The Different Shades of Pandemic Friendships
One year and a series of changing quarantine restrictions later, we are still deprived of tight hugs from friends, coffee and movie dates with the barkada, and out-of-town trips with our colleagues.
As we celebrated International Day of Friendship on July 30, we recognize not just the bonds we’ve formed before the pandemic but also the new relationships we’ve created in front of our screens; not just the friends we met physically but also those we befriended online. We commemorate the bond and relationships we’ve nurtured despite all the ills happening in our world today.
The sudden announcement of pandemic lockdown turned out to be good news for most students, especially for Engineering major Jeammie Villanueva. Drained from academic workload, she saw the lockdown as an opportunity to break free from acads-induced stress.
Finding solace in solitude, Jeammie spent the first few months of strict lockdown on so-called “me time.” She found relief in the fact that she no longer had to go through forced conversations with people in her college. Soon came a realization of the need to reconnect, not with her classmates or classmates, but with her close friends.
“Ngayong pandemic, may time ka nang mag pause, mag stop, mag rethink. Nagkaroon ka ng sense of ‘Uy kailangan kong mag reconnect.’ May mga times na gusto mong mag disconnect, mag reconnect, may mga realizations tayong ganon.” Jeammie shared.
For Jeammie, the pandemic helped her rekindle and strengthen her relationship with the people she holds dearly, her old friends.
“Yung mga ka close ko talaga di ko masyado nakakausap kasi busy sa academics. Ngayon na maintain ko yung relationships ko that’s because meron na kaming relationship before.” she said.
Before the pandemic, Jeammie had no time to bond with her friends as academic commitments and workload seemed to have taken away the time they could’ve reconnected with each other. Today, she maintains her relationship with her dearest friends through video calls, multiplayer or single-player games, video greetings, and even as simple as random memes.
Much like Jeammie who enjoyed months of staying at home, Jabes Lazaro also longs to hang out with her friends once more. All those monthly dates, ice skating, samgyup, and videoke sessions pre-pandemic have turned to rare, scheduled meet-ups.
While that wish of fully enjoying going out again with friends is yet to be granted, Jabes had to make do with long-distance relationship with her best friend. Aside from video chats, they do Teleparty, formerly Netflix Party, and virtual games. Unable to meet all the time, Jabes and friends send each other deliveries on special occasions instead.
Low-key and tested friendships
For people like 21-year-old Nicole Escueta, the lockdown does not really pose a problem because most of her friendships are “low maintenance.”
“Pre-pandemic, I would say we were all more occupied with other things than today. My friendships have always been low maintenance. That’s why it’s never really a big thing for us if we don’t see each other all the time and that’s basically the same with the first few months of the strict lockdowns.” Nicole said.
However, these low-maintenance friendships do expose a tragic reality in most relationships. Some have mistaken low maintenance for non-communication.
“I think the pandemic has sifted out the people who actually care about you from the people who only remember you when they actually need something from you,” Nicole said.
For Nicole, hanging out with friends is one thing and checking up on your friend is another. The former is not necessarily demanded in low-maintenance friendships while the latter is grounded on the essence of establishing and maintaining relationships.
“A simple birthday greeting or asking about how you feel when you lose someone or something important to you is an easy conversation starter,” she said.
“Although I do consider the fact that not everyone has the same agenda or mentality, I just think that there are people who not only stood by me when times were tough but also celebrated all my triumphs with me and didn’t think of me as competition,” she added.
Valuing the friends who stayed, Nicole and her friends do zoom calls, game nights, and movie nights when they are not busy. If quarantine restrictions are eased, they would often do picnic dates or brunch and dinner dates.
In the digital age, friendship extends beyond the physical realm. Technological advancement presents new ways by which we can connect and interact with other people. Today, friendship is not just for the friends we keep close in real life, but also for the new ones we meet online.
For an extrovert like Rubuen “Ruru” Mayang, the sudden switch to isolation during the first few months of pandemic lockdown was tough.
“Parang feeling ko mas hindi ko na express yung sarili ko nung nagkaroon ng pandemic, kasi parang lahat ng thoughts, lahat ng feelings, nasa akin lang. Hindi ko naman siya mashare online kasi feeling ko yung mga friends ko nagttake din sila ng rest,’ Ruru shared.
Alone with his thoughts, Ruru entered the world of social media and dating apps with hopes to find a connection with people he could talk to. For him, strangers, like friends, can offer a bit of comfort to a distressed soul. While friends hear him out at times, for him, there are things better shared with strangers not only for their listening ears but for their non-judgmental eyes.
“Though masaya rin naman magshare sa real friends mo kasi doon makikita mo talaga kung ano yung affection nila, sometimes there are points in our life na masaya mag open sa strangers kasi walang judgment kasi kahit sabihin na close friend mo, at the back of our mind, may judgment, may cloud na nabubuo sa isip-isipan natin.” Ruru said.
Ruru also made friends with people he met on academic webinars. From accepting friend or follower requests to reacting to posts on social media, Ruru turned these small online interactions into good conversation starters. Today, he is in a blossoming relationship with Josh whom he met last April.
Aware of both the bane and the boon of online relationships, Rubuen also has his share of worries about befriending someone whom he does not know personally.
“Kinakabahan. May limitations lang yung makikita mo sa social media so basically hindi mo pa alam yung personality ng tao. Baka iba yung pinapakita niya sa social media life kasya sa real life,” he said.
For him, this is where the line is drawn between online and real-life friendship.
“Siya yung friend na matatakbuhan ko kapag happy,yung puro happy moments pag dating sa sad moments, hindi, Hindi pa ako comfortable na i-open to someone na na meet ko lang virtually yung mga experience ko na bad” he said.
“It is something na takes time. Hindi siya something na you meet virtually tapos nag click kayo is real friend mo na. Iba pa rin talaga yung friend na meron kayong, aside sa common ground, nag-iisa kayo ng feelings, nagkakaroon kayo understanding about sa feelings niyo and kung paano kayo mag isip para iisa rin yung takbo.” he added.
However, this does not mean Ruru does not value online friendships. According to him, he appreciates friendships online and offline as both became a part of his life.
PRE PANDEMIC FRIENDSHIPS STAY
For some like Rhoanne de Guzman, online friendships don’t differ much from the friendships formed pre-pandemic.
“Kasi parang wala naman masyadong pinagkaiba except that you are not meeting each other that much and don’t personally see each other pero there is a chance for virtual friendship to bloom or prosper into something more beautiful, something more personal,” she said.
What started as a group direct message on Twitter for Gaya Sa Pelikula (GSP) stans turned into a safe and inclusive community where Rhoanne found refuge during her stressful days in college.
“All of us were fans of PangPang, of GSP. More than that, we rally for the same cause and that is what I think really brought us together. The community was not really just for fangirling, parang supporting PangPang and GSP team but also a lot of us were also actively participating in the passage of the SOGIE bill and such. Ganon nagstart yung virtual friendship, nung una casual lang siya until all of us were supporting each other na in this fight.” Rhoanne shared.
Looking back at their now seven-month-old pandemic friendship, Rhoanne said she found their first interaction awkward.
“Awkward siya kasi parang you’re making friends with people you’ve never met.” she said.
“Since it’s online andoon pa rin yung parang sense of security na you don’t know this person personally so you still have to be a little bit cautious interacting with them, giving out too much detail about yourselves ganon. So I think it really took me a lot of time pa to really open up to them,” she added.
Initiating friendships and starting conversations were quite a challenge for an introvert like Rhoanne but thanks to the group’s natural chemistry, they immediately vibed with each other. Their secret? Sense of humor.
“I am an introverted person so mahirap talaga for me to initiate friendship with other people more so if it’s online or virtual pero what I really love about this group is the sense of humor and parang lahat kami nag vibe with that. They really became my happy pill during my first sem.” Rhoanne said.
For both Rhoanne and Ruru, friendships formed online would be better experienced beyond the screens.
“I am really looking forward to hang with them kasi parang hindi enough yung virtual space to get to know them personally, to bond with them. There is still a lot to know more about them, a lot of things to explore with them, to experience with them” Rhoanne said.
Once the pandemic is over, most of us, if not all, would definitely go visit a friend and greet them with a warm embrace. Then, we could finally say yes to every outing we declined before. We could finally eat at one table with all our officemates. We could go on day-long lakads with the barkada. But for now, we can only wish the pandemic would already come to an end; until then we can only celebrate our friendships in front of our screens.
About the Author
Jean Loriele Raoet is a third-year journalism student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. When she is not holding her pen, she loves to watch videos of puppies and babies playing together. During her free time, she plays the guitar and delves into music production. Apart from music and cute animals, she likes engaging in talks about mental health and children’s rights.