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It can be difficult, however, to hear a friend criticize your life choices during an already high-stress time. People may become defensive. And because of the high stakes of this moment of history, the rifts created now may not be so easily mended. Joey Amaya, 22, watched in mild disbelief a few weeks ago as a friend of his texted a group chat of about 10 people to invite everyone to play soccer. On the group thread, Amaya reminded his friend of the risks; he mentioned his grandmother, and dropped a recent statistic about the nationwide death toll from COVID Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship researcher based in Montreal, has heard many similar stories from her clients lately.
Read: Two errors our minds make when trying to grasp the pandemic.
Instead of enjoying the end of her senior year, Stanley is staying home and watching her friend group unravel from afar. In her group of eight close girlfriends, Stanley told me, only she and one other friend have been practicing social distancing.
Stanley, whose dad and stepmom work for what have been deemed essential businesses, was horrified when she found out. Before the pandemic, Stanley said, these were the girls she did Secret Santa with at Christmastime. In normal times, a rift like the one Stanley described might be easy to repair. The knowledge that your time together might be ending is a powerful incentive to move past disagreements.
To some extent, that can also happen in friendships. Of course, no disagreement over social distancing is just about following rules. So has Rick, 42, who recently found himself wondering whether he and a classmate from college had reached the end of their friendship. Rick and his friend, he told me, have known for a long time that they occupy different spots on the ideological spectrum; Rick tends to lean progressive, while his friend has a libertarian bent. In the past, despite the occasional flare-up over politics, they still managed to connect over pop culture and college memories.
But in late March, Rick saw that his friend had said in a Facebook post that social distancing should be a matter of individual choice rather than a mandatory measure. Rick responded, and several tense exchanges ensued. If you flout these social-distancing protocols, you are endangering exponentially increasing s of people. But ignoring public-health guidance can be especially disruptive to friendships, she explained.
So when friends are at odds over social distancing, Kirmayer recommends preserving those friendships when possible, and using empathy rather than shaming to resolve the conflict.
Perhaps that means acknowledging circumstances that make coping with the pandemic harder, such as a friend who lives alone, or is single, or has lost income, or has a less-than-desirable home situation. Perhaps the best way to bolster a friendship that has become tense, though, is to actively help the friend in question with whatever it is that makes social distancing so hard for them. Can I support you in this in any way? But we can try to metaphorically meet our friends where they are.
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Why You Can’t “Just Be Friends” with Someone You Love