Why ‘pruning’ friends was so common during the pandemic | Coronavirus



PRuning is typically a technique applied to roses in winter, but more recently the term gardening has popped up whenever sociologists talk about our social lives. People cut friends.

Confined to our homes, or separated by borders, with too much time offered to us in isolation and new ways to communicate online, experts say we have unwittingly – or in some cases very deliberately – Socially removed from social life. Some say the silver lining is that we have been healed of Fomo, others say it heralds a widening of the already growing loneliness divide. So, has everyone Marie Kondo met their friends, and what does this mean for the future of friendship?

Bryan and his wife have two children aged six and four. They haven’t really made any new friends over the past couple of years, and they’ve lost touch with a few close friends. “Simply without energy, without anything to say, without a social framework or parental commitment in life. The couple thought they could make new friends when their oldest started elementary school, but gradual lockdowns hampered those opportunities. Meanwhile, there’s a friend Bryan doesn’t know how to approach. “He’s the one that hurts the most – but I think maybe I thought the friendship was stronger than it was,” he says. “Nothing bad happened… I just… had to stop trying to shake things up social.” “

Roger Patulny, associate professor of sociology at Wollongong University, says a lot of people “got very serious and focused on the people most important to them in their lives.”

“So there was a kind of bunkering… The difficulty now is to adapt to getting out of it and re-engaging in these more distant connections.”

It is possible that Bryan was pruned or that he unknowingly made the cut himself. Now, a lot of people like Bryan really don’t know where to start when it comes to rebuilding their social lives. We are caught between the fact of returning to the office, the gym, the classroom and wanting to totally resist these places. The accidental friendships of these spaces, as well as the opportunity to make new friends, are still not won, and efforts must be made to reach out and rebuild.

“Particular groups were more likely to lose friends”

Patulny and her colleague Marlee Bower at the Matilda Center for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney have surveyed more than 2,000 Australians over the past two years to capture a collective picture of interactions, lifestyles and shots of people during and after lockdown. Considering Australia’s early, albeit temporary, exit from the lockdown last year, this offers a unique insight not only into the Australians’ experience during the lockdown, but more importantly, and relevantly, over many months. after locking.

Some key results came out of the study, Patulny says. “Social networks became more insular and connection-oriented, and particular groups of people were more vulnerable to the loss of friends, including singles or people with social anxiety, physical and mental disabilities – any person without “previous social capital”. Then there were the people who were caught at major intersections in their life journeys – think about finishing school / starting college / having children; they might be more vulnerable to long-term disconnection and loneliness.

Like Bryan with his child entering school, Reggie was unlucky to find himself at an “intersection of life” when the pandemic struck. She finished grade 12 in 2020. The opportunity to form or cement friendships has been particularly reduced for young people. “The fear that we’ve missed so much… makes me want to be in a million places at once,†she says.

But as with any aspect of this pandemic, the most vulnerable members of the community have suffered the greatest fallout. “Those who lack physical health, social capital and digital interactive skills are already more marginalized and more at risk of loneliness in the post-Covid-19 world,†Patulny warns.

It’s too early to tell if this has the potential to “develop entrenched cultures of loneliness, or a widening ‘loneliness gap’,” but even general signs before the pandemic are that people are having fewer friends. Thirty years ago, 33% of American adults reported having 10 or more close friends, not counting parents. Now 13% say that.

People already had less time to invest in friendships (a 2018 study indicates that it takes 50 hours together to make a casual friend, and 90 hours before they consider them a good friend), but the unique social dilemmas imposed by the pandemic could have serious consequences. long-term consequences for some people.

Melbourne-based advisor Monica has spoken to many single people who worried amid the lockdown whether they would be picked to be in a bubble or invited to join a picnic. Restrictions on the number of humans interacting meant adult adults were once again reduced to the schoolyard dilemma of choosing their best friend. “A lot of times they weren’t asked, and they were too afraid to take the initiative to ask someone else themselves,†says Monica. “This perceived rejection, real or not, has now really damaged their confidence in coming back to the world.”

Pat struggled with social bonds and loneliness before the pandemic and is now trying to find ways to bond after the lockdowns. They are not very lucky at the moment. “Funny, actually I didn’t feel lonely at all during the lockdown – but as soon as things opened up this year and last it started all over again.â€

‘It’s cut to people’s hearts for me’

For many older people cut off from families and traditional reunions with friends, the pandemic has offered a crash course in online communication, in a way that could continue to shape the way they stay in touch with people. A study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority shows that the number of people aged 75 and over using social media and email to connect has doubled.

Without the physical context of the cafe, office, or gym, people have found other ways, almost instantly, to rank and rank our friends. There were the dozens of designated WhatsApp groups, the few friends you randomly texted recipes or dogs with, the handful of people you’d DM on Instagram with, the family you would fight with. in the Facebook comments, colleagues condemned to Zoom, and the only friend you could pick up the phone with. So where do these friends rank now?

It helps to start by asking what exactly are friends for. There are countless studies that tell us why we need them, including linking them to our heart health. The Greek philosopher Aristotle could offer some clues. Friends were central to his overall understanding of what constitutes a good life and what it means to be human.

But even the philosopher classified his buddies into three different types of friendship: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and “friendships of good.” Colleagues and classmates come under useful friendships. A friend who inspires joy is friendships of pleasure – love friends, book clubs, soccer teams. But most important of all are these good friendships, which are based on mutual respect, admiration and a strong desire to “help and assist the other because we recognize in them an essential goodness”. These top-of-the-line companions have supported us the most over the past two years, and they are also the ones we most want to keep.

The Patulny and Bower study reveals that “rather than suffering a massive loss of connections and increased loneliness, many networks have instead consolidated and moved from large, local bridging networks to more selective online link networks.” . For many, a shared experience of a deeply traumatic time has either solidified existing friendships or forged important new friends.

Stephanie made local friends for the first time during the pandemic. Parents at her children’s school, who did not know each other well, began spilling onto WhatsApp once they entered detention. Then Stéphanie’s young daughter contracted the Covid. “They were the first to drop things, share information with the school, and protect our family. Local friends are a new thing for me… I think it’s easier to become deep friends faster, to say that I’m not well, and to be more open for others to say the same. It is cut to people’s hearts for me.

Rose has lived alone throughout the pandemic. “It was a question of vulnerability. I realized that once I explained what I was going through, it allowed my friends to open up as well. Being real to each other through Covid has brought us closer together. During confinement, I used social networks a lot to connect. But now I like to socialize in person, more than before. I’m normally an introvert, but iso was too lonely, so I switched the other way to extroversion. I organize parties, where I used to dread them. And I do my best to make new friends.

But while it is wonderful to focus on the friendships that enrich us, Patulny and Bower warn that we cannot forget “the cost of potentially increased social and collective loneliness in losing more distant community ties.”

As we all strive to maintain a social life while continuing to face the continuing uncertainty, for some the future of friendship will mean giving people the space to have a blast at a party, not to reply by SMS, to let friends check when they are ready. For others, it means jumping at any opportunity to meet new friends. Like Bryan and his wife, Melbourne-based Cynthia hadn’t really met anyone new in the past two years. But she recently struck up a conversation with a stranger at the local cafe and immediately liked them. At first she tried to play cool, but eventually she was like, “Shit, I invited them over for a barbecue. Nothing beats a new crush on a friend, and it’s been a long time.



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