-to-one stroking and grooming of one another which is thought to release innate mood-lifting endorphins.
Going Forwards with Social Distancing
We’ve spent our lives making physical contact in our relationships, but it’s often something we do instinctively and unconsciously. It may be something we have taken for granted and failed to realise how significant it is for our social relationships to be reinforced.
If you’re an at-risk individual, or maybe prefer to stay indoors still as much as possible, other social activities are thought to provide the same effects such as laughing together, singing, eating or drinking together, all of which can be done online and improve your friendships during lockdown.
Bear in mind that throughout the lockdown and social distancing measures, friendships will require time and effort to be repaired. Once it is safe to engage in physical contact, try to treasure a pat on the back or a hug that you’ve spent months without.
If you are experiencing problems in your friendships, romantic relationships or family dynamics, it might benefit you to talk through these concerns with someone who can listen non-judgementally either over the phone, Skype or Zoom, all from the comfort of your own home.