The other day I was scrolling Facebook and saw a message that read, If you are someone who would call the police to report lack of social distancing, then our friendship is over.
It’s obvious our beliefs about how to deal with COVID-19 — the social distancing, what is deemed essential, and if you should be forced to wear a mask or not — are dividing us. All it takes to confirm this is a quick trip to social media town.
But while you can block or unfriend or straight-up ignore people online, what do you do when you have a close friend — whether it’s someone you’ve known almost your whole life, or a person you met last year and you just clicked — with a vastly different viewpoint on how to deal with this pandemic?
You can be tight and know everything about the other person. And hell, maybe you’ve disagreed in the past about things like your views on homeschooling, politics, and what you consider micro-cheating — and have agreed to disagree and taken your fine asses to brunch and had a great time.
But this? This feels so personal — because no matter what side your beliefs fall on right now, you feel threatened. Some feel that their health, or that of their loved ones, is being threatened because people aren’t taking social distancing seriously. They are frustrated as hell because they want to feel safe and want this nightmare to be over. Others feel like their personal freedoms are being threatened and this whole thing is a conspiracy theory, so they are protesting, refusing to wear masks, and are still holding large gatherings.
And in light of that, I’ve come to believe you don’t really know someone until you’ve survived a global pandemic together.
I have a close friend who is breaking my heart right now. She keeps talking about how things aren’t really that bad, everyone is worrying unnecessarily and the doctors are handling this all wrong, because “what’s really killing all these COVID-19 patients are the ventilators they’re being put on.”
Mind you, my friend lives in Los Angeles.
To say our friendship is suffering is an understatement. Instead of wanting to talk to check in on each other, she is hell-bent on changing my mind, despite the fact I’ve told her my main goal is to keep my family safe and make sure I am able to bring in money to feed them. Instead of bringing me joy, her messages make me feel anxious and angry.
I’ve let her know I can only handle getting about a half hour of the facts a day, and that’s all my anxiety will allow in order for this pandemic to not cloud my days.
She’s always been respectful when I’ve opened up to her in the past. She’s always been understanding and asked me what I’ve needed. I’m not trying to point the blame at her for the strained relationship, but I am saying COVID-19 is destroying more than our economy. It’s going to take some relationships down with it.
Scary Mommy consulted Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a registered psychologist and play therapist, who gave us some helpful tips about how to navigate our friendships during this uneasy time.
First, recognize that our beliefs drive our behavior, and the decision to stay socially distant – especially from our loved ones – is difficult for everyone, as it’s “counterintuitive to anything we’ve done before. Usually as summer approaches, we’re more apt to get together with friends and be more social, but this year may be different,” Ziegler said via email.
Most of the people I’ve talked to are starting to feel the effects of social distancing now — they are antsy, and a bit lonely. We are all trying to figure out the right time to let go of social distancing rules bit by bit. Ziegler explains, “As humans, we’re likely to take guidance and advice from our own trusted sources, so when friends are doing something different just know they likely feel validated from their source, and arguing over who is right is not worth it.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stick to your gut feeling if you aren’t ready to go see friends or family simply because someone else is doing it. Just save your energy and don’t fight them if they want to do it, because, as Ziegler says, you aren’t going to change their mind by doing so.
Ziegler says to be mindful that for the next several weeks there are going to be more people out and about and people are likely to start letting their guard down. We need to be prepared to have tough conversations with our family members and friends about what we are comfortable with.
It might be hard to say, but you aren’t in the wrong for letting someone know you won’t be going to their gathering, or you will only be comfortable seeing them if they let you know how many other people they’ve been seeing, or where they’ve been in the last two weeks, and you are okay with their answer.
When stressed, don’t text, advises Ziegler. “Texting can be impersonal and when we are under stress, we tend to miss the nuances of messages and can fall victim to misinterpretation. If you find that you are texting a friend about something like making plans and you are upset with their decision, pick up the phone and call them,” she says.
Another helpful tip is to understand your own feelings. By getting in touch with your emotional state before having a conversation with friends, you can better understand what your triggers may be and steer the conversation away from those things. It also may help you stay calm if disagreements arise.
We need compassion more than ever right now. “Empathy and compassion generally work better than arguing or blaming someone for their views,” says Ziegler, adding that we’re all on heightened alert and our body’s defensive mechanisms are ready to attack anyone who disagrees with us.
A big question swirling around in many minds right now is, Do we have to say goodbye to friends who aren’t on the same page we are when it comes to dealing with COVID-19?
Ziegler says you don’t — unless you want to, of course. There are ways to talk to friends or family members that can minimize abrasive interactions. For example, you can say, “Call me for the next gathering. I’m going to think about it and see if I’m comfortable with relaxing our position on social distancing then. Today, I think we will stay home, but thank you for the invitation.”
If they are defensive or try to change your mind, Ziegler suggests saying something like, “‘I’m just as concerned about protecting you and your family as I am mine, and wouldn’t want anyone to be exposed.” This puts the responsibility onto you and not them, and will (hopefully) get your point across and they won’t be as compelled to argue.
Remember, we only have control over how we respond and act to this. It’s a new world for everyone, and we get to determine who we see, when we see them, and set our own boundaries.
If we have friends who are trying to convince us we’re overreacting, or should be handling things differently, you can tell them you are doing what’s best for you and your family with the facts you have.
If that doesn’t ease the situation and you are both feeling stressed every time you communicate, it might be best to shelve the friendship and revisit it later, or let go of it altogether.
The last thing we need right now is another emotional battle to deal with.