Despite my deep-seated introversion, I have found myself wanting to reach out to my friends while in quarantine. At Princeton, I’ve always liked to spend a lot of time alone — not because I don’t like people, but because being with them is tiring. Yet now that I am alone most of the time, I want to talk to them, interact with them, and spend time with them as much as I can.
But some of them didn’t feel the same. In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why certain people weren’t responding to my messages. Sometimes, I thought that I had done something to offend them. Other times, I got angry: “why was she taking out her sadness on me?” I thought. When I didn’t hear from my best friend for a week, I was beside myself. A million thoughts raced through my head: was she okay? Was she mad at me? Why was she doing this to me? Didn’t she know I was worried? Didn’t I deserve to know?
As I marinated in my own vindictive juices, my mental state got worse. I became irritable and hot-tempered. I cried a lot, seemingly for no reason. I couldn’t understand why she was ignoring me, when there was no precedent for doing so in the past. This was the person with whom I spoke nearly every day, who knew me better than almost anyone. What had I done — as it seemed to me — to ruin this friendship? I could see that she went online — so why couldn’t she message me, like my Facebook status, watch my Instagram story?
After a week of agony, salvation eventually came. She sent me a message apologizing for the silence. “I just want you to know that I’ve been having a really hard time,” she wrote. “That’s why I haven’t really been talking to my friends — or to anyone, really. I’m trying to feel like myself again, so I wanted to say sorry if you felt like I was ignoring you. That wasn’t my intention.” There was no precedent for not talking in the past because we’d had no situation like this before; now, she wasn’t talking to me because she was faced with a whole new set of circumstances, forcing her to take steps she never had before, including temporarily ceasing interaction with her friends.
In Greek plays, there is anagnorisis: the moment of realization or recognition. Well, in the Greek play of “Leora’s Quarantine Drama,” here was mine: I realized that my friend’s silence wasn’t about me. And, more importantly, that everyone “hurts,” i.e. responds to trauma, differently. My response to this situation was to reach out to friends. I didn’t realize that my friend’s coping mechanism was to stop reaching out altogether. My lack of empathy in this particular case convinced me to believe that her response was related to my behavior; my anagnorisis forced me to realize that her response was related to all that she was going through, having nothing to do with me at all.
That’s the thing: everyone is experiencing some form of trauma right now. Some people are immunocompromised and afraid to leave their homes. Some have lost any hope of experiencing the best months of their senior years. Some have lost their sources of income. Everyone is responding to their particular situation somehow — and everyone is doing it differently. Some will go for long runs several times a day; some will be glued to their computer screens. Some will want to talk on the phone for hours; others will stop talking completely. Everyone grieves differently, and there’s no telling what your loved ones will do. With this experience of global turmoil comes the awareness that we must be prepared to deal with others’ internal turmoil — and that its symptoms might not have anything to do with us.
At the time that I write this, my best friend and I still aren’t talking. It takes all of my willpower not to text her, call her, make the kind of contact that I crave. But I know that she needs her space to heal, and I am trying to respect it. I keep telling myself that, while I want to talk to my friends, one of my friends wants to take space for herself. And in the meantime, I am trying to remind myself that her silence has nothing to do with me.
Leora Eisenberg is a senior from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at email@example.com.