You may remember the excruciating noughties dilemma that was organising your MySpace top 8. It was a minefield of hurt teenage feelings and bitterness that was often harboured for months.
As an adult, no one wants to have to openly put their friends in order of how much they like them. Yet 2020 trumped convention once again, when it forced us to publicly decide once and for all exactly who is in our inner circle. First, during lockdown, we had social ‘bubbles’; now we have the ‘rule of six’, with the Government dictating that we can only gather with up to five others, maximum (unless it’s for a wedding or, er, grouse shooting, in which case it’s 30). Memes instantly appeared that made light of that poor seventh person in a friendship group who doesn’t get the brunch invite.
It’s a platonic minefield, but you could take the view that one thing this year has afforded us is the privilege of being able to sit back and properly consider the friendships we have in our lives. Some are forever, we just know that. But it’s OK to also realise that not all of them are. One friend said to me last week that it has felt liberating to wave goodbye to those ‘We-MUST-meet-for-drinks’ friends in 2020, the ones with whom you schedule biannual get-togethers just to talk about how you should do it more often.
In a previous life, that may have been seen as ruthless, but this year, we might use the more gentle term ‘friend shedding’. Whether you have many or a close-knit few, friendships will always evolve as you grow up and some settle down. People have children, busier lives, less inclination and energy to go out every Friday and Saturday night. Throw a global pandemic in the mix and maintaining friendships isn’t as easy as it once was.
Psychotherapist, couples counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, Hilda Burke tells Grazia that the break from our usual routines has given us a chance to reassess who we really miss. ‘Many of us believe things are set in stone when it comes to our friends. What’s happened during lockdown is that the rituals and routines propping up certain friendships – eg, I go for lunch with my workmate every day – have broken down. Some may have realised that, without the regular contact or joint activities, there’s not actually much substance there.’
While we all started out in lockdown FaceTiming and Housepartying, that’s not a sustainable way to maintain friendships. I’ve found that certain relationships have dwindled over the course of the year, not because I don’t care about them, but because time, distance and life have got in the way for both of us.
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I’ve missed socialising as freely as I once did, and I miss my close friends deeply – I moved to Bath from London in 2018, and this year have only been able to go back to see them once – but I’ve also noticed a shift in who I am turning to the most.
Like many, my social circle has shrunk because of circumstance. I’ve broken contact with one formerly close friend who I realised hadn’t been a positive presence in my life, and I feel lighter for it. There are others I don’t know when I’ll see again.
‘There should be less stigma around moving away from friendships, as long as you’re not hurting one another,’ says Hilda. ‘To a certain extent, it’s natural and healthy to let some friendships go to make space for new ones,’ she adds. ‘Lockdown has simply catalysed some of these shifts.’
I’m lucky that I’ve also made bonds during this strange year that will never be undone. The people with whom we have weathered this storm are part of our fabric now – and we’ll never forget the support we had when we needed it most.