Friendship in the time of corona

Another bummer article. But maybe it gets worse before it gets better?

These are my thoughts and I am doing my best, but I am by no means a professional journalist, nor a medical professional. I don’t even know grammar. For COVID-19 information please see trusted sources (CDC, WHO).

On Feb 4, the first case of COVID-19 appeared in BC and since then the cases have been growing. By the beginning of the second week of March, social distancing recommendations arrived. UBC remained open. Through the week, professors and students alike teetered in uncertainty. We were imagining the best and worst possibilities, processing through conversation, making contingency plans, and refreshing our phones for the latest news.

Yet, I continued to make plans with friends for the weekend. We pinged each other endlessly, trying to settle our busy schedules and cement a plan.

“Saturday, sunday? What works best for you?”

“I’m free at 12 on Saturday?”

What about 3?”

“Sure! Do you want to get pie?”

On Friday, March 13th, we woke up to headlines flashing another significant jump in reported cases. 11 in a day. A couple studies and reports had also started to warn against the asymptomatic transmission of the disease. Gatherings of 250 people or more were ordered to be cancelled.

But Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial Health Minister, reassured us that “It’s still very safe today in B.C. — all across B.C. — to go out, to go shopping, to go to restaurants.”

Despite this, I started to question the plans I had made with my friends. Would it be safe to grab a slice of pie in a busy cafe? These were friends I hadn’t seen in a while and we had worked hard to come up with a plan. I didn’t want to cancel. I pulled up WHO’s COVID-19 guidelines. A busy cafe did not seem like a good idea. Fitfully, I composed, deleted, composed again and finally came up with a message.

“Hey guys, given the COVID situation, we may need to reconsider our plans for tomorrow! * Big smiley face* ”

Did I sound too paranoid?

After a series of suggestions, and running through some covid calculations, I finally offered that we do an outdoor picnic at the beach. Fresh air and space would be good. Perhaps we could bring our own food too…

“Hey! What about a picnic?” I suggested.

But picnic got translated into potluck. My friends were enthusiastic and I didn’t want to let them down. Though I felt like I had rolled a snowball down a hill, and it was now moving beyond my control.

How do I bring up my concerns about sharing food, given WHO’s recommendations? It felt too late. I didn’t want to be a party pooper. I didn’t want to seem paranoid. Why did this all have to feel so uncomfortable? Wouldn’t being a good friend mean I should cancel? Why is being friends in the times of COVID-19 so hard?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe you would have acted differently.

I swallowed my doubts about the picnic and caved in. I sent a message about ‘buying prepackaged food as I was worried about anything my sister might have brought home from school’, where COVID rumors had been going around. I worried my message made them feel uncomfortable and followed up with a message about homemade quiche. I guess I abandoned all rules now.

So I prepared mini quiches, trying to hold my breath as I worked, popping them straight into the ziploc out of the oven and picked up a bag of chips from an emptied-out grocery store. We could pour them into everybody’s containers, we could all use utensils. No touching involved! I tried to reassure myself. I visualized us practicing social distancing and food safety (Like Olympians do before a race). I changed the name of the chat to “Beach Picnic and social distancing!”

But in person, it was hard to keep social distancing measures and I gave into hugs and friendly casualties. My friends talked about how they had not been following COVID related news and that Vancouver is probably okay. I smiled along. I was happy to see them. Maybe I was too paranoid.

But as I biked home, I fretted. What if I am an asymptomatic carrier? I didn’t want to have given them an illness if I could have prevented it. Was I being a bad friend?

By the time I got home, I swore off seeing my friends in person.

Soon after, big events that my friends and I planned to attend, like the BMO Marathon were cancelled and Vancouver increased their response to the virus. Friends started supporting social distancing on social media. My friends got wind of the news. Finally, we were on the same page.

I am glad to no longer be caught in the awkward swing of socially acceptable behavior during a pandemic.

For now, virtual hangouts are a novelty. Long distance friends are no farther than local friends. I brunch virtually with my friends in Toronto and my friends in Vancouver. We bake, do fitness classes and watch movies together online. We chat about our weird new routines and plan silly virtual hangouts. We take time to check in on one another.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel like this new form of friendship brings out the magic in our relationships and it gets to the core of why we value each other’s company. It feels like some sort of strange relationship therapy.

Our friendships now feel ever more so precious. In 20, 30, 50 years, it will be the friendships that pulled us through this crazy time, that we will remember.

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Emma Ng

Emma Ng

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