Social distancing means that our friendship dynamics have changed beyond recognition. Much scientific research has been directed toward COVID-19 treatments and a possible cure.
However the effect of lockdowns on treasured friendships, vital for mental and physical health, is also a concern.
As Europeans again find themselves at the mercy of lockdown life, it is important to bear in mind the science behind maintaining personal friendships.
The reality of our evolutionary psychology means that our relationships with others can deteriorate very quickly, and even the most valued soul-mate can become an awkward stranger given enough time.
Robin Dunbar, a professor at the University of Oxford, states that this process can start to happen in as little as 3 months.
Lockdown isolation means that we may see long-term detrimental effects to both our social lives and complications for our mental health long after the restrictions end.
COVID-19 has meant that people will have to get creative with investing in their friendships. The word investing is not to be taken figuratively, as maintaining a friendship requires an immense amount of time and cognitive energy.
Many psychologists say that it is impossible for the average human to have many more than 5 genuine close friends.
Every normal way of maintaining these relationships is now off the cards. House parties, bars, restaurants, music, art, sports, literally everything we like to enjoy doing socially, involves the physical hustle and bustle of hard habit, and so changing these habits over the short term is no easy task.
We now have an opportunity to expand our concept of what constitutes a friendship in 2020.Close physical proximity may not be our expectation anymore, and many must now open themselves up to new ways of connecting.
As in China, where Wechat messaging and online video gaming helped keep friends in contact with one another, Europe also experienced a surge in virtual socializing during the first wave.
Online quizzes, film nights and Zoom chats were all the rage in spring, however just as in real life, people bore easily and novel activities need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay interesting.
This means that technology companies would be well placed to innovate new ways for us to socialize remotely and offer genuine meaningful connections.
The multibillion dollar video game industry will be well poised to capitalize on this along with streaming video services, of which many are already offering joint viewing capabilities.
The origin of our need for one another stems from our evolutionary roots as primates.
Being part of a stable group where we were likely to jump to each other’s defence in ancient times required us to be well versed in every trusting detail of our individual psyches.
Monkeys do this by grooming each other, wolves by playing. Social animals work together in teams and humans are no different.
Alongside quitting smoking, building friendships is a recognized lifestyle change that can improve quality of life.
In these testing times, when we are under a looming threat of imminent illness, we may find that we have to jump to each other’s defence.
Technology is there to aid this, and is constantly innovating. But it also relies on individual attitudes. Pick up your phone, turn on your laptop, and do something fun with your friends.
Barry He is a London-based columnist for China Daily