What the Pandemic Has Taught Me About Friendship

“Friendship gives flavor to life.” — David Perell

Jonathan Adrian, MD
Mind Cafe

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Last year was tough on all of us.

I was bound to start my penultimate year as a medical student, finally stepping feet into the exciting trenches of the clinical scene and getting a feel of what I signed up for almost half a decade back. Instead, I saw the academic schedule halt indefinitely by mid-March, and by a matter of weeks, the impact of the pandemic came into full swing.

Medical training screeched to a standstill, and I was forced to retreat into physical isolation.

Life in isolation was very uninspiring. With the absence of social company and interesting things to do, my creativity bar was at an all-time low. I found looking for new things to write about an onerous task. Every article and every video seemed to be about the pandemic and I thought the world didn’t need another one. So I slumped.

But the brain does this unique thing when it thinks it’s not receiving enough stimulation. It stimulates itself. My mind began wandering to uncharted territory. Suddenly, I was revisiting old memories and reminiscing how nice it felt to share a conversation with a friend over coffee at my local Starbucks. I could viscerally put myself on one of their plush Lawsons, warm mug in one hand, surrounded by a sea of lively chatter as the world unfolded before our very eyes. Physical social interactions became a concept of luxury. It was unattainable.

It wasn’t long until I found myself entering a rabbit hole about friendships and what it meant to cultivate solid, lasting ones. At one point, I made it a habit to phone one friend each day. I told most of my beguiled friends that I was simply checking in on them to see how they were holding up, when in fact, it was one of the few things that kept me sane throughout my isolation. No matter what we tried though — voice call, video call, group call — it just didn’t feel as good as the real thing.

The Fruits of Friendship

Last week, as we were nearing the year’s end, I stumbled upon one of David Perell’s articles about the fruits of friendship.

After a full term of isolation, I had formulated my own ideas and philosophy about friendship, so I thought it would be nice to knock on a mentor’s door and see what they had to say about it.

“Friendship gives flavor to life. Rather than treating friendship as a nice-to-have luxury, reserved for people who have their lives in perfect order, we should cultivate friendship intentionally and treat it as the necessity it is. We need to be intentional in our pursuit of it, especially as we age.”

Perell was very terse and deliberate in his narration about friendships. He explains how America’s loneliness epidemic is fuelled by the structure of American life. As forging deep bonds take time, they struggle to keep up with the pace of modern life. I find his citations fascinating and refreshing, which reinstated my belief in the importance of investing in meaningful friendships.

“A good conversation exists at the outer edge of consciousness. Luckily, there are proven ways to spark transcendent dialogue. Laugh. Have fun. Don’t gossip. Find a quiet place. Then, shake things up and go somewhere else. By changing your environment, you change the energy of conversation, and when you switch up the energy and move to a new place, people blossom into a kaleidoscope of personalities.”

Unfortunately, a lot of the capital that is required to establish and preserve such relationships has been temporarily stripped away from our autonomy. And while it seems like an almost superfluous need, sanity is preserved in both social and physical relationships.

Towards the end of the year, we saw daily case counts drop and stabilize. The world has somehow managed to outmaneuver the virus for the time being, with round-the-clock aggressive supportive therapy always ready around the corner, and vaccines on the cusp of fruition. People started to leave the confines of their homes. They were finally allowed to gather in smaller groups and re-establish their social lives.

“I take extra care to prioritize extended time with friends. If you want a deep conversation, you need time. Instead of spending two or three hours with somebody, I prefer to spend two or three days with them. More, if possible.”

A fortnight ago, a friend from primary school came to visit. He was in town for the weekend to accompany his mother’s talk in a conference and was able to escape for a night, together with my girlfriend and I, to a nice beachside cabin.

I thought maybe the few hours we got to talk and spend time together was enough, but Perell’s prediction proved right. Especially after a topsy turvy year, I would’ve preferred the longer sojourn.

“Choose your friends carefully. You will rise and fall to the level of the company you keep. As a general rule, you should spend time with people who energize you, inspire you, and make you proud to call them a friend.”

I was born anew during this pandemic. I used to take friendships for granted. Being the naive twenty-something year old I was, I even saw it as an unproductive, inefficient distraction from our main task of achieving our goals. Meaningful friendship is now something I constantly and deeply long for. Cultivating it is a task I have decided to actively pursue and prioritize in my life. These days, I remind myself of this pursuit in my daily mantra, which I repeat while sipping on my morning coffee.

“A good conversation exists at the outer edge of consciousness. Luckily, there are proven ways to spark transcendent dialogue. Laugh. Have fun. Don’t gossip. Find a quiet place. Then, shake things up and go somewhere else. By changing your environment, you change the energy of conversation, and when you switch up the energy and move to a new place, people blossom into a kaleidoscope of personalities.” — David Perell

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Jonathan Adrian, MD
Mind Cafe

Doctor, writer, photographer, and part-time social media strategist.