I’ve lost friends and family to COVID-19. They haven’t died or become ill. Instead, the pandemic has changed the relationships I have with the people I love. It’s broken my heart. My husband and I have spent nights ranting and crying. But that doesn’t change anything. Pandemic relationships are different from relationships before the pandemic. We’ve learned things about family and friends, and a lot of the things we’ve learned haven’t been pretty. They’ve been the kinds of things you stand back and gasp about. The kind of things that make your heart sink, that frighten you, that make you question your relationship with them.
It’s happened too many times to count.
How Pandemic Relationships Show True Colors
The Washington Post recently ran an article about how the pandemic, even as it draws us together to help one another, is also forcing us apart. We are now “sizing up friends as lethal threats.” Science journalist Lydia Denworth, author of “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond,” tells The Washington Post that COVID-19 is “causing stress and strain to every relationship.”
Basically: we have to feel out every single person we know.
We’re discovering different levels of “risk tolerance” and “what might seem like irrational optimism on one side vs. hysterical alarmism on the other.” There are the political differences: who thinks masks are a freedom issue, and who thinks we should all wear masks in public and never leave the house. Who thinks schools should open and who doesn’t? What does it mean when your friends are having a pool party and you refuse to go?
And once those differences are revealed, how do people react to them?
My Family’s Been Torn Apart By the Pandemic
After moving down to our state to be closer to her grandsons, my mother has refused to socially isolate. My husband has asthma; my health issues give me a bad immune system; if we get COVID, we have no one to care for our three sons who aren’t at serious risk for complications from the disease. We simply cannot contract COVID. We’re the people who don’t leave the house. We used to sterilize the mail. I didn’t go through a drive-thru until the first week of August (and then masked, using one hand to touch everything, only a credit card I had to tap, and sterilizing my drink—which was all I ordered—then everything else I could possibly have touched, including the steering wheel and my credit card). My husband visits the grocery store. I go to the pharmacy.
Our pandemic relationships: family and friends—must be strictly controlled. People simply must be isolated.
My mother has refused to socially distance. When we discovered she was seeing a friend, my husband told her we couldn’t see her for two weeks—as long as she didn’t see the friend again. The conversation didn’t go well, and we discovered she lied to us about what she did with said friend. And that the friend, whom she said was seeing no one, was seeing practically ever Boomer in the greater metropolitan area. We couldn’t trust her anymore.
In that conversation, we begged her to Zoom with the kids and call us during those two weeks.
She did not. She moved, and informed us via text message. I don’t know her new address.
My aunt messaged to see if she could see the kids “outside, at a restaurant.” I told her no. Did she think we were punishing my mother? This wasn’t a decision we made from meanness. We can’t see my mom because we can’t get sick.
Other Pandemic Relationships Have Suffered
My homeschool group is a hot mess. Very, very few of them mask and distance. I try hard to be respectful. I try hard to say “you do you.” But I live in one of the worst COVID hotspots in the world— because of people like them who refuse to believe in basic scientific principles and epidemiology. They’re more concerned with selfishness (gotta get out!) and politics (freedom not masks!) to stay home and wear a mask when they must leave. These pandemic relationships have shown me people’s true colors. And while I tolerated their differences before, I’m finding that when it comes down to life and death, I just can’t anymore.
They are throwing pool parties. Pool parties. They are having co-op classes in people’s houses. They are opening up sports teams.
We were iffy friends before. The pandemic relationships have now dropped to “cordial nod” territory. I can’t be friends with people who refuse to take this seriously. I’m near tears on a regular basis from isolation, but I’m determined to do my part to keep my family safe and to keep other people in my state safe. They are taking their unmasked kids to football practice.
Our views on science and risk have made it impossible for me to take them seriously as people who I want to socialize with on a regular basis. Period.
But Some Pandemic Relationships Have Thrived
My in-laws are older, and they know they are at serious risk for COVID complications. They didn’t hug their grandchildren at all for three months. They saw them only through glass doors. Once each family had been under complete isolation, they were able to see one another. In order to meet at the beach for two weeks, four families stayed in total and complete isolation for over a month. No one saw anyone because we wanted to see each other. It makes me cry to think about how those pandemic relationships have worked.
My best friend Joey sees people because of his job. But he shows up at my house, sits a far distance away, and talks to me, because he loves me and he misses me. He shows that even with varying levels of risk, pandemic relationships need not be destroyed. You can make them work.
I have online friends I would never be so close to without the pandemic. Those pandemic relationships have become so special to me. We drink and talk and keep each other sane. They’re far away. But I hold them close, and when I’m breaking down, they’re the ones I call on. I’m grateful for them, and I wouldn’t have that same sort of relationship with them without COVID.
COVID Has Shown People’s True Colors
Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one following the rules, and it sucks. It’s scary out there. I’ve lost people I cared about, and it hurts. I’ve cried a lot over them.
But I’ve found my people. I’ve found the relationships that matter, the people that go out of their way to see me, to check on me, to make sure I’m okay. I’ve found the people who matter— who send me the care package, who call, who sit in my yard, who socially isolate so they can see me. Thank you to all of them. I see you. And when this pandemic has finally ended, I won’t forget who you are.