Ask Dru: How can I make friends in lockdown?
Over the last few months, I’ve really started to notice how isolated I am. Before lockdown, I had a few mates I’d see every now and again. But I was always super busy with work, and I’ve never felt like any of my buddies were really close friends. Most of the time now, I don’t have anyone to chat to, I want this to change. I want to make friends in lockdown, but I really don’t know where to start. If I can’t go to the pub, how can I ever meet and get to know people? Jeff
Unless we are committed hermits, I think most of us know that friendship is good for us. We humans are social creatures, and being in relationships with each other is important for our physical and mental wellbeing. But friendship is not evenly spread around society. A report by the UK charity Relate (pdf) found that a one in eight of us has no close friends. Whatever the reasons for it, loneliness has an impact.
I know people with buzzing social lives who have made the transition from real-world to online connecting. But even for them, if they are spending all day online for work, Zoom fatigue is real. The idea of spending another couple of hours even with really good friends on a video call can be fairly unappealing. The pandemic has forced unhappy choices on us, and some friendships have gone by the wayside. Even for those of us with busy social lives, lockdown has made our world smaller.
Making friends in lockdown
But for those of us who came into the pandemic with fragile social circles, or no friends at all, our challenge has been how to make friends in lockdown.
Lockdown has certainly changed the shape of my social network. There are people that I have lost touch with, but others I talk to every week now. In my experience, the pandemic has made new kinds of relationships possible, especially friendships that are not bound by geography.
But more profoundly, living in a pandemic has shifted my perspective on friendship. I’ve recognised how much social media networks have distorted my view by co-opting the word “friend” to describe acquaintances. I have fully embraced my introvert nature and allowed myself to enjoy conversations one-on-one. I’ve let go of the idea of interaction with a lot of people and focused on depth with a few. And I have learned that most adults have an average of just four to six close friends anyway.
In short, I’ve realised that friendship isn’t about forty people liking my status update. Friendship is about one person who answers the phone in the middle of the night.
In his book, Together (find it on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon AUS) Vivek H Murthy says that “what matters is not the quantity of social contact but the quality of our connections.” This has been true in my experience. In a pandemic, I don’t need a crowd. I need just one good friend who will hear me when I’m having a hard time. And I need to be a good friend to others in the same situation.
Friendship and alcohol
You mention going to the pub as a way of making friends, and it’s worth talking a little bit about friendship and alcohol. Alcohol is a disinhibitor, and many of us have experienced its effects in social situations. We’re just that bit bolder and we talk more. In the context of a pub, we might even find ourselves striking up a conversation with a stranger. Over time, that conversation might turn into something like friendship. It can certainly scratch our loneliness itch.
But it’s really important not to overplay the role of alcohol in forming relationships. Even before the pandemic, two-thirds of our drinking happened at home rather than in social situations. And most of our friends were not made in pubs. We made friends with our neighbours, with our work colleagues, with people who shared our hobbies and interests. Yes, for some of us that meant we drank together. But there were very many friendships that were formed in environments where alcohol wasn’t present.
So I’d encourage you to take a look at your life, and the situations in which you encounter others. Are there work colleagues who ask you about your weekend? Neighbours who wave when you see them? People who you interact with in Facebook groups like Club Soda Together? All those individuals could become friends.
Psychologist Linda Blair suggests that there are simple ways to make friends: build your self-confidence, find something you are passionate about, put yourself out there, ask questions and don’t expect too much. But most of all, don’t accept loneliness as inevitable.
You can make friends in lockdown. So don’t give up.
Dru Jaeger is Club Soda’s co-founder and author of How to Be a Mindful Drinker. He leads courses for people who want to change their drinking, including How to Drink Mindfully and How to Stop Drinking, both of which come with secure and private online messaging – perfect for making new friends.