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How Our Friendships Changed in 2020

We asked you to describe how your relationships changed this year. Here's what you had to say.

By Madeleine Kim

About a month ago, I did something daring: I got drinks with an old friend who I hadn’t seen since before the start of the pandemic (to be clear, we saw each other safely, outdoors, with masks, and only after two weeks of strict social distancing). We’d been texting regularly and even had a few Zoom dinners, but when I saw my friend walk around the corner and heard her voice, I felt like I was going to tear up. I was excited to hang out with her, of course, but I didn’t anticipate how emotional I’d get just from being in her physical presence.

The only thing I can compare this feeling to is those times when you’ve had a bad day, or even a bad week, and you tell yourself you’re fine—but then you start talking to your mom on the phone, and the moment she asks you how you’re doing, you burst into tears. Being around people I trust completely has a clarifying effect on my emotions, and in that moment, I realized that during this painful year, my closest friendships had become my lifelines.

I’m not alone in this. Last week, we asked our Instagram followers of all ages to describe their 2020 friendships in three words, and at least 57 of the free-response text replies included some version of “necessary,” “essential,” “life-giving,” or “crucial” (“weighted blanket” also came up twice). If you’re one of those 57 people, I think you’re onto something: human connection is a crucial part of maintaining your mental health, and as rates of anxiety and depression skyrocket, developing and maintaining friendships is one key way we can all care for ourselves and others.

We also asked if your friendships had improved this year, and 64% of respondents said they had. Isn’t that kind of amazing? In the same year that “social distancing” became part of our collective vocabulary, a majority of people (who follow us on Instagram, at least) actually became closer with their loved ones. On top of that, 62% of respondents answered that they talk to their friends more during a typical workday than they did before the pandemic, and 69% said that they value friendships over romantic relationships.

“I’ve ended up with more honest and genuine friendships, because I have time to reflect on my relationships.”

“I’ve been much more conscious about calling my friends,” explained one respondent. “[We] simply spend more time talking with no topic off-limits—relationships, life, love, politics, racism, religion, pop culture.” Another respondent mentioned that social distancing has, perhaps ironically, helped her get closer with many of her friends: “In the ‘alone together’ world we currently live in, I have cultivated meaningful friendships with folks who live both far and near that I get to see more frequently than I normally would [via Zoom or FaceTime]. I’ve ended up with more honest and genuine friendships, because I have time to reflect on my relationships and prioritize the people who are generous with their time, share valuable stories, and are willing to build lasting bonds.”

M.M.’s Production Manager, Hannah, has had a similar experience. “This time apart has weirdly made my high school friend group closer,” she says. “When quarantine started, my friend was pregnant with her first child, and the Zooms started when we had a virtual baby shower. Then we started a group chat, and now, we talk every day. Reminiscing about the old days and talking each other through hard times has been such a blessing. We rely on each other now, whether it’s about outfits, men, babies, families, or Covid itself.”

For some friendships, however, the pandemic has cast differences in stark relief. “I’m a doctor, and I’ve been treating Covid patients in the hospital for the past eight months,” said one Instagram respondent. “I now find it very difficult to connect with friends who are not in medicine, [because] our worlds have become so different. I’ve seen my patients die of Covid; I’ve lost a colleague tragically to Covid; in the early days, I cried at night worrying about infecting my family, or worried I would die and leave my young kids without a mother. And so I find it very hard to connect with my other mom friends who have been home and not subjected to the toll of the virus.”

For better or worse, this year has also allowed some people to more clearly see the things—and people—that truly matter to them. “Some [of my friendships] have grown much, much closer,” said one respondent. “Others withered away when it took more effort to stay connected. Saddest of all were the friendships that came undone when we were all forced to truly look at our biases, beliefs, and core values. Politics mainly played a role. It really brought everyone’s true colors out, and, sadly, that has meant the ending of relationships.” This sentiment was shared by many of the women who replied to our Instagram story. As one respondent summed up: “The important friendships got better. The weaker links got weaker.”

“I can say with absolute assurance that there are millions of wonderful people out there looking for friendship.”

Friendships can be complicated—but they can also be nourishing, empowering, joyful, and, in many cases, necessary. So if you’re not satisfied with your friendships right now, it’s worth putting some effort into changing that. Luckily, according to The Woolfer Community founder, Nina Lorez Collins, your people are out there, and it’s just a matter of finding them. “Having founded and run an online community for women over 40 since 2015, I can say with absolute assurance that there are millions of wonderful people out there looking for friendship,” she says. “So many women come to our site and post about feeling isolated, and within days, they are following each other, laughing over the same jokes, and making new friends in virtual gatherings to talk about things like sex and gardening, books and politics, poetry and travel. The challenge, similar to when dating online, is in being open, facing whatever fears you might have about reaching out, and understanding what you’re looking for.”

Online communities like The Woolfer can provide an excellent source of connection and new friendships—especially during a pandemic, when making new friends in person is off the table. In fact, earlier this year, M.M. launched our very own community Slack workspace. Over the past nine months, what started out as a space to share clothing reviews and outfit photos turned into an uplifting, supportive community of women who are getting through this tough year together. “I am thankful for this generous little community,” said one member. “Smart, talented, accomplished. Dang impressive. But what has been a balm to my heart in a year that was tough for so many reasons has been the generosity: unstinting support, thoughtfully worded feedback, virtual laughter.”

I can’t say what 2021 will bring (a vaccine, please?), but I know that as long as my friends are in my corner, it will be okay.

Madeleine Kim

Written By

Madeleine Kim

Madeleine Kim is a Brand Manager at M.M.LaFleur, where she started out as a stylist. She loves developing styling-focused content and creating newsletters that bring the M.M. community together.

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