You've got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We've got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles, in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.
Dear Is This Normal?,
It's no secret that the pandemic has changed our lives. But now, with vaccines available and everything starting to open back up, I've spent a long time wondering what my "new life" should look like, especially when it comes to friendships.
Is it normal that when I look around at my life today, I notice that I talk less to my friends and I'm actually really happy? Part of me feels guilty that I don't want to pick up life right where I left it, running from one activity to the next and feeling exhausted trying to keep up with all of my friends.
Party of One
Hi, Party of One,
Six months before the pandemic hit, I married my best friend. One month before the lockdown started, my new husband and I bought a house together. Why am I telling you this? Because we had exactly zero months to figure out our new routines and friendships in this new life that we were building together.
So much changed so quickly in the world and in my life that it was hard to know who or what was to "blame" for talking less to friends.
We both spent our twenties collecting friends like rare trading cards, running from work happy hours to band practices to yoga classes, and everywhere in between. When we got married in our early thirties, I knew that life was changing and we would adjust our friendships and schedules, but I wasn't quite expecting the world to shut down while we were just starting to figure it out.
On top of that, I have chronic health concerns that have put me in the "high risk" category. Our life in our new home as newlyweds quickly grew very quiet, as we had to make hard decisions about staying away from friends and family for the year to keep me safe.
Not only did we get married at the perfect time because of pulling off our dream wedding at a winery in "normal times," but we also have the visual representation of who is included in our seating chart of closest family and friends. We dwindled the wedding guest list down to roughly 100 people, which honestly was painful. What about that old coworker from three jobs ago? How about that friend from college who I haven't talked to in years and my fiancé had never met? Deciding on who to include in our wedding celebrations was the hardest part of the wedding planning process for me.
But something happened that I wasn't expecting: When the pandemic hit, I found that I stayed in contact with the women who had just stood by my side and the friends who danced the night away with us under the stars. Those are the friends who we scheduled Zoom dates with and chatted with on daily group texts.
Party of One, I don't think we're made to live life alone-but that doesn't mean life has to feel like a blow-out party where there's nowhere for you to stand and you can't even hear yourself think.
My guess is that you do have friends in your life still today, but you're feeling less pressure to keep up with every friend and acquaintance who you have met along the way. And that's more than okay. I've found power in having fewer, deeper friendships, instead of accumulating surface-level friends who pull me here and there all the time to deplete all of my introverted-energy supply.
According to Sarah Croushler, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) and board-certified dance movement therapist (BC-DMT), "The pandemic impacted friendships in ways that vary from person to person. If you feel happy that you're talking to your friends less, maybe you're more of an introvert than you realized-maybe you get more of your energy from self-reflection time or from less stimulation. A lot of people are realizing that their life pre-pandemic was go, go, go, and the opportunity to slow down and realign their values and priorities was welcomed."
In their book Big Friendship, authors and hosts of the popular podcast Call Your Girlfriend, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, studied communications professor Emily Langan's approach to the attachment theory in her dissertation on best friendships and how the theory might apply to close friendships. Attachment theory is generally used to describe how children bond with their parents. Langan found that close friendships have similar characteristics to stable families, including a desire to see a lot of each other, provide a secure base for each other, and offer each other safe harbor.
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"We didn't know a thing about attachment theory back when we met," shared Sow and Friedman, "but Langan's dissertation could have been written about us. We were obviously seeing a lot of each other and were up-to-date on each other's lives. But it's the 'secure base' aspect of Langan's theory that rings especially true."
For me, this book and the examination of their "big friendship" helped me realize that the depth of this friendship that mirrors the bond of family (but instead, family who you choose) is something unique that can't be shared with every single one of your acquaintances. That would be overwhelming, and, well, impossible. Who is your "secure base" friend who encourages you to explore life while you always know your friend is still there for you?
Party of One, you mentioned that you're examining what your "new life" should look like in terms of friendships as life is starting to change. Here's some good news from Julie Berla, M.Ed., a school counselor working with teens through these same adult struggles: "If you find yourself with fewer but closer friends, you're not alone. As the world starts opening back up, and you find yourself in-person socially with others, create space to prioritize those friends with whom you find a deeper connection. Remember that friendships grow and slow down and all of us find ourselves at different stages and ages in our lives. It's okay to be in a different stage than you were last year when the world we knew changed so significantly."
So, Party of One, I think you're onto something with feeling happy about your friendships today. Here's what Croushler says about how you can spend some time in reflection about what you're feeling: "If feeling happy is a genuine feeling, then you're probably on the right path for yourself. Where do you get satisfaction? Comfort? Enjoyment? Make sure those pieces are answered and nurtured for you as a person."
Croushler also suggests that you should consider if you're talking less to friends intentionally and with compassion for yourself and others versus using it as an opportunity to run away and not deal with something difficult. Party of One, spend time in reflection to be clear with yourself about why you are talking less to friends-and when you do, an answer may appear before you.
I have friends and family members who are busy planning their rescheduled weddings after save the dates turned into change the dates. Some of them have said that they wish they could change their guest lists that they created several years ago because so many of their friendships have shifted during the pandemic. That makes total sense.
We've all spent the last year reevaluating what actually matters to us in life. For some people, the coronavirus hit closer to home when they struggled with serious illness themselves or suffered the loss of a loved one. All of this makes us take a long, hard look at our lives to consider our goals and how we want to use our precious time.
Party of One, guess what? You get to decide what your days look like and who to include in your circle of friends. You get to write the guest list to your daily life party-no matter how big or small.