Pandemic Friendship When There’s Nothing to Say

I didn’t talk on the phone for a month. This has to change.

This week, I called my friend Hana to say happy birthday and talked for about 40 minutes. The next day, I called my friend Katherine to check on her father’s health.

These conversations sound unremarkable, and they were. But after each one, I was on Cloud 9. Delighted. Giddy. I felt like myself! And I know why: Before this week, I hadn’t talked on the phone to a friend in at least a month.

I realized it when my colleague Tim Herrera tweeted this, and I could relate.

I can see exactly how this happened: I’ve never been a big phone person, but in the past, it didn’t matter. Events kept friendships going, and put me face-to-face with the people I cared about on a regular basis. Happy hours and nights out turned to day-long brunches which turned into weddings and bridal showers and baby showers and trips and homecomings and dinners when someone was in someone’s city for a work trip or a conference. The reasons to see each other kept happening, the answers to “What have you been up to?” were always plentiful, and friendship always felt natural, never like work.

Since March, without the crutch of events and occasions, I haven’t been able to see people in person, and I haven’t had any of the kinds of interesting life events that make a phone call feel worth it in my mind. I’m pretty good about popping cards and gifts in the mail from time to time, but when it comes to talking, I’ve felt … kind of blank. I’m not depressed, in fact I probably enjoy being home and left alone more than most people. But I’m working a lot and going through IVF, which feels very self-indulgent to discuss in more than a few sentences (seriously, when I start talking about hormones and chromosomes and procedures, I even bore myself) and creates a distinct sense of being in limbo, waiting for the next phase of my life.

To be honest, I doubt my friends are bothered at all. We’ve always had “Whenever we catch up, it’s like no time has passed at all” relationships. But “whenever we catch up” isn’t as certain as it used to be. And this pandemic has taught me that I want and need conversation with the women I love and care about, even — and especially — when there’s no event to attend or big news to discuss.

Of course, the truth is, when you get past the self-consciousness about being boring, there are actually things to talk about. My chats with my friends this week covered topics including: dogs, gossip about mutual acquaintances,YouTube workouts, our mothers and how we’re turning into them, buying tea in bulk, reflections on a high school reunion that happened a year ago, pandemic dating updates, and my years-long quest to make one of them to start a YouTube channel and become a makeup influencer.

So, after months of joining the chorus of voices begging people to stop planning so many Zoom events (It’s not the same! It’s draining! Too much screen time!) I planned a virtual housewarming for one of my friends who just bought a house. Everyone is encouraged to make a charcuterie board, to create the feeling of a theme. There will be an activity. Just like in the early days of lockdown. No, virtual socializing is still not ideal. And when we have small talk and people ask me what I’ve been up to, the answer will still very likely be “Not a lot!”

It won’t be like regular times, but I’ve realized that’s okay. Because this isn’t a regular time and I want my friendships to survive until it is.

Writer & editor currently at @nytopinion. Before this: @jskstanford @voxdotcom, @theroot, @harvard_law, @howardu

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