Unlock Diaries: Rediscovering friendship during the pandemic by Srishti Chaudhary
I have always believed adult friendship is a scam. As children, we befriend those around us easily and unconditionally; as adults, our decisions are calculated and purposeful and are usually to do with advancing a career or with social standing. While, as kids, our boundaries are set by parents and family, as adults, we set our own boundaries, making measurements on how much we’d like to invest in a person versus what they offer us in return. The pandemic made me rethink these ideas.
Some time ago, a colleague-friend said she viewed friendship as the truest, most selfless relationship in life. Her words prompted me to look back at my own friendships. I fully believe in the concept of friendship, and what it brings to life. Maybe I read too much Harry Potter as a child, and watched one too many episodes of Shaka Laka Boom Boom, but friendship to me meant living every adventure together. Friends should be willing to live and die for you. When I asked my friend Elena, who was visiting me from Greece, if she would marry a friend just because he needed a passport to Europe, her answer was an unequivocal “Yes”. Friends should be willing to go any lengths to be there for you.
As an adult, I realised that doesn’t really happen. I tied friendship bands and made promises of forever, but bonds don’t last: cities change, priorities shift, and more often than people admit, partners get in the way. With this solemn understanding, I made peace with the fact that maybe friendship wasn’t to be one of my blessings. I believed it not with resignation but with pragmatic acceptance: you can’t have everything, and I had much else.
I have a supportive family, and romantically, I’ve been loved and respected in a way that can be enviable. I never had the existential crisis that makes me question my purpose in life as I always had a certain level of professional clarity. On top of that, I am unbearably optimistic. I can talk to anyone as long as they are not deathly boring. I’ve met several people just once in life and kept up contact for years. I love company and thrive on conversations. Despite misgivings, a lot of my friendships are more than a decade old, and I’m still in my twenties. So if true and selfless friendship wasn’t fated for me, so be it.
But I saw something different about friendship in the pandemic, a nuance that doesn’t reveal itself too often in the humdrum of daily life and the swarm of people around us. I started to see truth in the selflessness of friendship my colleague was talking about -- or rather began acknowledging the experience of it, as I already believed it to be true. Just as everyone else, I found myself checking up on friends. This urge to reach out to friends while in lockdown has been natural for everyone, but in the absence of commitments that normal life demands, it was experienced more truly. I found myself worried and concerned about them, especially those who live alone. I offered them all the time I had to chat, no matter what stuff I had to do, and they did the same.
It helped that there was a unity of feeling across the world: the pandemic and the lockdowns may have been enacted differently but the consequences were similarly felt. For the first time, when I called and asked the other person how they were doing, I heard the answer to exactly that: how they were doing, and not the chatterings of a busy life. We tried to make sense of the collapsing world around us, delving deep to articulate how we felt. When people are stripped of their decorations, the materiality that is present so strongly around us, there is nothing left but your humanity to offer. And this humanity asks friendship to simply listen, and share; without the drama of it all. No catch-ups over coffee, no Sunday brunches, and no pictures to commemorate meetings: just naked conversation.
So as we unlock and go back out into the world, I will remember how isolation drove us closer. When we stay two metres apart and are unable to kiss and hug those who we love, I will remember how friends can be there for you without being there. And while they may not be able to cross certain boundaries for you, I’ll remember that fleeting moments of care and warmth are the greatest adventures of life, memories that stand out as spots of love in a tragic world.
Something has changed. Maybe adult friendship is not as big a scam as I originally thought.
Srishti Chaudhary’s second novel, Lallan Sweets, will be out in July 2020.