Your shrinking pandemic friend group is actually a good thing

Young multi-ethnic male and female friends on white circles against turquoise background
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COVID-19 has done a number on our social lives. This terrible, no good, very bad pandemic has been around for more than a year and during this time, you might’ve decided to cut the fat on your friend circle (or that may have happened naturally since you could only really see so many people). As a result, many of us have found our circles thinned to a necessary few, with the circumstances of quarantine and social distancing changing the dynamic of some of our friendships. But, I can tell you confidently that this is a good thing. I know this because this “thinning,” so to speak, has happened to me before.

When I was in my 20s, I got a staph infection. It was scary, honestly — the sickness is caused by bacteria and boasts such pleasant symptoms as boils, rashes, constant nausea, and other biblical-proportion plagues. It made me extremely ill, and I lost 30 pounds in an extremely short time. I was out of work for a month in bed, only able to eat dry cereal and watching the entirety of Gossip Girl for a scary, scary month. A bright side, though: To this day, the taste of Apple Jacks reminds me of Penn Badgley.

Extremely alone during that time, a coworker of mine (the only one from my company who did at the time) checked in with me once a week and even made sure I received a card she had all my colleagues to sign for me. Yes, I cried.

But my relationships we’re not all roses and sunshine. Also, during that time, I was dumped by a few people I discovered were fairweather friends — as in they only liked being friends with me when times were good. These losses were hard for me to swallow, at first. But there are a few reasons why I came out the other side a better person, and you might too.

“The pandemic has surfaced differences in perspectives and created a sense of division in friendships and relationships, sometimes highlighting divisions that were already there,” says Holly Ann Schiff, a Connecticut-based licensed clinical psychologist, adding that quarantine and all that comes with it has given us the opportunity to reevaluate priorities and reflect on life in general. We’re all trying to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t — I recently found out that I really despise going to the supermarket without being able to wander. I’m definitely a circuitous shopper.

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When I was healthy, happy, comedic Joe, some of my former friends were closer to me than my own siblings. For them, that new sad sick Joe was not the friend they wanted, And some of them actually came back once I got better. For me, though you’re either all in or you’re all out, and I ended those friendships. “It’s normal for friendships to come and go, and while it may be tough, in order to get over these endings in a healthy fashion, allow yourself to grieve the loss,” Schiff says. “However, take some comfort in the clarity you will find in learning who will enrich your life and continue to make it better and those who didn’t.”

“Unless some attempt to maintain connection has been intentional over the past year, neither you nor the other person are likely to pick it up where you left off,” adds Wayne Pernell, a San Francisco-based psychologist. “If you're interested in maintaining or reigniting a friendship, be the first to find out how the other person is doing, what they did to cope, and what new interests they have, whether it’s cooking, baking bread, or learning a language.”

While I was a little bit more stringent with my friendships, you might want to try and reignite some of these friendships, and for you that task might be monumental. But, whether it’s the potential changes in the size of your friendship circle or the busyness of your new post pandemic life – these are all major changes to your social life. So how do we find peace with this?

“None of us is the same person we were twenty years ago, ten years ago, five years ago, or even last year,” Pernell says, adding that you should give yourself some grace and recognizing that people grow and change. For me, my 20s were marked by having a rotating cavalcade of friendships, marked by bars, karaoke, and more bars. In my 30s, I’m much more calm, although I do love the occasional drunken karaoke duet in front of a bunch of people I don’t know—which I’m excited to return to once the pandemic is over. I don't need anyone else's approval for growing into someone new. But, if you're grieving these losses, recognize that this is a process and takes time.

For popular folx and social butterflies, having a lot of friends comes second nature, and this pandemic (or in my case, a little infection) showed the true side of some people, and in some cases I think it’s healthy for those relationships to end. “Recognize that each of us has grown and coped with the pandemic in our own way. It feels very personal and yet the virus was global,” Pernell says. “Do not be so ego-centric as to think that you've changed, but they've stayed the same.”