A couple of weeks ago, I read a thoughtful article in The Atlantic on what the pandemic has done to casual relationships and interactions – meaning those we have beyond the ones with our significant other (if we are fortunate to have one) and family and close friendships:
In the caption to the above Instagram post, the magazine adds:
“There are people on the outer periphery of my life for whom the concept of ‘keeping up’ makes little sense,” Amanda Mull writes. During the pandemic, “our affection for each other is in a period of suspended animation, alongside indoor dining and international travel. Sometimes we respond to each other’s Instagram Stories.”
The importance of friendship overall, and especially friendships of weak or moderate strength, is generally downplayed in the country’s culture, Mull continues, while family and romantic partners are supposed to be the be-all and end-all. But those casual relationships are the ones that help meet our fundamental desire to be known and perceived, to have our own humanity reflected back at us.
When I saw that article mentioned on Instagram again yesterday, I started to think about my own pandemic relationships. I live with my wife and fortunately she loves me. (How many people have spent the last year trapped in horror situations at home?) Still, there are times I am sure that I do get on her nerves (but, bless her, she never lets on).
I have found, though, that some other close family can be overrated as outlets and comfort in this bizarro-world. In our trying to keep up communications with and help them, I feel our surviving two parents are unhelpful to us in the “always look on the bright side of life” front. FaceTime-ing with my father (fortunately my sister lives with him, so he is not alone) twice a week or so in America is usually only to receive a recitation of his life woes; and my wife endures much the same daily with her mother (and nearby lives one of her two sons and his family, so she is essentially in their “bubble” and also not totally alone) down in London.
We had been having “FaceTime” weekly dinners with another couple, but the wife fell ill (not COVID ill) and we had missed the last couple of weeks. I did not realize how much I had come to look forward to those dinners until they were paused; that hour or so with them one evening a week – they are long-time friends, and it had become a weekly pandemic “appointment” – was a stress buster. Thankfully, we have now resumed them.
Thinking about this now, my father (Wednesday) and the Ocado delivery guy (on Friday morning) and those two Bristol friends last night by FaceTime, are the only four people I have actually SPOKEN with besides my wife since Monday. Everyone else I know and with whom I had regular contact IN PERSON, or even BY PHONE, is still “out there”… yet lately we have had nothing to do with each other. (Perhaps it is because we have so little to talk about that we wonder, why bother?)
I have not had more than a word or two with neighbo(u)rs (from a distance) in nearly a year.
In recent weeks all of my other interaction has been online with some few family, other friends, and with never-met-in-person social media followers – even if it is, indeed, just mutually responding to Instagram Stories or dropping each other notes.
The only positive in all of this for me, I suppose, is I am getting lots of writing done. (Writing that has led at times to a strange feeling, too. Those people who lived “200 years” ago mingled and even traveled now more than we do.)
You may be in much the same position. We know that this will not last forever; but we did not really anticipate a year ago that we would still be here a year later… and still with months before us of more of the same. It is looking like life will not return to anything approaching “normal” before possibly August. Maybe.
I saw on some TV channel a few days ago a promo about a film about the pandemic. I thought as I rolled my eyes: You gotta be kidding me. I want to read about and/or watch actors doing all the “ordinary” things we had always done – if only to keep alive the recollection that our lives before early 2020 were not a mirage, to escape all this for a while, and as reassurance that we will live that way again soon. The LAST thing I want to do is watch fiction on what we are now enduring. (Geez, I would rather be tied down and forced to binge watch Bridgerton. Incidentally, I guarantee a few years from now we will be thinking: “We actually watched that during the pandemic? Were we THAT desperate? Answer: Uh, YES, we were!”)
In that spirit of seeking pre-pandemic interactions if only on screen, we just finished re-watching the entire seven years of Mad Men:
At one point we had just seen that episode above, which led days later to this bit of spousal humor directed at me:
Hope you have a good weekend, wherever you are (likely at home) in the world. 🙂