How to make friends during a pandemic – and why it's still worth doing

The other day I sent out an agony aunt column to paying subscribers of this newsletter. It’s a little bonus email I decided to trial a few months ago that I really love doing. I have always wanted to write an agony aunt column ever since pouring over the ones in Sugar, Shout and J17 as a teenager (those are all British girls’ magazines popular in the 90s by the way!) The problem with doing it is I often think of more things I should have said after I have sent or I write far too much because I get so into it and have to cut it back to make it readable.

I had the latter problem on Monday. I got so into writing back to the reader who has shared her problem that I wrote way too much and did a big cull. But I really liked the points I made and thought they would be useful so I have decided to devote this newsletter to one of the topics brought up in the question a reader sent in (the reader raised several issues hence me writing a lot and this was just one of them!)

I think it’s probably something a lot of you may have worried about – and that is how to make new friends during the pandemic. Perhaps you have moved to a new area, or your existing friends are all busy attempting to both work and raise/home school children or simply that would want to expand your social circles.

For me, I have moved to my home town and already have friends here but I would love to make new ones to really feel like I’m putting roots down and also so I have more options to go for a coffee or a drink with someone if my friends with kids are unavailable. I also want to find people to go wild swimming with, for example, so it’s also about finding new friends to do shared hobbies with. Ordinarily I would throw myself into joining book clubs, attending classes and meeting friends of friends as a way to try and expand my social circle but I haven’t been able to do that during the pandemic and it’s been quite hard. I think it’s one of the reasons I struggled when I first moved into this house. I was living here but also didn’t feel like I was because I feel like I don’t know enough people. I just felt a bit out of it – especially as it was during the time where the Rule Of Six applied and what socialising could be done was a little awkward.

Anyway, even though I have been slower to try and find local people (Still working it!), I still managed to make quite a few friends over the course of this shit-show – and have have cemented friendships with people I had just met people before it all kicked off. And this has all happened over the internet. It’s been one of the silver linings for me. Thanks to the pandemic, I have joined more online communities either for work or for hobbies or for shared experiences and have found myself reaching out to people over Twitter and Instagram DMs more. I think the pandemic kind of gave us permission to do that; be more forward with people we want to befriend. Fledgling friendships that would otherwise be accelerated over drinks in pubs or through sharing an experience like a yoga class together have instead moved forward by a feeling of openness about sharing how we are really feeling in DMs, voice notes and even phone calls. I am so grateful for that - and to be honest it’s quite refreshing not to need alcohol to really get into the nitty gritty with some of these people who I now consider among my closest friends.

Anyway, for the agony aunt column I searched the web for ideas and found all of these fab articles with ideas for how to make friends during lockdown, and this is what I ended up having to cut out but I really hope it is helpful for some of you:

Get out your comfort zone

This is a great article about the author realising she has made a lot of friends during the pandemic after spending the first lockdown worrying about being a bad friend. It has lots of ideas for where to find them. She writes: “I didn’t set out to [make so many friends] so but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I’d taken several steps to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people with whom I'd be able to be open and honest. I took part in a positive psychology course which met every week; I joined a Twitter call for virtual support groups, as well as a Slack channel for freelancers. I sent slightly unhinged, enthusiastic emails and Instagram DMs to people I hadn't talked to before. I attended more industry calls, webinars and roundtable discussions than anyone should be allowed to. I started writing a weekly newsletter about radical joy and the small but incredibly supportive community I’ve built around it has proved to be a safe haven at a time when that’s what we miss the most.”

Don’t assume you won’t have worthwhile connections with people you have met online

In this article, the writer states his case for why he actually prefer to meet people online. I wanted to include this in case you were thinking you can’t possible connect in the same way. He writes: “I met my current (and will-be-lifelong) best friend – the one who is there for me night and day, no matter how grand or marginal the issue – through Twitter. It began as a professional affair, with me vying for experience at the publication he worked for via DMs, and over three years our relationship has blossomed into brotherhood – shaped through men, bad decisions and endless chats over social media and FaceTime calls … Whenever we talk, I’m transported to a place that allows us to spill our every thought, worry and dream to each other – a safe space that is erased as soon as we hang up the phone, as I am reminded that I’m in my own company and the person is far away. I think if we met offline, this safe space would actually be harder to achieve. It’s the idea that the person is disconnected from my reality and exists independently of my daily routine that allows for this intimacy.”

Reconnect with old friends

This is a paragraph from a great article about making new friends that was written by an awesome journalist I know called Coco Khan. It was written Before Covid so she talks about meeting for dinner but there are still some good ideas to try. “I also take to Facebook searching for something similar, but as I barely use the platform, it instead acts as a time capsule for a past version of me. I joined Facebook in 2006 and used it actively (pointless statuses, pokes, and all), but from 2011 my interaction with it slowed. Now I check in periodically, but barely engage. With a large proportion of Facebook friends being people I met more than 10 years ago, I am not sure I still have anything in common with many of them. But perhaps Facebook’s supposed aim – to keep us connected with people we might otherwise lose contact with – will come in handy. Jeffrey Hall, a researcher from the University of Kansas, found that you need 80-100 hours to become friends with someone, or 200 hours to become close friends. But what if you have already racked up those hours? This is why one of the easiest ways to make friends is to reconnect with old ones. And there are plenty of old friends on Facebook.”

Start your own group / community

When I moved to Bilbao, Spain I didn’t know anyone other than my boss and my colleague for about two weeks. It was hard because I had just come from South Korea where I had quickly made a large group of amazing friends of English teachers and Koreans who wants to hang out with English-speaking people. In Bilbao, I didn’t know how to find these people so along with various other things, I started my own Facebook group for other English teachers. In the beginning, it was me and my colleague but slowly it grew and by the time I left Spain, hundreds of people were in the group and I had organised meet ups and made friends through it. This article is about a more modern equivalent of starting a community as the author of it used Slack (and it was during the pandemic): “I invited a couple of people. They invited a couple more, some whom I didn’t know. A couple of those people invited a few more. And some two months later, this silly Slack channel is bustling and full of new friends. It’s become one of the most valuable communities I have during the pandemic — a little pocket of relief that I look forward to every day.”

I have also had a look on the internet for other ideas, here are a few links that might spark some inspiration:

As mentioned above, I would like to find some more local friends and I thought it might be useful to share what I am doing about this as I know some of you have moved to new areas during the pandemic. Firstly I have joined my neighbourhood Facebook group and there is one woman on there who I have now got chatting to over Facebook messenger. It is very early days but she seems awesome. Secondly I have joined local wild swimming groups that I can hopefully meet up with after lockdown is over so I can try and make some local swimming buddies. There isn’t actually one for my hometown so I am considering starting my own group. I have also begun following more local people on Instagram and have been liking and commenting on their pictures and a few of them I have spoken to on Insta DM. Even if these never go anywhere, it might be nice to have someone else to smile to as I go about my business!

Hope this has inspired you! Don’t forget there is a very supportive and chatty Facebook group attached to this newsletter so feel free to join. Some people have actually made friends and even met people in real life (when it was OK to) after meeting through it!

Have a good week and stay safe!

Nicola

Twitter: @Nicola_Slawson | Instagram: @Nicola_Slawson

What caught my attention

The Truth About Dating Across The Class Divide

This is the kind of annoyingly good article about a topic I really care about that I really wish I had thought to pitch myself so bravo to the writer! It’s written off the back of some of the storylines in Bridgerton (have you watched it yet?!) and it raises some interesting issues. My first two boyfriends were from very similar backgrounds to me but my third one definitely had a more high brow upbringing and his ex had been from a really wealthy one so I always felt inferior (more my own issues than anything else). The writer of this spoke to a dating and relationship expert who said that even though cross-class couples may have much else in common, sometimes, this isn’t enough. “These couples might find friends and family have different expectations of them socially, academically, economically, and professionally, as individuals and as a couple,” she explains. “If couples don’t have open channels of communication, resentment may set in and there’s really not very many ways you can navigate your way back from that feeling.”

When Covid hit, I started walking 20,000 steps a day. It's changed my life

This isn’t about relationships or being single but it is about a solo activity and it’s one I wanted to share as it really chimes with me. Those who follow me on Instagram will know that I go for a walk every day come rain or shine. The author of this sums of the benefits: “It felt good to move my body. And accomplishing something gave me a jolt of mood-lifting dopamine. In the middle of an achingly difficult year, here was a simple task I could complete – something good for me. Every morning after I woke, and every evening before bed, rain or shine I headed to the park and put one foot in front of the other … Not surprisingly, walking day in and day out has had positive, if subtle, effects on my body. I’ve grown sturdier. My leg muscles are a little bigger and harder, and I feel generally stronger and more resilient. It’s also had a positive effect on my mind. I feel sharper, more alert. My morning walks get me charged up for the day, and my sunset walk gives me a boost going into the evening, where before, I would just lie about, wondering why I was so tired.”

Before I lived alone I thought I was an introvert. Now I realise I was simply exhausted

This is a brilliant piece of writing about the author’s decision to move into a flat by herself and what she has since realised about herself. I relate to a lot of it but especially this section: “Now I realise that I’m not particularly introverted; I was simply exhausted. My 2019 diary contains just eight blank pages (by contrast, my 2020 diary is a sea of ecru). Being busy 16 hours a day, seven days a week, makes grabbed-at moments of respite seem like a lifeline, but there is a difference between the urgent need for sleep and actual human flourishing. For the latter, I need people: for energy, for feedback, for validation, to feel real. I now understand a little better why the First World War was followed by the Roaring Twenties; I can honestly say, for the first time in my life, that I long to go to a club and to feel strangers’ sweaty limbs against my own. I enjoy time alone only as a counterbalance to fierce, frenetic companionship.” This, this, 100% this! Thank you Pippa Bailey.

About me

For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you would like to support what I do, please consider subscribing to be a paid supporter of The Single Supplement. If you would prefer to make a one-off contribution, you can also buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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