There’s no doubt that relationships were tested during the pandemic, as many people limited social interactions and worked remotely.
But how much distance is too much? And are some of those relationships worth rekindling or are we better off without people we grew apart from?
Jennifer Scott, 43, deleted a Facebook account she’s had for almost a decade and stayed off the platform because she said she couldn’t handle the interactions over race relations and the pandemic with people “just spouting nonsense.”
“I do believe in forgiveness and grace, not so much to give people free passes, but more so for your own mental health and stability,” she said. “Hanging onto being petty and bitter, not exactly great for your brain, but I also believe that you can love people from a distance.”
With parts of the world lifting mask mandates, more people getting vaccinated and summer around the corner, many of us may find ourselves asking if it’s time to repair strained relationships with loved ones while others are choosing to walk away.
There are quite a few friendships Scott feels are worth rekindling and as a mom of two daughters, ages 6 and 7, she said it’s natural to drift apart from friends who have also been busy with mom life.
And with the friendships worth keeping, she has no problem taking steps to reactivate the bond. But that’s not the case with every relationship.
“It’s the loving thing, the good thing by not having them in your inner circle,” Scott said. “Be polite, say hi, but I can definitely think of a handful of people I might not be going out of my way to talk to again because the space that the pandemic created allowed for so much to surface.”
She added, “Even if you take all the political stuff out of it, how many people discovered they didn’t miss that person the way they thought they would, or it wasn’t a difference of opinions, you’re just not feeling it anymore, or maybe the friendship wasn’t that close to begin with?”
The relationSHIP has sailed
Every year for spring training, James Tierney, 35, and a group of his guy friends get together to mark the beginning of baseball season. Last year, they didn’t meet. And since they didn’t meet, text messages in their group chat became less frequent.
“My guess is it will pick up again,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see if things have changed or if we’ll pick back up with just a couple of years off.”
Tierney said ironically, he and his wife, Kim spent more time on Zoom calls with friends that are close by than they did with those living far away.
The couple’s bond with their neighbors and friends who live close to their home in central Pennsylvania went from a random Friday night get-together and evolved into a weekly, routine meet up.
On Sundays, Tierney still reserves time to catch up on Skype with his family, who are spread out across the country. He said he even grew closer with his 81-year-old grandfather.
But his approach to some relationships has changed. Tierney plays poker with some friends that are close by and he says they don’t always see eye-to-eye on things but when the disagree they tend to brush the issue aside. He admits, he doesn’t know how healthy that tactic is but that it allows them to maintain a relationship regardless of their personal feelings on divisive issues.
“It was a conversation that had to happen beforehand, like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to talk politics every time I come over here,’” he said. “I think it’s a balance that each person has to strike within themselves.”
Distance doesn’t = disrespect
In the last few weeks, three of Hilary Dare’s friendship groups unraveled.
Dare, 33, said relationships are unraveling over current events and with the pandemic as a background layer, it’s separating people more than ever.
“It’s difficult to be a human right now,” she said. “Since I lost a lot of friendships and unfortunately with some people dying, too, I need to be careful about who I allow in my orbit – it’s a very challenging time reckoning with having difficult conversations and knowing when it’s (relationships) really over.”
And like Scott, Dare is open to rekindling relationships with people who are willing to hear her side of a potentially divisive issue. But for those who aren’t, she said she no longer wants to be silenced in a way she was previously– and this includes some family relationships.
“With the family thing, there’s a lot of pain there,” she said. “Some of them don’t like me and I don’t think I should go into spaces where I’m not liked or where my voice isn’t wanted … so I’m saying no to the family situation.”
And if it wasn’t hard enough managing work relationships, family relations and friendships, Dare also ended a romantic relationship over Covid-19 protocols.
“That ended because of our different mindsets of the vaccine and the masks, and I have a feeling he forged a CDC card so he could fly to Europe,” she said. “I’m just always thinking about the ethics of things.”
An inventory of your connections
Mending a relationship is no easy task, and it requires looking at each relationship with fresh eyes, Jay Shetty, a life coach and host of the health podcast “On Purpose” told CNN.
Ask yourself why the relationship is so important to you. Then understand what degree of connection this relationship has in your life and think about the timing of reconnecting because you want to find a time to reengage with that person when our emotions won’t overwhelm us, he said.
Many of us have only had virtual relationships throughout the pandemic and that virtual connection isn’t giving us a real view into someone’s true perspective, Shetty said.
“And what the virtual world does, it creates a very specific filter through which we see people – we see their curated lives, their specific thoughts only on world events, cultural events, social events. We don’t really see the person beyond these big moments or big occasions so you may see their response to something happening in society or the world but you’re not really speaking with them with depth or understand how they are and you may not even truly know how they feel.”
Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, Danielle Harris, 33, said she’s been inundated with calls during the pandemic from parents looking to find help for their teenagers.
And while most of Harris’ work is focused on working with young people, many of her best practices for improving relationships is applicable to people of all ages.
Harris said her clients needs range from those experiencing loneliness and depression to others having trouble getting acclimated again to their day-to-day life, including their interpersonal relationships.
Of her clients’ friendships from a year ago, she said, “They may no longer have [them] so they’re struggling, knowing they can see friends, but there are no friends to be seen.”
Now may be a perfect time to take a relationship inventory, she said. Check in with yourself and figure out what friendships mesh with new boundaries or preferences that you may not have had in the past.
If you visit TikTok, you can find videos from Harris offering her tips on how to reconnect with people.
What do you even say to someone you haven’t talked to in months?
Harris advises saying things like, “I hope you can understand it’s been a really tough year and I’ve neglected some friendships that really matter to me.” Those are good entry points to starting that conversation up again, she says.
And to continue with the conversation, Harris suggests some sample questions like, what are they looking forward to doing this summer? What was the best thing to happen to them this year? What has been the biggest change for them since the pandemic?
Harris created a free online mini-communication course with other suggestions on how to “express yourself in relationships, to build new connections and maintain current ones.”
And for the relationships that remain distant even as the world starts opening back up, they may end up serving both people for the better, Shetty said.
“We equate distance with disrespect and we can sometimes respect someone more from the distance than you did in the intimacy because you weren’t able to look beyond the parts of them that you couldn’t deal with when you were close to them,” he said. “But now that you’re far from them, you can actually look over those places and amplify the good you do see in them.”
As social interactions resume, Shetty said he can see people overcommitting because of the void that’s been in our lives for so long. But with overcommitting comes the potential to feel drained and overbooked.
“I think it’s really important that with the new start, we have an opportunity to really seek out meaningful experiences, activities, connections with people. We have an opportunity to reorganize and re-frame what we want to do with our time and give our energy to,” he said.
As things begin to open up around the country, the thought of going back to work and being in social situations and just being around crowds is a source of stress for many people. Are you nervous about things “going back to normal?” Tell us how you’re feeling: