Weather forecast: wider social circles

If you have to spend time with only one of two best friends, which do you choose? Would you risk losing time with your closest friends to spend time with many friends? If you can’t spend time with both those friends and your own family, what do you do? Would you put one group at risk to benefit the other? What is your standard for risk and reward? Ugh, what a headache!

Many of us have pondered these questions throughout the past year. Many more, we assume, have been forced to answer them with heart-wrenching decisions. Thanks, COVID.

Imagine being offered to hang out at a friend’s house for a Saturday night get-together. You haven’t seen your friend for a while, and you’re looking forward to catching up. However, you wonder how strictly your friend will adhere to COVID guidelines. With an immunocompromised family member, an after-school job, or a spot on a sports team, you know this casual gathering now comes with risks: if not a deadly dose of the virus, a quarantine period or maybe even a suspended season.

Quite a pickle you’re in. On one hand, you could be an upstanding child, teammate, and citizen by avoiding the little get-together at your friend’s house. Maybe no one has COVID, but better safe than sorry, right? On the other hand, you really haven’t socialized with many people beyond your annoying sibling or stressed parents for a good 11 months. You need that break from stress, and more importantly, you need that connection.

In the end, there’s really no right answer. You have to weigh your own needs against those of others. And given the weight of these decisions, the interactions you choose must really be worthwhile.

So you select the best of your best friends—the crême de la crême of companionship. Whether you like it or not, that outer circle of friendship is gone. You can only take on risk with those closest to you, whom you trust the most and enjoy spending time with above all others. It’s an icky decision, no doubt, but cutting to the core of your friend circle does strengthen those specific relationships.

The good part, then, is the balance of quality over quantity. We have more time for fewer people, and we don’t take time for granted—ours or others’. Instead, we cherish it, with a new understanding of and value for the emotional fulfillment we share in relationships. A walk in the park, a beach day, even Netflix and Chill—it’s more intentional and thus more meaningful. So although we lost that outer circle of friends, whom we might have seen in the hall or eaten lunch with during past years, our bonds with those we know best or enjoy the most have gotten much, much deeper.

Still, we must not forget the relationships we put on hold. Now that vaccine rates are up and restrictions on in-person interactions are loosening, we must rekindle those relationships. Just because antisocial behavior has been directly encouraged this past year doesn’t mean it should continue. Now that you appreciate the quality of your closer relationships, you can have more.

As the days get brighter and the weather warmer, the outlook on COVID improves as well. Soon masks won’t be needed. We should all take the risk, then, to reach out—to anyone—and make another connection, re-formed or completely new. We can take our new appreciation of meaningful relationships and apply it forward. It’s nearly summer. Who knows, anything could happen!