Staring at the greyed out WhatsApp profile, I knew my seven-year friendship was over.
It was late January, arguably the bleakest month of lockdown, the remnants of our previous argument lingering in the background. That last disagreement had been tough, but we’d weathered the worst of it relatively unscathed. Then the floodgates of my emotions opened. As we started to openly air more of our issues we one another, years of built up anxiety, doubt, and fears of inadequacy bubbled to the surface. My words weren’t nasty, but they were cutting – at that moment, I knew there was no coming back from this.
I wish I could say that lockdown played no part in our friendship ending – Covid has already taken so many joys we once held dear. But to deny its role is to deny the truth.
Since the pandemic started, 3.7 million adults have reported feeling increased loneliness. Being in lockdown has been stressful and mentally exhausting for many, myself included. But it’s also enabled me to properly assess my feelings, emotions I’d pressed down and reasoned away as overreactions.
My EU emotionally unstable personality disorder means my emotions work at lightning speed, leaving me feeling constantly overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts – an experience I’m not mentally prepared to handle. When I first met my friend she understood my anxieties because she had her own, albeit for different reasons. I wouldn’t claim we had any special bond but our mutual understanding made us work well together, even when we disagreed.
“To see our friendship disintegrate so viscerally was devastating; the loss real, tangible. But in truth I was mourning what our friendship once was.”
To see our friendship disintegrate so viscerally was devastating; the loss real, tangible. But in truth I was mourning what our friendship once was, not what we’d become. If I’d been honest with myself sooner, I’d have noticed our breakup was inevitable; not because of lockdown (though it definitely accelerated the situation) and not because either of us are bad people, but because we’d become less compatible over the years.
My time in lockdown emphasised too many unsaid gripes, too many wounds patched up with makeshift bandages. Removed from that social pressure to maintain friendship for the sake of the past, I was able to better reflect on who I am as a person.
The utopian image of friendship society has created is as wonderful as it is damaging. It promises much – assuring us we can survive anything, no matter how much we’ve changed as people – yet those promises are rarely met. For some, their friendships are unshakeable and can weather any storm, but most of us make and lose friends more than we care to admit. Although we realise that friendships can and do end, this realisation often demands we attach blame to someone, when the simple truth is that we grow apart.
Lockdown has given many of us a lot of time for reflection, forcing us to sit with our emotions in a unique way. In confinement we’ve been confronted by truths we’ve tried to ignore: just look at all the couples who have broke up, the people who’ve quit their jobs, the people who’ve come out since entering lockdown. Trapped inside, we’ve had nowhere else to explore but ourselves.
“Losing friends during lockdown is hard, and it’s a hardship that may ease now restrictions are lifting but which won’t be easily erased.”
This was the situation I found myself in four months ago, forced to sit with my grief because I had no means of escape. It wasn’t pleasant, but I found empowerment and a greater sense of self once I came out the other side. Now, I have better clarity to see how we were both doing right by ourselves in ending our friendship.
Losing friends during lockdown is hard, and it’s a hardship that may ease now restrictions are lifting but which won’t be easily erased. Much of what makes recent losses so difficult is the way we’ve been disconnected from the social world, our loneliness a stifling experience.
Even now, despite my confidence in my decisions, seeing friends arrange to catch up after months apart is hard. I’m reminded that my friendship group is smaller now, that the new memories I make won’t include certain people. However, it’s important to remember we often lose people from our lives for a reason. When we think of loss, we naturally assume negative connotations but people can leave because you drift apart, or you begin to move in different social circles, or like me it can simply be a case of your personalities no longer working well together.
I’m by no means a spiritual person, but I’ve come to understand that just because someone came into your life doesn’t mean they can’t leave. I’ll always have fond memories of my old friend, only now they’re standalone moments in time that won’t come again.
Although it’s sad to acknowledge this, I know I did the right thing. We both did.
Emma Flint is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @LiterateElf
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