Since Covid ripped through the world, our friendships have changed dramatically.
According to a YouGov poll taken during the third lockdown in February, 61% of us felt less close to our friends than before the pandemic.
Two-thirds of people aged 25 to 49 said their friendships had suffered and only 4% of us had added new buddies to our inner circle. This isn’t as gloomy as it sounds, however.
‘The social atrophy of the pandemic has left in its wake a clarity of who we really are and who we actually want to share our time with,’ says Alejandra Sarmiento, a psychotherapist at health centre The Soke in Fulham, London.
‘The pandemic acted as a relationship accelerator — often it sped up the evolution of friendships to a point of no return. And this is absolutely fine.’
For me, my recent friend cull was a reaction to another’s. When I was unfollowed on Instagram by a friend I hadn’t seen for 18 months, I was confused — we have not had any form of cross word, ever, and I don’t post with enough frequency to be truly A-grade obnoxious.
But I figured she’d had a cull and that I was a casualty. Now I’ve unfollowed her I am exposed to less echo chamber politics and YES/NO polls about bathroom tiling — a blessing in disguise.
What seems to be prevalent is not ending it but phasing out, ghosting and, of course, silently unfollowing on social media.
For Maria (not her real name), the cull happened after she spent the pandemic caring for her children, her parents and holding on to her job, feeling ‘depleted’ by the experience. She cites an instance when a friend rang her to bitch about how she couldn’t fill her days since being furloughed.
‘It was just so tactless,’ she says. ‘I haven’t spoken to her since.’
Meanwhile, the polarising nature of the Covid vaccine has ended many friendships. Jennifer Aniston is one of the more starry examples of the one in seven Americans admitting to dropping friends over divided views on the jab.
BACP-accredited counsellor Lina Mookerjee says that while she is seeing an uptick in clients with friendship-related issues, she believes many friendships are changing for the better.
‘In a lot of cases, friendships have strengthened because of shared adversity,’ she says.
But for the rest of us needing a friends MOT, we’re clueless. Here’s how to do it as painlessly as possible.
1. Don’t just phase them out. It’s tempting to bury your head in the sand and create distance in the hope they get the message without any dramatics but this is cowardly. There needs to be a conversation, face to face, about why you no longer want to be friends.
2. It is possible to be kind, even when canning someone. Instead of angrily unleashing years’ worth of their petty shortcomings in ten minutes flat, stick to the overarching issue that you find insurmountable and try to use ‘I feel’ language rather than the more accusatory ‘you always…’
3. Acknowledge that you aren’t perfect and take ownership of any instances or behaviours of your own that may have caused the friendship to turn sour.
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