Missing casual friends during COVID

Mt. San Jacinto Palm Springs

The view from my morning walks in Palm Springs.

Talking to my daughter yesterday, over the phone, I told her I was feeling lonely. I had one of those moments she told me was FOMO. I looked at an Instagram pic of my friends in Palm Springs going on a mountain bike ride. I wanted to be there with them. I decided a few days ago that I’m going to get a bike and try out the trails across the street. So, I felt a little pang, wishing that I could be there riding with friends.

(FOMO, my daughter told me, is the fear of missing out — for other boomers like me who don’t have a clue.)

I told her that my life isn’t that much different here. My life is still pretty much the same. I’m isolated, sheltering with my husband, and we aren’t out socializing or doing much except for daily walks and hikes — alone. Just like back in our old home.

“Yes, but you had your people,” she explained. “You stopped and talked to your friend Shawn at the park with his Irish Setter pups and you saw your Masters swimming friends.”

I told her that the people are friendly here, too. And we share smiles and friendly words daily on my walks. But, she’s right. It isn’t the same. I don’t know them like I knew my favorite checker at Ralph’s grocery store. We shared stories about how our adult kids were doing. Nor, do I stop and talk to anyone on my walks like I did with Shawn about politics or talk dogs and kids with the lady with the show Pekes. I don’t have the shared experience with anyone here like my swim Masters friends, where we’ve entered meets together, practiced in the rain and swim for Angel View Crippled Children’s Homes to raise money every New Year’s Eve.

I read several stories recently that talk about COVID sheltering in place and how we’re losing contact with our casual friends. Here’s an excerpt from The Atlantic by Amanda Mull that tackles this in The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship; There’s a reason you miss the people you didn’t even know that well:

In the weeks following, I thought frequently of other people I had missed without fully realizing it. Pretty good friends with whom I had mostly done things that were no longer possible, such as trying new restaurants together. Co-workers I didn’t know well but chatted with in the communal kitchen. Workers at the local coffee or sandwich shops who could no longer dawdle to chat. The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but these people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was also no substitute for them during the pandemic. Tools like Zoom and FaceTime, useful for maintaining closer relationships, couldn’t re-create the ease of social serendipity, or bring back the activities that bound us together.

Understandably, much of the energy directed toward the problems of pandemic social life has been spent on keeping people tied to their families and closest friends. These other relationships have withered largely unremarked on after the places that hosted them closed. The pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health. But that does present an opportunity. In the coming months, as we begin to add people back into our lives, we’ll now know what it’s like to be without them.

It’s partly the pandemic that has cut us off from our normal activities and life. For me, it’s also moving to a new state and starting over. Thank God for my iphone. I’m talking daily to my dad and good friends. But I miss those casual friends, too.

diving off the blocks

That’s me diving off the blocks in my first swim meet where I’m surrounded my swim friends, officials and coaches.

How have you noticed a change in your casual friendships going on month 11 of our new normal?