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I’m sitting at home during the pandemic. You’re going out. How to make sense of these friendships now. | Elizabeth Wellington

I have the right to cancel my friends who are acting like we are not living in a pandemic, don't I? Yes, I do. Here is why I might want to rethink that option.

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I’m sick of people.

There, I said it.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in the same room with many of my friends and colleagues. When I do go out to Target, I’m stuck breathing mask breath for hours on end. I miss lipstick. I miss earrings and I miss pedicures. I can’t wait to get a massage. But that’s the price I thought we had to pay to get through this.

At the same time, however, my social feeds are full of folks moving through life: eating out, going to parties, hosting sleepovers, taking a vacation, and skipping the COVID-19 vaccine lines. Here they are living seemingly carefree lives while I try to convince my stubborn 72-year-old mother to take the vaccine.

I’m salty. I’m tired. And, increasingly, I’m becoming judgmental. And I’m surprised that so many people in my circles are behaving so selfishly. Didn’t we all get the memo not to play with the coronavirus?

In a cultural moment where we’re holding people accountable for their actions, how much of that should apply to our friendships? And when should we give the people in our lives grace for getting through the pandemic any way they can? When is it OK to cancel friends because of their behavior?

If you’re not sure whether to hit that unfriend button, here’s some advice from experts about what to do:

Your friends may be vulnerable right now

Are you only friends with people who mirror your thoughts and perspective?, asks psychologist and professor at Community College of Philadelphia, Davido Dupree. True friends support each other in our most difficult times. You can disagree with someone you love and still love them, Dupree said. In fact that’s healthy.

Another reason why people driving the judgmental bus need to slow down is because not only are “your friends changing, you are changing, too,” Dupree said. “Pandemic conditions are something none of us have ever lived through. Our vulnerabilities are being highlighted. You’ve never been in this situation, nor have your friends and family.”

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All of our relationships are imbalanced right now

It’s also important to remember that many of us are having to manage all of our relationships virtually — close friends as well as work colleagues, said Ravi S. Kudesia, an assistant professor of human resource management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Social media shows a window into each other’s lives, but we are only seeing a part of them.

“We are losing out on a cross section of our shared experiences,” Kudesia said. “There are so many people I know as the gym person, or the person I go running with, or the person that I take coffee break with,” Kudesia said. We’ve lost a lot of the context of those friendships.

“Now we are seeing just one dimension of these people. “ And that, Kudesia said, makes the friendship incomplete.

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Also, Kudesia said, a lot of people can be pretty inauthentic on social media. They might even virtue-signal — be overly preachy in their attempt to show you how smart and good they are, and that their way of life is the best way of life. But we’re missing an important part of the picture: the dimensions we get when we spend time with people in person.

“So in deciding to cancel folks now, you are doing so with limited information,” Kudesia said.

Some cope with stress by following rules. Others cope by rebelling.

It may feel like bad form to me, but eating out and partying out of town may really just be how your friends are choosing to cope with living through a pandemic.

Come again?

Yes, Dupree said. We all cope differently. Some of us are rule followers. (See me holding up my hand.) These are the kind of people who become annoyed when other people don’t follow the rules. (See me waving my hand.)

» READ MORE: Have you hit the COVID-19 wall? Here are some ways to cope.

Other folks cope by rejecting the rules, finding some way to defiantly continue things on their terms. And in many cases, rule followers become friends with rule breakers because they add a little spice to our lives. The difference Dupree said, is that you’ve never been a in life-or-death situation with them.

Whether you’re a rule follower or a rule breaker, that may just be how you’re wired, Dupree says. So take their actions in that context. “It’s who they’ve been all along. It’s just their coping identity.”

How to get over yourself

The bottom line is that when this is all over, we still want to have friends. “Because,” said Lyle Ungar, a University of Pennsylvania professor of computer science with expertise on how technology impacts relationships, “when we study the things that make people happy, friendship is on top of that list.”

So, how do we emerge from this pandemic without becoming bitter, lonely people who lack tolerance? Here are some things to remember:

  1. Reading someone’s social media page is not communicating with them, Ungar said. It should go without saying that if the person you are angry with is not talking back to you, then you are in a one-sided disagreement. “If it’s a real friend that you think has done something stupid, you tell them,” Ungar said. “That’s real communication.”

  2. Not all judgment is bad, said Dupree. We are all scared. If you’re witnessing friends partaking in behavior you think is risky, then, yes, you might want to cancel plans with them, or at the very least ask them to quarantine before you let them into your bubble, Dupree said. “You are protecting your space,” Dupree said. But that’s not the same thing as cutting off a friendship.

  3. Are you judgmental or jealous? If a friend doesn’t have to take care of elderly parents or isn’t worried about bringing the virus back from abroad and you have denied yourself such pleasures, you are going to feel annoyed, Dupree said. Recognize that feeling. Move on. Don’t beat yourself up over it. But don’t hold a grudge.

  4. If you’re cutting a lot of people out of your life, seek help, Dupree said. If your judgment disrupts your functioning and disrupts your friendships, then these are your issues, not theirs.

  5. In the end, it all comes down to grace, Dupree said. If you’ve truly had enough and are willing to sever ties, remember friendships change, even in non-pandemic situations. Just have grace with yourself, Dupree said. But before you decide to level the friendship over a mask, default to kindness. Remember we are all coping the best we can. “If you have grace with yourself, it’s easier to have grace with others,” Dupree said.

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Expert sources
  1. Davido Dupree, cognition and development, assistant professor of psychology at Community College of Philadelphia

  2. Ravi S. Kudesia, management, assistant professor of human resource management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business

  3. Lyle Ungar, chemical engineering, professor of information sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.