Did friendship change during the pandemic?
It’s hard to say.
But I know what changed for me: I don’t take it for granted.
During the pandemic, we isolated, pared our face-to-face connections down to a pod, and connected via little boxes on electronic screens. We missed handshakes, leisurely cups of coffee together, and small evening gatherings. I lost track of some local friends whom I used to see in the supermarket or at Zumba class.
Truthfully, my introverted self breathed a sigh of relief at the start of the lockdown and savored the time alone. But then, offers arose with new ways to meet online. Connection felt important and I reunited online with classmates from high school and grad school. New friendships were born or renewed, then nurtured through regular contact.
When the pandemic eased (I won’t say it ended), I was ready to spend less time in the Zoom-osphere and make my way back out into the world. I wasn’t among those ready to “party hardy,” in part because of the risks and in part because my nervous system wasn’t ready for more than a few intimate contacts.
Still, I found that in “coming out” again, I had a new appreciation for each coffee date, visit, or walk. No longer can I assume that my older friends and family will be around forever. The pandemic taught me how the world can change in an instant and friendships can’t be taken for granted.
“Friending” —an expression I don’t need
I bless cyberspace and Zoom for helping me connect to distant friends—even though I don’t think of the internet as particularly friendship friendly. Facebook did us a disservice when it co-opted the word “friend” to mean “person I barely know online.”
Then came the strange word: “friending,” as in “to friend.” We began counting friends like tokens.
“Friendship” was becoming a commodity.
And the rate of national loneliness, as described by the former US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, kept growing.
Another way to befriend
I recently returned to Antoine de Saint Exupery’s beloved novella, The Little Prince, published in 1943. This short tale about friendship, beauty, and love always inspires me, perhaps because I’m so fond of the wisdom of my namesake, the Fox.
He calls the process of befriending “taming.” When the Little Prince, fallen from his planet, comes to the Fox looking for friends, he responds that before he can be a friend, he must be tamed.
“For you, I’m only a fox like one hundred thousand other foxes. But if you need me, we’ll tame each other.”
And he describes all the beautiful colors and things he will see when he is tamed.
He warns, “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things ready-made in stores. But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends. If you want a friend, tame me.”
So they began to create a rite of meeting together—showing up again and again. until they tame each other
Taming takes time. Taming takes commitment. Taming means that your heart will break when you lose the one you have tamed.
Taming has no ulterior motive other than to treasure each other.
To tame means to create ties, “Something that’s been too often neglected,” according to the Fox.
Today, some of the old forms that once tied us to each other, like our churches and local communities, may not offer us strong enough ties when wild winds of change threaten to dislocate us.
We need to deliberately choose community and tie ourselves together with intention.
I’m learning about all of this as I move toward publishing my book.
Writing is solitary but a book longs for community.
As I’ve slowly started fundraising for my book’s publication (with great hesitance and much support), I’ve been delighted to learn that the process is not what I thought. It’s about so much more than funds—it’s about community. People contribute in many different ways, not all of them financial—I appreciate them all. With each contribution, threads are woven together.
Knowing that I’m being held in a web of support transforms the process of bringing the book to the world.
Because I’m receiving, I’m also sensitive to the need to give. I’m more aware of requests made to me—especially those that come from the heart—because I now see them as potential ties tethering me to the people, organizations, and causes I care about.
To tame and be tamed
Friendship and community both require a slow, steady giving of ourselves across time. Sometimes, technology can help the process. But true connection means more than clicks—it asks us to be present and open our hearts. It entreats us to see our friends as precious and irreplaceable—never commodities.
It invites us to tame each other.