Article by Sarah Williams.
Ask anyone in my family or friends: I’m a terrible replier. Whether it’s a text, a missed phone call, an email or a flaming dog turd squashed through my letter box, getting a response from me is virtually impossible.
Contacting me is like shouting into the void, unless you’re one of the (approximately) three special people that I maintain regular daily contact with, who probably hear from me too often. I have no doubt that anyone who’s contacted Shout Louder asking for a review will be familiar with this phenomenon, if the number of bold, unread emails in my inbox is anything to go by (NB: I don’t write reviews, please don’t expect one).
In the UK’s quasi-lockdown, we’re unable to interact with our friends in person, which has left me rather hamstrung by my self-imposed failure to reply to all communications. I’ve been forced not only to start replying to people, but also to actively reach out and contact my mates.
There’s also nothing quite like a global pandemic threatening our existence to make you talk to your parents. I’m close to my folks, but we live far from each other, and I am bloody terrible at picking up the phone to them. In the first week of lockdown, I heard from my Nan every day (more than I’ve spoken to her in the last three years – yes, I am a terrible granddaughter) and my parents called me every other day. Now we’ve set up a weekly call – having a scheduled time to look forward to means that a) it’s easy to remember to call and b) we’re having a proper chat every week. I doubt we’d have organised this in normal circumstances, but I’d like to keep it going in the months to come.
I even had a couple of lovely calls with my Auntie Shirl, who’s someone I love a lot but tend to only speak to at her Boxing Day party once a year, if at all. My consistent failure to respond isn’t a sign that I’m not interested in hearing from them, it’s just a sign of my intense uselessness when it comes to maintaining social connections. It’s an aspect of neurodiversity and its impact on object permanence – if something (or someone) is not directly in front of me, I tend to forget that it exists. Specifically, I forget that I need to call or text people unless they’re literally in the room with me, by which time it’s a tad unnecessary.
Being stuck inside with time on my hands, I’ve happily gotten on the phone to friends in other cities – people I don’t see often enough in normal times. I’ve reinvigorated text-relationships with a few of my older close friends who I don’t see so often. Those friendships never went away, but the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19 have led me to appreciate those nearly-lost friendships more and want to nurture them. It turns out that when faced with genuine adversity, it’s comforting to turn to my older support network.
I’m surprised by the people I’ve kept in regular touch with, in the months since lockdown. Many friends I see in person regularly are people I hardly spoken to at all, presumably because that’s not how we’re used to maintaining our relationships. When you see people often, you don’t have to rely on texting or video calls. Will our friendships go back to normal when all this ends, or will we have grown apart?
It turns out that it’s the older friends who I’ve been closest to in years past (but don’t live near to now) that I’m connecting most with now. People I know deeply and have shared a longer history with. I’m talking to those people more now that the distractions of my current life have been removed. Rekindling those connections is one of the greatest small pleasures I’ve discovered in the course of lockdown.
For the first six months or so of restrictions being in place, I struggled to be interested in Zoom chats, Whatsapp groups, or engaging with people online. As the weather darkened and I felt more isolated, I’ve actually quite enjoyed the odd video-pub. It’s no longer a novelty – now that people have stopped trying to force quizzes, murder mysteries or virtual discos upon their friend who are, in reality, drinking alone in their living room – I feel more comfortable with it. Once restrictions have lifted, I hope that I can still communicate this way with my out-of-town friends. I shouldn’t wait until I have time to go to London to talk to my pals in the city.
Since writing this article, I’ve retreated to my comfortable contact-free hole. I cheerfully deleted my Facebook account, waving goodbye to adverts, unwanted friend requests and political profligacy. I will come and go when the whim takes me. That being said, I feel I’ve learned a lot about communicating and connecting over lockdown, and I hope that I can carry some of that into the spring of pandemic, as we all start to meet face-to-face again.
Have you been connecting more in lockdown, even when we’re seeing people less? Have you spoken to people you didn’t think you would? Let us know in the comments section.
While you’re here, read our other articles on The Upsides of Being Locked Down. You’ve got nothing better to do.