Consider this post a reminder – for you and for me – to call a friend.
You know, that friend you haven’t reached out to in a while. That friend you love, who is always on your mind, but whom you haven’t seen or talked to in a while because life got busy and, well, there was the pandemic.
I don’t know about you, but for me, maintaining friendships fell low on my priority list when the pandemic hit. It’s not that friendship wasn’t important, it’s that my brain went into survival mode and my priority list was Spartan: Protect my family. Survive. Keep my job.
Besides, as an only child and introvert, I found the social isolation caused by pandemic lockdowns and social distancing to feel oddly familiar. I grew up in the country, where long periods of solitude and introspection became part of my DNA. This is not to say I felt nothing at the pandemic’s beginning; on the contrary, I felt a great deal of anxiety caused by knowing the world was besieged by a deadly illness and by not knowing whether our lives and livelihoods would make it through. But lack of social connection wasn’t among these challenges.
Eventually, I looked up and realized how much I missed connecting with people outside of our immediate family. I missed the idle chit chat with the grocery store cashier and conversations with parents on the playground as our children played. I also missed the deeper conversations that came with enjoying a meal with someone or gathering with a book club to discuss a story. I missed friends.
I did go on walks with a few friends and had a handful of outdoor coffee dates, but nothing consistent. My social calendar remained nearly nonexistent. Connections, both deep and shallow, seemed to fall away.
The 2020 demonstrations for racial justice and 2020 presidential election only complicated my feelings. Living in a mostly white neighborhood and having mostly white friends, I felt isolated. This meant the few social interactions I had on a weekly basis were often not with people who knew in their bones what it felt like to see a Black man murdered and feel that at any moment, your Black life, or the Black life of someone you love, could be taken next.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was sorely lacking community self-care.
I first learned about friendship and community as self-care when I spoke earlier this year with Krystal Reddick-Pollard, who is a teacher, social worker, and self-care coach. I was surprised when she mentioned social wellbeing as a key component of self-care. When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “I like to say that self-care is incomplete without community care.”
Thinking of friendship and community as self-care has been transformative for me. No, I didn’t turn into a social butterfly overnight. But I did decide to spend a little time each week investing in friendship and community care. Sometimes, this was as simple as sending a text to a friend to check in or going out for coffee with a new friend. Other times, it was reaching out to friends for phone dates, walks, or lunch. In some ways, I feel like a conservationist as I work to preserve the shores of my friendships before they erode and fade over time like so many before.
Fading friendships is something many of us experience as adults, say authors and best friends Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, who wrote the book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. In the book Sow and Friedman, who host the popular Call Your Girlfriend podcast, get vulnerable about their interracial friendship and discuss with great candor how they’ve maintained their relationship despite cross-country moves, job changes, demanding schedules, changing romantic partners, and life-threatening illness
Spoiler: It wasn’t easy. Friendship often isn’t.
For one thing, we tend to center romantic partnerships, expecting our partners to complete us Jerry McGuire-style. They are supposed to be not just our life partners, but also have all the same interests we have while never tiring of our company and our bad jokes.
But this is unrealistic and puts too much pressure on us and our partners. We cannot be everything to them, nor can they be everything to us. Nor should we be.
It took me a long time to accept that my husband just wasn’t into talking about yoga, linguistics, Marvel shows, and Black lady hairstyles. It also took me a while to accept that I just wasn’t into my husband’s love of novels about the Old West, cassette tapes of sermons from the 1980s, or television shows set during a World War.
That’s what friends are for. Friends help connect us not just to other people, but also to ourselves. They remind us of who we are – that we are more than the job that is or isn’t going well, than the pandemic that knocked us off our feet, than the joys and worries that pass through our lives. Friends provide lifelines to remind us of the parts of our personalities we dampen or forget about. They call us on our BS. They text us memes and podcasts and help us talk through the challenges of work and parenting and being an imperfect person navigating an imperfect world.
So, as I work to deepen my self-care practice, I’m thinking beyond scented candles, warm tea, and getaways – all of which I love. I’m thinking about my friends. I’m thinking about how I can reach out to them to support them, and how I can be vulnerable enough to allow myself to be supported, too.