Sandrine Uwase Ndahiro used Covid as a period of reevaluation. What she learned along the way, particularly about relationships, has proven invaluable…
Covid proved to be a turning point in my life. It taught me valuable lessons that I don’t think I would have be able to identify without being forced to slow down and look around me. Slowing down made me confront my fears but also acted as an opportunity to re-evaluate aspects of my life to determine what was important to me. It was a period of deep self-reflection, healing, and learning. I found power in being isolated and only being stuck with my inner most intrusive thoughts.
The stillness of the world and realisation that I had to slow down paved the way for me to confront all the things that needed to change in my life. Changes that would lead to a better and much happier version of myself. One aspect was how I approached my friendships. Before Covid I had a large friend group that I would see on a weekly basis for wine nights out either on a Friday or a Saturday. We would keep in touch during the week but there was always great excitement when the weekend would come around. During nights out we would catch up on work, relationships (or situationships) and just gossip in general. This was something that we did for years; it became a tradition. It was something that I never thought would change. Up until Covid I had never thought much about how oftentimes our catch ups were only during social settings. Only a handful of friends had ever suggested meeting up for coffees, walks or dinners outside our weekly catch ups.
During the multiple lockdowns I started to notice that only a handful of friends were reaching out to check in. I knew that everyone was experiencing Covid differently so at first I brushed this concern aside. I knew that Covid affected everyone’s mental health, so I tried not to make it into a big deal. After a while I realised that for a handful of my friends, I was the one that was always reaching out and checking. I slowly started to understand that there was no real substance in some of these friendships other than the infamous drunken conversations in the girls bathroom on nights out. Coming to this realisation was overwhelming and upsetting; I felt let down by my friends. It brought a sense of comfort that other friends from different groups also experienced the same thing. It seemed that all around us friendships were falling apart. We all noticed that we had different expectations of what friendships were. Something that is always changing and evolving.
Different expectations of friendships were later tested when there was an ease of restrictions and the world started to open again. The friends who had made little to no effort to check in started to reach out again for social nights out. When this happened, I saw it as an opportunity to re-evaluate the meaning of certain friendships. Before this happened I had an awful habit of being a people pleaser who would have let something like this slide. I hate confrontation and try to avoid it as much as I can. But from this moment onwards I knew that I only wanted to surround myself with friends who were willing to check in on my mental health. Friends that were open to having deep meaningful conversations as opposed to general drunken chatter used to pass the time. I always went above and beyond for my friends, so it was only fair to have the same expectations of them. I started to understand the importance of setting boundaries and protecting my mental health by solely surrounding myself with likeminded people.
My close friends experienced similar issues where after lockdown began to ease, they too found that their relationships with certain friends had changed.
This period acted as a life lesson on the value of friendships but also created an opportunity for me and my close friends to have new expectations of those who we surround ourselves with.
Likewise, another aspect that changed for my friends and I was the romanticisation of unhealthy relationships. Several of us went through break ups shortly after the easing of lockdown. Once again Covid acted as an opportunity to reflect on my expectation of happiness. It forever changed the way me and my friends’ approached relationships. Specifically, staying in toxic situations because of a fear of feeling like a failure. During the multiple lockdowns I noticed that by spending time alone I started to reflect on the term happiness and what it meant to be truly happy. Up until this point I had never thought much about the complexity of happiness. I was surrounded by my loved ones, and I was pursuing my dream career. Yet, why was I not fully happy. This realisation left me feeling very overwhelmed and scared at the idea of fully investigating what in my life was not making me happy.
For the longest time I ignored these lingering feelings of unhappiness and thought that they would eventually go away. Instead, I noticed that they were unavoidable. They grew more intense with the easing of restrictions, as being able to socialise with my close friends again paved the way for me to start the conversation of ‘what does it mean to be truly happy?’. We started to openly talk. Specifically, about our relationships with our significant others.
My expectations of happiness in my relationship started to slowly change the more me and my friends talked about it. By talking openly about happiness with no shame we gave each other courage to fully delve into this complex question. In the past when we shared relationship issues, we would deflect these issues and bracket them in the category of ‘rough patch’, or ‘Three-year slump’ and so on. By dismissing these issues that were in plain sight we failed to see how there were certain needs and wants that were being neglected in our romantic relationships.
One friend realised that they had put their dream career on hold by prioritising their relationship. Another recognised that they had abandoned their dream of moving abroad as this was not something that their significant other wanted. Meanwhile I realised that I had comprised a lot of my values and standards for my partner. These compromises made me lose sight of who I was and what was important to me. By acknowledging these issues we were able to understand that we needed to have a change of perspective on what a healthy relationship meant . Our expectations of relationships were forever changed.
I remember going on Instagram and seeing so many celebrity couples breaking up and joking to my friends that Covid either breaks or makes a couple. I joked about this without fully understanding that Covid would eventually lead to the breakdown of my relationship. And their relationships too. It was a time to reflect and heal from past mistakes that we had ignored for so long. It was no longer acceptable to just brush things under the rug. Covid exposed the cracks that already existed in our relationship. It paved the way to confront the issues as there was nowhere to escape. I think it would have taken me longer to realise that I was not happy in my relationship if Covid hadn’t happened. My personality trait sees me fear confrontation and disappointing people even if I am hurting myself in the process. Covid made me face these fears and put myself first. Something that I had neglected for the longest time.
I noticed that since my two friends and I went through break ups last year we have started to have more candid conversations about happiness. We have a new unbreakable bond as we all experienced this life altering thing at the same time. We all agree that it was the first time in a long time that we have felt truly felt happy. We have all found strength in going through this together. Our feelings and emotions are validated as we have proved the importance of protecting your happiness. Now when we meet up at social events we all joke that Covid set us free. It set us free from the expectations of staying in situations and relationships that no longer made us happy. It changed our mind set of settling for the bare minimum in the hopes that things will eventually be better.
Now when me and my friends meet up we always ask each other if we are happy. Our shared experience of finding our voice and the courage to leave our past relationships acts as a constant reminder to not compromise our wants and needs. The open nature of our conversations has also meant that there is a new form of trust amongst us, as there is no longer a sense of shame and embarrassment at leaving a long-term relationship. Moving forward we have asked each other to intervene if we notice that others among us are not happy. Maybe if we had done this in the first-place things would be different. We now understand the importance of putting ourselves first and being truly happy.
Photo by sarandy westfall on Unsplash