I Wish I’d Spent More Time With My Friends Before The Pandemic

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This pandemic has made me realize how much I took my friends for granted while searching for romance. I never would’ve thought that my craving for platonic touch could be more intense than the erotic.

By Love Akinkunle

The last person I hugged is a man whose number I don’t even have saved anymore. We went out a week before my city instituted lockdown, and I wish I could take it back. That same night, my friends were at a bar watching a game I had no interest in, and I blew them off because this guy could’ve been “the one.”

It’s no surprise that my friends and I have grown apart since we left college and got tossed into the tumultuous world of adulting. Hectic schedules, juggling multiple jobs to make a liveable wage, and even moving halfway across the continent so to marry a same-sex partner. Along with lockdown, there came working from home and online classes for those who were luckier, and extra hours to spend in front of our screens. 

Everyone was getting Hulu Watch Party and HouseParty, eager for that social connection. Suddenly, my friends and I were spending more time together than we had in months, although it was virtual. Without the need to get up early to commute and the fear of time running out,  we found ourselves feeling hopeless together and talking on the phone all night. All these conversations made me realise one thing. I wish I’d spent more time with them before the pandemic.

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In those first few weeks, the boy I had gone out with kept in touch. He’d call me every night to say sweet dreams and text me midday to see if I wanted to play Word With Friends. The way he’d made me feel was what I’d dreamed of since I first started dating. But, after a while, I was no longer interested. 

I would rather spend my time gossiping with my friends about how much body hair we’d grown and what shows we were binging. “What did you have for lunch?” and “Did you poop today?” No detail was spared, and I wonder how we ever let life drive us so far apart. 

One night, after one of our conversations, I lay in bed and burst into tears. I loved how we finally had more time to talk. But I missed that physical connection. I missed being with them. I missed holding their hands, laughing with them after too many drinks, and just hugging them. I never would’ve thought my craving for platonic touch could be more intense than the erotic. If I could, I would take back that last hug I gave. I’d go to that bar and pretend to watch the game with my friends and hug them instead.

The pandemic was a harsh wake-up call that made me realise I have no control over time and life’s events. It really is all out of my hands and things will happen when they’re meant to be. Before COVID-19, I was on a countdown to find “the one.” As an only child with ageing parents, I’ve always felt in a bit of a hurry to find romantic love and start my own family before my parents are gone. Watching my friends interact with their siblings, partners and close-knit extended families always made me a tad bit envious and aware of how tiny my support system is. 

It feels like the only representation of love I ever saw growing up was the romantic kind. The boy always came riding in to save the girl from her misery and loneliness. Even when she had perfectly supportive friends, her loneliness was only cured when she finally met a guy who “got her”, whatever that means. Modern romances have tried to flip the script by sometimes having the “strong independent woman” save the prince, but it’s still more of the same. Girl meets boy (and saves him), and she’s finally happy with someone who understands her. 

Now that I think about it, it seems rather ridiculous that a guy I’ve known for two weeks could “get” me more than the friends who have been there for all my worst and best moments. Why was I not exposed to more stories that valued friendships as much as romance when I was growing up?

When you grow up in a household with African parents, there’s always an emphasis on getting married and starting a family. As I got older, my parents stopped asking me about my friends and started asking about my love life. 

“Where is your husband?” 

“When are you going to get a man?” 

“Who is going to take care of you?”

This further affirmed the idea that the only way for me to find love and happiness would be through a romantic relationship. So, I prioritised romance over friendship because I thought that was the only way to start a new family. “We always talk about the same stuff anyway.” I would tell them. “You’re not going to cuddle me in winter” and “You’ve already found your own love.”  I’d blow them off to go on my next date with the guy who might be “the one” without a second thought. I  was trying to hurry romantic love, devaluing platonic love, and taking my friendships for granted.

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One thing I am grateful for is the time I got to know my friends all over again and to appreciate what we share. Through the COVID tests, breakups and even deaths, we’ve been there for each other in a new way. We shared flashbacks about the time we’d spent together before adulthood took over. Comforting each other through ugly heartbreak, making chicken soup for the sick one during flu season, waking up at 4 in the morning to pick someone up from the airport because red-eye flights were the best we could afford. 

In spending more time with my friends, I had a chance to relive these memories and realised that this is what any relationship should be like. Showing up for each other, sharing everything and nothing, and enjoying even the unprofound moments. I’m no longer worried about being unpartnered when my parents are gone. I already have love. I just didn’t see the value in it before. 

It will be a while before things can go back to normal. Travel restrictions, immunosuppression, and plain paranoia still force us to stay at least 6 meters apart. But it doesn’t matter, being with my friends virtually is enough. I already have my first date planned out with my girls and my first trip abroad to see my friend and his partner; it’s been almost 3 years since we saw each other. It won’t be cheap but I will let loose a little (another thing COVID taught me) and put the same amount of emotional and financial effort I have always put into dating, into my friendships. There are so many hugs waiting for me, and I promise this time, I won’t take them for granted. 

Love Akinkunle is a travel journalist and hopeless romantic. She edits the The Love Digest and is in a one sided love affair with the African continent. 

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