The pandemic has certainly had an impact on friendships — for better and for worse.
“On the upside, (at the beginning of the pandemic) many people felt more comfortable being vulnerable with each other as there was a sense of ‘this is hard on everyone,’” Shasta Nelson, friendship expert and author of "Friendtimacy," explained to TMRW. “But for the vast majority of our relationships, most of us feel like we’ve drifted apart.”
And a year later, it’s getting even harder to pick up the phone.
Whether it’s Zoom fatigue, overwhelming stress or just simply not having the time or energy to schedule yet another call, it’s normal to have fallen out of touch with friends. But the thing is, connection is still important for your physical and mental health.
While you don’t have to attend every random Zoom happy hour with your extended group of friends, you should still make time for the special people in your life. “Even if it’s not our ideal, the truth is that we need to identify who we want to still feel close to and schedule time with them,” Nelson said.
Not sure what to say? Below are some conversation starters to make your chat feel easier and more organic.
1. Start simple with a short note and invitation to chat.
Even if you haven’t connected with your friend for a long time, a simple, “Hi!” will go a long way.
Nelson suggests shooting a quick text similar to this: “I miss you! I keep thinking how much I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over so we see each other again, but I don’t want to lose touch waiting for that! Any chance you’re up for a 30 minute call to catch up a bit next Tuesday or Wednesday between x-x?”
2. Play the highlight/lowlight game.
Once you’re on your phone date, make sure each of you get a chance to talk about the ups and downs. Nelson suggests starting the call off with, “I know we don’t have tons of time, but let’s at least take the time to each share a highlight and lowlight since the last time we've talked. I’d love to hear anything that you’re proud of or excited about, and anything that’s caused stress or disappointment lately. How’s that sound?”
Putting that out there at the beginning ensures that both of you have the space to share whatever feels most important.
3. Reconsider the question, “How are you?”
With everything going on in the world right now, the standard simple question of “How are you?” can feel overwhelming. That’s why Nelson suggests asking a more specific question like, “How’s your day going so far?” or “What were you doing when I called?”
“Then just follow it up with validation and a follow-up question,” she said. “For example, if (your friend) said, ‘Just writing yet another email,’ we could take that and respond with, ‘Ugh it never ends does it? Is that your least favorite part of your work?’” This strategy can help give her the space to talk about stressors that she might be feeling.
4. Mirror their emotions and ask questions.
“Perhaps even more important than the question we ask is that we respond with validation to their sharing,” Nelson said. You don’t need to cheer people up or fix their problems with advice. “They will feel better if we simply communicate that wherever they are and whatever they’re feeling is understandable and that we accept them,” she said.
You can validate their feelings by listening for the emotions they are communicating and mirror those back. For example, “Ugh. That would be _________ (i.e disappointing, frustrating, scary)!”
“Then basically ask more questions about how they’re responding to this situation such as, ‘So how have you been feeling about it since then?’ Or, ‘What does your intuition say about how to respond to this?’” Nelson said.
5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
If you want the conversation to be real and to find out how your friend is *really* doing, you need to be honest and vulnerable as well. You can even start the conversation with an invitation to “go there,” said Nelson.
She suggests saying something like, “I've got to be honest with you, I’m feeling a little grumpy today. What do you say to us both taking turns and venting for a while about what feels the hardest in our lives right now? All whining and petty feelings allowed — no judgment here!”
Whatever is holding you back from picking up the phone, just remember the call is not only a way for you and your friend to open up and feel supported, it can be also be an antidote to the toll social distancing has taken on many of us. “To put it bluntly,” Nelson said, “We simply won’t feel connected if we aren’t connecting.”