How friendships have suffered during the pandemic

Hamburg.Keep your distance – this has been the order of the day since the beginning of 2020, since the coronavirus took hold of the airways and in life. Even with close friends, you kept at least two arm’s lengths away or did not meet in person at all. Instead, people toasted on screen tiles and shared joy and sorrow via video conferencing.

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Or did not see each other at all: In a representative survey conducted as part of the Yougov-Cambridge Globalism Project, nearly a third of respondents stated that their relationship with their friends had been less close since the corona pandemic. Strict contact restrictions no longer apply at the moment, but it is still not that easy to return to the old closeness to friends.

Researcher: “There is something paradoxical about the pandemic”

Friendship researcher Horst Heidbrink is not surprised. “There is something paradoxical about the pandemic,” says the psychologist who teaches at Fernuniversität Hagen. In emergencies, people usually got closer to each other. “But during the pandemic, we were told: if you want to do something good for your friends, you will not see them again,” Heidbrink explains.

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Above all, non-committal friendships and acquaintances would have suffered, contact with sports partners from, for example, the fitness center, with work colleagues with whom you regularly went for an espresso in the café on the corner before the pandemic, or with fellow players at Double head in the bar. “The pandemic has made it clear how important such sites are for social interaction,” says Heidbrink.

Pandemic crystallized true friendships

But sports clubs, gyms, restaurants and bars were closed for a long time. If you go there again now, you will not necessarily meet the same people as before the pandemic. Feeling you’re in good hands because you can be sure you meet familiar faces: This feeling needs to be reworked now – if your favorite places exist at all.

Maybe there have been new favorite places and maybe new friends for a long time. Not every friendship is worth preserving, some togetherness may just have been a habit – it may also have become apparent as a result of the pandemic. And it certainly opens up opportunities to reorganize the circle of friends.

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It’s hard to consciously end a friendship, to tell the other person that you do not appreciate spending so much time together anymore. It’s easier to gradually let a friendship run out by not seeing each other anymore.

Physical proximity has been considered dangerous since Corona

Making new acquaintances and reviving old friendships – it can be more difficult under the conditions of an endless pandemic because one significant factor is missing: the former everyday physical closeness, the welcome kiss on the cheek, the encouraging pat on the back, the friendly hug costs effort. “Interpersonal contact is suddenly seen as a risk to your own health and the health of others,” says Romy Simon. The sociologist is researching at the Technical University of Dresden in, among other things, social networks.

Proximity is a very crucial aspect of their cohesiveness. “When people touch each other, the so-called binding hormone oxytocin is released,” says sociologist Romy Simon. “It promotes trust and empathy between people.” This effect can not be replaced by digital on-screen contacts.

The vaccination debate has strained many friendships

Friendships may also have suffered due to differing views on the subject of contact restrictions and corona vaccination. That friends had different attitudes to different topics – “that was also the case before Corona,” says friendship researcher Heidbrink. “But if friendship was important to you, then you found a way and ignored these issues.” In the case of Corona, it was more difficult “because of the specific behavior”.

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Romy Simon sees the best chances of overcoming such breakups in long-lasting friendships “who have also experienced other breakups”. Anyone who has already successfully adjusted their relationship to each other is now in a better position to approach others and accept different positions.

Sociologist: “The effects will still be visible”

According to a study by the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion, nearly three-quarters of Germans have such friends for life, and such a bond lasts an average of 24 years. You often find each other at a young age, for example during your studies. Or when young parents find each other sympathetic during the first joint activities with their babies in the daycare or toddler group.

From pandemic to endemic – when is Corona finally over?

The corona virus has been raging around the world for almost two years. Only when enough people are basically immunized can the pandemic become endemic.

“It was hardly possible in the last two years. What impact it will have on social networks is still unknown,” says Simon, because the starting points for a friendship can not be picked up so easily.

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Contact opportunities through online university “irrevocably lost”

Especially for young people, friendships are “much more than a leisure activity,” says psychologist Horst Heidbrink: “They are important for personality development, for example because serious problems are overcome together. Last but not least, they also include the possibility of romantic relationships.”

But anyone who has spent four of the six semesters of his undergraduate degree in the old children’s room in his parents’ apartment in front of the screen in front of the online lecture, “so far, this opportunity is irrevocably lost”.

RND / dpa

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