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On losing friendships to the coronavirus

Photo Credits: https://pxhere.com
Photo Credits: https://pxhere.com

The first week of quarantine was blissful. After discovering unheard-of quantities of free time — a commodity for any Princetonian — I decided to make myself busy. Amidst a flurry of online courses and new projects, I decided to get back into the daily yoga routine I’d abandoned freshman year, pick up three new languages (two of which I, admittedly, already had a background in), read a book a day, and relax in the evening with the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly livestream. For the eternal overachiever like myself, quarantine was heaven: I finally had the time for all of the interests I had neglected for most of my Princeton career.

The second week of quarantine, however, was a nightmare. Sleep-deprived from signing up for too many online classes and waking up for 8:30 a.m. EDT class at 7:25 a.m. CDT, I was beginning to realize that, perhaps, this was not the way to go. I was filling my schedule not solely because I wanted to learn about the history of the various fonts used to print the Cyrillic alphabet (a real online class I was considering taking), but because I was trying to distract myself from the deep sadness I was feeling. My schedule at Princeton was usually full, too — yes, with schoolwork, my job, and other intellectual pursuits — but also with friends and social engagements, dinner plans and spontaneous invitations to study together, take a walk together, watch a movie together. And now that we are all in quarantine, I suddenly realized that these opportunities were gone.

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I realize, of course, that they aren’t gone completely. The people you love most (and who, you’d like to think, love you most) will make time for you: this week alone, I’ve spent plenty of time with my close friends. We’ve watched a movie, live-streamed an opera, studied, played Mad Libs, and “gotten breakfast” together. Being apart does not mean forgoing the rituals you hold so dear or even creating new ones. A physical quarantine needn’t be an emotional one.

But I can’t help noticing the difference. We really do communicate less. I wonder if my texts are a nuisance, especially when certain friends don’t respond. I wonder if they actually care, especially when they say they’ll call … and they don’t, even if I’ve reminded them. I can’t shake the thought that they’ll replace me — especially if they are still on campus with their other friends. Three months before I planned on having these thoughts at graduation, I am having them: will our friendships survive?

Surely these worries seem like small fish to fry, especially when many of us are going through so much: returning to abusive families, going back into the closet, fighting to keep family businesses afloat, and more. When others are suffering so severely, I wonder if these pangs of self-doubt and fear of losing my closest friends are even legitimate. But I also know that if I am having these thoughts in the wake of having just left the people with whom I have created a home for the past four years, I must not be alone. I wish I had some advice, but, in reality, I’ve already suggested all that I can: offer to “get breakfast,” watch a movie, or just talk. If the friendship matters to you, keep offering. But if you feel that your effort isn’t being reciprocated, it might be worth considering that maybe that friendship isn’t as important as it might have seemed when maintaining it was easy. Fair-weather friendships aren’t worth keeping.

I wish I could say with certainty that all of my friendships will survive. I had that kind of confidence freshman year when I told my closest friends at the time that I would be a bridesmaid at their weddings, and they reciprocated. But the fact is that those girls aren’t my friends anymore. I like to think that as I’ve grown and matured, the friendships I maintain now are stronger and more integral to my being — but if the ones that I believed so permanent four short years ago turned out to be impermanent, could the same be true with the ones I have now? I know that I would have asked these questions in June, after graduation — but the reality is that I have to ask them now.

Thank goodness for Zoom, and thank goodness for Facetime. Thank goodness for Amazon and email and Skype. Because of their existence, my best friends from Princeton are never far away. But just like anyone at the end of their senior year — albeit now in March — I wonder if I will ever see them again, and if these video calls and emails will soon end. And if a physical quarantine will turn into an emotional and social one as well.

Leora Eisenberg is a senior from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at leorae@princeton.edu.

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