Molly Keane writes about embracing the romance of newness, and making peace with fizzled friendships…
The year is 2020 and the date is February 23rd. Your grandmother is in the hospital and your family have been told to gather around. Your long term toxic relationship ended one week ago, and your dad is frantically helping you to pack up your Dublin apartment before you race to Sligo hospital together. Like a relay team, you hurriedly trudge past each other on the stairwell that separates the car and the apartment door, arms heavy with bags. The inside of the car takes on the appearance of a successful game of Tetris. You leave your housemate a note, saying you’ll see them soon before you move to London after your granny’s funeral. Dear reader, you never make the move to London.
The date is March 16th. Most of your friends have already stopped checking up on you. Maybe because a granny dying and a breakup is too much misery to deal with. Maybe because this thing called Coronavirus has been getting worldwide attention. It is your brother’s eighteenth birthday. He is planning on having a big party with his friends. He, with you and the rest of your family, gather around the sitting room television like a group of old men watching sports, as the Taoiseach tells the country that you are going into ‘lockdown’. How apocalyptic! Sure, it’ll be a nice two weeks off work and school. We’ll watch loads of movies and play poker!
The date is July 9th, 2020. It’s your 22nd birthday. You have seen five people since the day your brother turned eighteen. You go on a road trip for your birthday, picking up an old friend on the way; one of the last people you saw before the world went into hibernation. You drink Guinness in an actual pub and talk about what the hell just happened. Then you go to Dublin. Your friend group that was so intrinsically linked to your last relationship is gone, either abroad or just gone in a fizzled out friendship without the glue sort of way. You are struck by this feeling that you are in an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people. You have awkward encounters with some friends on the canal over cups of coffee. You don’t want to talk about the pandemic, but everything before that seems as though it existed in another lifetime entirely.
The longing to connect, or reconnect, leaves you feeling dazed, isolated, and out of touch. You don’t feel as close to the people you were closest to, and you don’t feel at home in the city that you once called home anymore. It is only through talking about how isolating an experience you had, you realise that the people you thought were having a much better time than you were in fact feeling the very same;
‘I drifted from a lot of friends…I felt a bit left out of some groups when we were technically allowed to meet up but it just wasn’t the same as usual.’
As you tentatively begin to emerge from your hibernation and back into the rhythm of work and life, you are met with a social anxiety you never had before, at least not to this extent. You can’t think of anything more frightening than the thoughts of a group dinner, a work event, or a gig. Everybody on your Instagram stories is rejoicing over the newfound freedom of being able to do these things again;
‘Social media was the biggest curse for me throughout lockdown and when the world opened up. I was so caught between wanting to be at every event or meet up that I saw people at, and feeling completely incapable of having a conversation with anyone.’
The concept of what friendship and close friendship means to you has shifted from the people you drink, party and work with, to the people who bring something new but safe to your life. You find yourself becoming friends with a girl your age and her 5 month old baby. Your old friend, the one you picked up on your road trip and drank Guinness with, at some point becomes your best friend, and then your love. You are introduced to their friends and a whole new world through them.
You push yourself out of your comfort zone and talk to strangers in Spanish in Barcelona. You start rollerskating with an Australian. You’re not good at roller skating, but you’re having fun. You find that the only cure is to push yourself. You become the person who suggests a plan. You start going for swims, and striking up conversations with strangers. Your camera is often your buffer; you take a portrait of a person and then you break down a wall. Change is all kinds of stressful and unsettling, but the retrospective understanding that you needed it in your life is a part of growing up. You let go of past friendships that no longer serve you and embrace the uncertainty and the discomfort of the unknown.
As you navigate through maintaining -or building- a new social life, you make peace with the fizzled out friendships and embrace the romance of newness. Joan Dideon says in The Year of Magical Thinking that ‘Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant,’ and this change in the ordinary and the mundane can be terrifying, but when you push yourself beyond the point of fear, there is often something beautiful on the other side.