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Keeping the “Social” in Social Distancing

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    Since the beginning of the pandemic, the term “social distancing” has been used by public health experts to describe the physical separation that is necessary for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, many friends have had to endure an additional emotional distancing, eliminating quality time together due to the cautionary restriction. 

     As social creatures, human beings are biologically designed to forge and foster quality relationships — both platonic and romantic — for the sake of our mental well-being. According to the National Library of Medicine, the conclusion of 148 studies indicated, on average, a “50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships.” The results showed that having social relationships has as much impact over our physical well-being as the choice to smoke or drink or not.  

     Within Maine West, the social effects of the pandemic are astounding. In a Westerner poll, 78% of the 175 respondents said that quarantine has significantly impacted their relationships. 

     For some people, which friendships have survived a pandemic don’t surprise them, because they knew the strength in their bonds all along. But for others, the friendships that were left behind in the early days of the lockdown have forced them to reevaluate the people they dedicate their time and energy to. Friendships have succumbed to a lot of stresses, as people have had to turn their attention to helping their families more or being worried about the health of their parents. The question is how to reconnect.  

     I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a strengthening of my friendships rather than a loss, as our values and love for one another are affirmed through every interaction. Wearing a mask around my friends has been a way to show them that I cherish their health and wellbeing. I’m forever grateful to have friends who share that same sentiment, treasuring our wellness over a night of carelessness.

     I’m thankful for these friendships that have been strengthened by the hours upon hours of Facetime calls, playlist exchanges, and socially-distanced get-togethers. Without hanging out in my friends’ houses or being together unmasked, we were able to find new ways to make memories – from our weekly shaved ice evenings at the park across from My Flavor It in Palatine, to spontaneous drives spent singing along to Hozier, every ounce of joy and off-tune lyric carrying effortlessly through our masks. 

     Through the chaos of 2020, my best friend and I have gotten closer than we’ve ever been. We’ve had our deepest, most soulful conversations masked-up and out for a drive, or on the phone into the latest hours of the night. Some days, homework over FaceTime turns into talking until 2 a.m. about college, road trips we’d love to take, our imagined future families, and how we will never get over the masterpiece that is Holocene by Bon Iver. 

     When I think back to my pre-COVID life, I miss the small, simple moments the most – going for unmasked runs on the bustling Evanston beachfront, high-fiving after Co-Rec softball games, sharing our best attempts at Thanksgiving sides on Friendsgiving, and the harmony of thousands of voices at a concert. In a future where these activities are possible once again, I know that these lessons learned about friendship will stick with me forever.

     There has been something so reassuring about knowing that my closest relationships have survived a pandemic. As I prepare for college in the coming months, the pandemic’s lockdown has given me the comfort of knowing that these friendships can survive distance — whether it be six-feet or the hundreds of miles to come. 

 

Written by Lili Vaughan
Illustration by Kira Palmer

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