Last night I was helping Vivienne make dinner. She loves to cook lately, and she’ll proudly go over to the meal planner on the fridge and write, “I cook” on a given night and then tell us all of the ingredients she needs. Last night it was sauteed mushrooms and white rice (always), a salad with spinach, hearts of palm, and avocado, a fruit salad, and buttered bread. I turned on a go-to playlist while I helped her, and when Rilo Kiley came on I immediately thought of an article about Jenny Lewis that I read a couple of years ago. There was this passage that I loved, not only because it was so well constructed but also because the punch line was wickedly funny and perfectly timed. As soon as I thought of it again I found myself wanting someone to laugh and relate with. I texted the friend of more than 20 years who I sent it to and laughed with the first time I read it. She’s way out in Seattle and I don’t even know when I saw her last. The memory made me miss her. Suddenly I missed laughing with people about something we all understood. I sent a text to my go-to group thread of local friends asking first if anyone listened to Jenny Lewis or Rilo Kiley, to see if the reference would land. No one responded. I remember when liking the same music was one of the major grounds for friendship. Now I don’t think I could name what kind of music any of the friends on my group text thread listen to. Isn’t that strange?
This time of social isolation has had such a strange effect on friendships. When you don’t see someone you begin to wonder about the strength of that relationship, what it was built on in the first place. I just recently remembered one of the last dinners out that I had with friends before the world stopped. I don’t recall now if we knew or talked about what might be coming. It was still winter, but we decided to walk to the restaurant. It was a really nice evening.
I remember an afternoon at another friend’s house, sitting on the patio with a hint of spring in the air. She mentioned something she was thinking about and I asked if it was COVID she was worried about. No, something unrelated. No one was really worried.
Sometimes I worry that when this is all over and life goes back to normal that’s going to feel just as jarring, only in reverse. I’m so used to this now that I don’t think I’ll quite remember how to be social. I sometimes worry that I’m going to be profoundly lonely once Kristin goes back to work and the kids go back to school and I’m still working from home but all alone.
Another work friend is leaving for a new job this week, someone I hired a million years ago and who I rely on quite a bit in my work. Actually it must have been roughly nine years ago, because he was integral in making sure that we had a lactation room after Jonah was born around the same time a couple of other colleagues also had babies. We affectionately referred to that room as “the milk bar” after a friend who also had a newborn read somewhere that a milk bar was a casual restaurant with an open front – we laughed and laughed about that. I just decided this week not to apply for a promotion, even though I’d have a decent chance of getting it. I don’t have many work friends left, really, and while my job is a good one that I’m very fortunate to have, the support network for a more difficult role really isn’t there in the way I’d like it to be. I’ve worked remotely for four and a half years now, and it’s tough to maintain strong relationships when there’s natural turnover and churn and suddenly you’ve never met most of your colleagues in person.
I had the loveliest conversation with a nurse practitioner at my psychiatrist’s office today. She complimented the way I’d done my hair and we talked about parenting and good children’s books and I found myself wanting to send her a follow up email about something entirely unrelated to my wellness. It made me wonder if she fills that “oh my god, I got to sit down and talk face-to-face with an actual human who doesn’t live in my house” gap for dozens of people every week.
The world is so strange right now, isn’t it? And maybe it was strange before, and the ways we socialized were already bizarre by historical standards, but what it even means to connect and feel connected feels so unclear these days.