Have your friendSHIPS sailed because of COVID?

As the world reopens to welcome a new post-COVID normal, many people are preoccupied with the status of their relationships. Truth is, COVID has confused many of us as to where we stand with our entourages. Here are the types of questions I’ve received lately. I hope my responses can offer a little bit of clarity.

(Disclaimer: If you have been significantly anxious or depressed or ill in any way during the pandemic, rekindling relationships should not be your main priority at this time. No one should be making important decisions from a place of being unwell. Take care of your inside world first before investing mental and emotional resources in your outside world. Allow your immediate social support system to help you as you heal.)

What do I say to my good friends when I am fully aware that I haven’t kept in touch with them during COVID?

Let’s remember that the pandemic has been an extremely extraordinary circumstance. Many of us have not reached out to our loved ones as much as we would have liked. We have all had emotional and psychological reactions to the COVID crisis which made us behave in ways different than we normally would. We must therefore give ourselves a break.

Here’s what you can say to someone you haven’t kept in touch with during COVID: “This year has been really weird. I haven’t kept in touch with a lot of my friends, but I hope we can touch base in the next couple of months as safety measures are reduced.”

Admittance and acknowledgement of our behavior during COVID is key – it might even be refreshing to talk and have a good laugh about weirdness COVID caused in our social lives: “I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was a hermit. Isn’t that interesting and weird?”

Is it normal to care about someone but not want to see them just yet?

World of YES! Many of us think that if we care about someone, we should talk to them and see them frequently. Truth is, caring can happen from afar. You can absolutely wish someone well and think of them fondly, from a distance. Your anxiety levels and your boundary preferences will tell you when and how you will see them again.

Even if I feel uncomfortable, shouldn’t I say “yes” if my long-time friend invites me for a drink?

Absolutely not! As I alluded to in the question above, you have to know and respect your own boundaries. While some people might be eagerly awaiting the first night of debauchery with friends and family, others might not be ready. If you feel uncomfortable, chances are your mind is still grappling with the repercussions of COVID. You must accept and respect that you are not ready and there is nothing wrong with that. If you overcommit, you will get burned.

How do I make sure to not hurt my friend’s feelings by saying I don’t want to come to their event that is taking place next month?

Of course, as with any invitation decline, aim to be respectful and straightforward. Truth is, if you were courteous and clear in the way you opted out, nothing else is in your control. In other words, if your friend chooses to react badly to your well-mannered and understandable regrets, there is nothing you can do. You have to let them be upset and to process their own emotions in peace. Hopefully, they’ll come to realize that your refusal was nothing personal. If they cannot come to that realization, I’m afraid they might not have the emotional resources needed to maintain a friendship with you.

I’m angry with my friend for not checking in more often. What do I do?

In truth, everyone has different conditions when it comes to friendship. Some people do not require frequent contact, while others deem friendships valuable only when close communication is maintained on a regular basis. While COVID was unbelievably horrible, for some of us, it was also an opportunity that allowed us to look inward – it created a space in which we could decide what we preferred without the constant noise of the outside world influencing every one of our decisions. All that said, you may have discovered that your desired conditions in a friendship did not mesh with one of your best friends. You then have two choices. A) Talk to them about it. Let them know how you feel and generally discuss what your needs are in the friendship. B) Respectfully put down boundaries by declaring you no longer wish to be friends or by simply allowing an organic and inevitable distance to form between you two.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.