Now is the time for making friends, not ditching them

Time for an obvious truth: The pandemic put friendships through the wringer. We were physically separated, forced to make the hard choices of who to include in our quarantine pods, and sometimes too exhausted to keep up the Zoom happy hours — leading some people (myself included) to wonder if they had any friends left at all.

Now that the worst of the crisis is hopefully behind us, many are reevaluating who they want to be, and who they want to surround themselves with, on the other side. …

Social distancing made meeting new people difficult — but not impossible

Last year, as social distancing made socializing virtually impossible, people got creative with how they kept in touch with others: Instagram dance parties, Zoom theater classes, apps designed for random connection. Although many digital tools simplified connecting with people we already knew, they also empowered some to forge new friendships, too. Better still, these online platforms helped bring virtual bonds into the IRL world. Despite the social challenges the pandemic wrought — no more friend-of-a-friend introductions at parties for a while — people did manage to make new friends. Here’s how seven people say they did it.

Interviews have been…

The restorative power of coming back to small, silly pre-pandemic rituals

During the summer of 2016, I covered nine music festivals. Beyond being a completely exhausting summer for my eardrums, my feet also took a beating. As a person who prefers to wear Birkenstocks over any other type of shoe, including to music festivals, my feet had acquired a lovely coating of dirt and grime by the end of the day.

That summer, I engaged in a silly little practice I like to call my evening foot washes. Rather than take a full shower — which would’ve solved the dirty feet problem and then some — I’d climb into bed with…

People will continue to judge based on assumptions and notions of high-risk behavior

In the background of a global health crisis has been a pandemic of shaming. Your neighbors had a party at the height of the winter surge. College friends posted pictures from their winter ski getaway. A distant cousin had a maskless indoor wedding. The context of the pandemic turned shaming into a competitive, and public, sport.

At the height of the pandemic, this stringent policing of others was logical, or at least understandable: When there’s a threat of disease, people tend to be more morally vigilant, according to a 2017 study. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from last…

Humans need a balanced social diet of a few meaningful conversations and many casual interactions

Balance is a celebrated, yet elusive, concept. In work, relationships, hobbies, and even what we choose to put into our bodies, we strive to strike the right proportion of give and take that leaves us feeling fulfilled and not overextended. The idea of balance also applies to social interactions.

In 2019, Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas likened human social networks to nutrition. A healthy social diet, he found in a study, consists of both a variety of interactions — from close friends and family to acquaintances — and time spent alone. People tend…

As restrictions ease and stimulation returns, your capacity will bounce back

Early last summer, after stringent shutdown orders were lifted and, cautiously, friends began gathering in outdoor environs, the act of stringing a coherent sentence together was a personal struggle. The verbal equivalent of sea legs, my words felt wobbly and clumsy, and in group settings, I found it easier to observe in silence than contribute in any meaningful way.

Beyond conversation skills, social isolation also dulled many of my other cognitive capacities. My memory wasn’t so hot and conjuring creative or critical thoughts was nearly impossible — which isn’t great when your job requires you to have critical and/or creative…

Take this time to figure out who you are and what you want — then prioritize

For the first time in over a year, I have resumed what some would call a social life. Over the course of a week, I attended Easter meals with vaccinated loved ones, an outdoor coworking session, impromptu happy hours, a hair appointment. By Friday, I was tapped out. I’d had more face-to-face conversations in the span of a few days than I’d had for months. Seeing new and familiar faces — and engaging in novel conversation — was a welcome development, but there came a point, after a couple of margaritas and “What vaccine did you get?” …

We confide in strangers more often than we realize

Over the past 13 months, “How are you?” has felt more and more like a ridiculous question — and yet I’ve asked it more times than I can count, to virtually everyone I’ve seen. It’s a socially conditioned reflex; even when we know the answer is “Not well, bitch,” we can’t help but ask.

And just as deeply ingrained is the meaningless reply: “Fine” or “Okay, given the circumstances” or “Hanging in there!” I have said some form of this answer while decidedly not hanging in there. I’ve heard it from people I knew for a fact were not fine.

Ease yourself back into social life with low-stakes conversations

The prevailing fear, I’ve noticed, among people about to re-enter a post-pandemic society is their diminished capacity to socialize. After a year spent interacting with only a limited pool of connections, it can feel nerve-wracking and intimidating to suddenly have options when it comes to people to talk to. Out of practice, we’re bumbling through what was once a normal aspect of life, hoping the words we’ve managed to string together are somewhat coherent.

Conversation is, at its core, a series of confessions: One person shares an experience, a story, a predicament, and the other reacts with their opinion, insight…

Our circles have shrunk but not permanently

There hasn’t been a single friend who I didn’t think was mad at me at some point over the last year.

I’m not usually like this. Typically, an unreturned text or an ignored Instagram DM would spark mild annoyance. Maybe a little bit of hurt. But not this level of profound paranoia — reply or no reply, I knew I’d still see the person again. In the time of our great social distancing experiment, though, I’ve interpreted any silence to mean the end of our friendship once and for all.

Of course, this wasn’t the case. But given the option…

Allie Volpe

Writes about lifestyle, trends, and pop psychology for The Atlantic, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Washington Post, and more.

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