The lockdown has prevented me from seeing my friends over the past several months, so like everybody else we’ve been talking on Zoom and the phone instead.  We haven’t talked much about what we’ve been up to because, let’s face it, we haven’t been doing anything interesting lately.  So the conversations have turned introspective.

Most of my friendships were already like that – lots of time talking about ideas, thoughts, and feelings. After all, three of my close friends are therapists, and three are philosophers.  But I realized early during the shutdown that I have a very close local friend who I’d never had that sort of conversation with.

We’ve been friends for years and we have a solid friendship. I trust her to be there in a heartbeat if needed. But she’s the kind of person who shows love by doing rather than by talking, so I call on her for active help and not for talking through my latest crisis (I turn to my therapist friends for that!). So we’ve never really talked. Instead, we’ve meandered through the city together, rolling out our yoga mats side-by-side on Sunday mornings and then yawning over coffee and eggs and watching the city wake up. We’ve picked gallons of strawberries, eaten uncountable meals at Shabu Zen, and shopped for clothes at every consignment store in the city.  She’s my best dressed friend, and I owe her for every single smart-looking outfits that I own (some of which used to be hers!).

But we never really talked. And now, of course, there was nothing to do but talk.  If we didn’t want to put our friendship on hold until the return to something closer to that elusive old normal, it was time to try something new.

The beginnings were choppy. All the external and distracting activity was stripped away. There was just two of us on the phone.  We both keep our cards close to the chest; we’re slow to trust and consequently not eager to share, both hesitant to expose our vulnerabilities. In talking with her, I realize that most of my other relationships are with self disclosive people who do most of the talking and sharing.  When the other person is equally reticent, it gets quiet.

Slowly, gradually, we began talking and our conversations started going deeper.  We talked about our families back home, about living as immigrants, about the feeling of not quite belonging in either place.  And we talked about the experience of the shutdown, about fear, isolation, tension, bewilderment, fatigue and trouble sleeping.

We turn to different friends for different purposes and we show them different facets of who we are.  We shop with one, discuss complicated ideas with another, share our innermost and vulnerable feelings with a third, and turn to a fourth for help in a crisis.  There are of course good reasons for that; different people have different strengths.  But it’s also limiting. By interacting with friends in this selective way, we see only a small part of them – and we only show them a small part of ourselves.  We miss a lot, and we hide a lot.  My shopping-and-activities friend turned out to be an insightful thinker and careful listener, but those traits didn’t emerge until we were in a situation with fewer distractions where we set the stage for real conversations.  In what ways will can our other friendships grow and deepen if we break our usual patterns?  What will we discover about ourselves and about each other? 

As the pandemic regains strength, it looks like we may have time to find out.