Millenial Life: The Clean Slate of COVID Loneliness
I confessed to a friend the other day that I'm not entirely sure how to be a good friend. I'm making most of the ideas of friendship up as I go along. A common refrain that I've heard from people my age is the difficulty of making friends, especially when we hit our 30s.
I have no modeled behavior for making friends. My parents decided on the hermitage-style home life. There weren't gatherings at our house, and no family lived close by. It's not something I blame them for -- my dad was in the Air Force, and my mom's family was all in Germany. We moved too often to make any lasting connections.
To add insult to injury, I'm an only child. As much clucking in dismay that arises in folks when I tell them, I really enjoyed it. I suppose there were plenty of opportunities to be lonely as a child, but it never seemed to be a bad thing. I had my parents to myself. I had the back seat of the car to myself. And I have a deep appreciation for my friends.
My whole life, I've clung to the idea of friendship as something precious, thus making me acutely aware of the loss of friendship, especially during COVID times. Back in the good ol' days of 2019, Neil Howe wrote for Forbes about how "millennials are congregating in makeshift communities: living with each other in ersatz families, flocking to co-working spaces, crowding into dense urban locales, and using technology to stay in close communication."
We were indeed, and I was, too. I don't think Forbes anticipated the internet-breaking use of Zoom when he wrote that. It's just not the same meeting up online.
At the beginning of quarantine, there was a bemused novelty to six-feet-apart porch meetups, until one of our friends started to cry due to stress during one of them. Instinct told all of us to envelop her in a hug. I balanced my weight on my thighs, swaying back and forth like a stressed elephant in a zoo.
Fewer porch meetups have happened in recent months.
To add more insult to even more injury, I'm an introvert married to a hypersocial man whose instinct is to shove a plate of tacos and a beer into your hands and wave you into a growing crowd. Even with my history of no modeled social interaction, I found entertaining with my husband in the Before Times fascinating. All the people who know you from different contexts being brought together thanks to you -- it's almost magical. Plus, beer and tacos -- you can't go wrong there.
So, for the last few years, our kids' birthday parties became blowout bashes not just for our kiddos but for us adults who just needed a chance to get out. We let the kids sort themselves, something like the wildness we might remember from our youth, instead of the guarded helicoptering that seems so encultured. Parents would end up drinking and playing board and card games as the kids passed out in different configurations in the living room. Drunk adults would inevitably end up testing their aging tendons in the rented bounce house.
During parties, I would veer around to different groups, loving the live-action experience of multiple conversations happening at one time that you could dive back into when you swing around, like having many internet browsers open all at once. But there was always a minute when I needed to retreat to a back room or take a breath in the bathroom. That alone time was my way to clean the slate and recharge with a familiar loneliness.
I'm trying to believe that right now we're all just in a moment of reset, and that someday, I'll spend a morning after a raucous party cleaning up crumbs and small socks I don't recognize, and only texting to check on all the adults' ankles.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also a National Society of Newspaper Columnists ambassador and can contacted at email@example.com. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.