Sandrine Uwase Ndahiro examines how Covid -19 and isolation forced her to reconsider the nature of her friendships
I never expected Covid to change so entirely how I felt about friendship. But then, 2020 proved to be a year none of us could have predicted: endless lockdowns and online quiz nights that took their toll on everyone. When Covid first hit there was so much uncertainty and everything we take for granted became questionable, but friendship and family were dear to me. As an extrovert, being around friends and family has always been my comfort and my feeling of belonging. Covid 19 disrupted my sense of normality, as I only had limited time with both my friends and family at any given moment.[restrict]
During the first lockdown, my friends and I were optimistic about maintaining our social lives with our usual Friday or Saturday night drinks. This tradition brought about a sense of normality at a time when everything was constantly changing, and uncertainty became a familiar expectation. At first, Zoom wine nights, game nights and coffee times seemed to keep everyone’s spirits high, as we still thought that Covid was just temporary. This sense of temporariness allowed us to hold onto the false belief that everything would be okay. Looking back, I am struck by how innocent we all were. We did not expect the pandemic to be a topic that was still at the heart of our discussions a year later. We celebrated birthdays, promotions, college results, and new opportunities all online, knowing that by the end of summer we would all reunite to celebrate in person. The sense that we would be celebrating in person in the near future made the pandemic more bearable; there was light at the end of the tunnel.
A year into the pandemic, this optimism in keeping up with the same routine and socialising became difficult to maintain. Eighteen months into Covid everyone had Zoom fatigue and other aspects of life appeared to be heavier than others. It became difficult to know sometimes how to interact with one another, or even who to interact with.
A year of realisation
In a dark, twisted way, Covid -19 and the constant isolation gave me a newfound purpose when it comes to deciding what friendships mattered and which ones were just situationships. As an extrovert, I have always found it easy to make friends. I had always been surrounded by friends growing up. I always expected to have people around me, no matter what. The fact that I have always been surrounded by people meant I never really had the chance to reflect on my relationships, and truly delve into the meaning of friendships and why they matter.
In college, you make all different types of friends. You have different groups: friends for study dates, adventures, the occasional friend you make in a girl’s bathroom, and then the friends that you had grown up with. With these friends, I had never been presented with the opportunity of wondering who would text me in times of hardship, until Covid happened. Slowly as the year went by, I noticed I am that type of friend who would constantly check up on my friends, and organise our weekly social normalcy. I found that when I stopped checking up on the different group chats due to my busy schedule, or because I was just trying to figure out how to survive Covid-19 in general; only a few of my closest friends, who are introverts, made the effort to check up on me. This revelation was quite overwhelming, as it is something that I had never sat down and thought about before. I was used to seeing my friends at least once a week, but with the lockdown, the social dynamics of the friendship changed.
I started to pay more attention to the friends who would reach out to me, even though I knew they were going out of their comfort zone by reaching out. These types of friendships became so effortless, as we would check in with each other every few weeks or months by sending each voice notes about the most mundane things that always put a smile on each other’s faces. This type of friendship proved to be one that I craved more than those I had been accustomed to. Which mostly involved meeting up for Saturday night drinks and then not speaking about anything significant. The uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic saw me crave the company of friends who were going through similar things. This familiarity brought a sense of ease as every encounter we had with each other saw us support one another, advising about coping mechanisms, and become closer and closer as the months passed.
During this year of uncertainty one element of surprise was the opportunity that people had to rekindle old friendships. Covid-19 affected all of us in different ways and people had time to consider what was important in life. I found myself reflecting on my current friends, and also took the opportunity to reconnect with the friends that I had lost touch with years ago. This opportunity to reconnect was made possible with the backdrop of Black Lives Matter when I found myself posting more and more about my experiences of racism on Instagram. People that I had not talked to in years reached out and offered to be a friend if I needed someone during those tough months.
The friends that reached out during these moments proved to be my rock, as we were able to put aside our differences and just talk about what has been happening in the last year and have a moment to reconnect. This moment proved overwhelming and life-changing, as I started to understand the importance of friendship and cherishing those that come back into your life when you are hurting. Covid-19 paved the way for this opportunity for me to truly reflect and remember those friends that were reaching out to chat so I could freely talk about racism. As they offered a shoulder to cry on. Only in this moment did I realise how for the longest time with certain friends I had hidden away a certain part of my blackness to fit in while I suffered in silence. Instead, my true friends saw through this façade and created a new safe space where I could talk about my experiences and feel heard, and at no time would I have to explain myself. As my friends, they just listened. Something that I had constantly dismissed before Covid-19 is something that I now realised was one of the best qualities to have in any friendship.
Family as friends.
If there is one beauty, I can take from the last year it is the deeper friendship formed between my siblings and me. Saying that your siblings are your best friends can become something of a default. This was something I had always said without really understanding the importance of establishing that friendship with your siblings. Over the last year, I have developed a deeper friendship with my siblings, one that again I had taken for granted as we are family. Instead, I have found that we have formed a more in-depth friendship, one which I was once too consumed in my lifestyle to ever develop truly. When I moved home during the last lockdown, it was the first time since I moved to college in 2014 that I truly got to spend four months, day in day out with my siblings. We fell into a routine of watching our favourite tv shows, setting up a sibling book club, and our weekly takeaway nights on Saturdays. Before Covid, I would spend my Saturdays on nights out but now, even after moving back up to college, I make sure to join in on Saturday takeaway nights as often as I can. I found that this time truly gave me and my siblings the chance to reconnect and just make the best out of the situation, to fill the house with laughter, as our friendships grew and grew. Even to this day when things are starting to return to normal, friendship is still the core of our relationship, as we keep in touch daily and chat more in-depth a couple of times during the week.
Realising what is important.
Finally, over the last year, I have learned the importance of having friends who are actively there for you. The type of friend who messages now and then to ask you ‘How are you?’ is the sign of a true friend. Those are the friends that you need. Through hard times someone just checking in on you is the definition of true friendship. Sadly, it took a pandemic for me to sit down and reflect on this. Either way, it gave me the perfect opportunity to be grateful for those friends who truly care and who, no matter what hardship they are personally going through, will still take time out of their day to put a smile on my face. Cherish those friendships as they are rare.