Friendships that have dried up during lockdown will return to normal

We’ll meet again! Friendships that have dried up during lockdown will return to normal within 12 weeks, expert predicts

  • Professor Robin Dunbar has spent 25 years studying behaviours in primates
  • Said most friendships will return to normal within 12 months after lockdown 
  • Some may suffer long term as friends drift apart to become acquaintances 

If you feel like you’ve lost touch with friends in lockdown, worry not.

Professor Robin Dunbar, of Oxford University, has spent 25 years studying behaviours in primates and human groups and applied his knowledge to the pandemic. 

He said that despite some friends not seeing each other for months during lockdown, most relationships will return to normal within six to 12 weeks.

But some may suffer long term as individuals begin to see each other as acquaintances rather than friends. 

Those who do meet might be unsure of how to act around each other or where they stand in the friendship, Mr Dunbar told the Royal Society journal.

His study, published in the Royal Society journal, reveals most humans have a social network of 150 people which consists of family and friends.

Professor Robin Dunbar, of Oxford University, said that despite some friends not seeing each other for months during lockdown, most relationships will return to normal within six to 12 weeks (file image)

Professor Dunbar says relationships with families can withstand long periods of not seeing or speaking to each other, but friendships can be much more fragile.

He predicts four likely effects of COVID-19 including a weakening of existing friendships, especially in the elderly, and a decline in friendship quality.

He also believes there may be a reduction in how often we see our friends, but that we may also be making more of an effort to contact old friends.

‘Friendships are very susceptible to disruption if you don’t keep reinforcing them, so you have to invest a lot of time in friendships,’ he said.

‘So in a situation like we have been, with lockdown, it means that people you haven’t been able to meet up with as regularly as you did before are going to start to slide down the slope of relationship quality.

‘These friendships will be impacted – if lockdown went on for six months or more you could really notice a big difference.’

He urged people not to be too alarmed, though, as it would probably take ‘several years’ of not seeing someone for a friendship to almost disappear.

He predicts four likely effects of COVID-19 including a weakening of existing friendships, especially in the elderly, and a decline in friendship quality (file image)

When you do meet up with friends again, the interaction could be rather ‘uncertain’ because you haven’t seen them for a long time, he said.

The friendship could have changed over lockdown, and this could be exacerbated by people making new friends in their local communities – for example, neighbours.

These new friends could push other friends further down the ‘pecking order’ as you decide who to put the most effort into.

As lockdown has eased in the last month, people have been able to go out and meet friends in small groups.

Professor Dunbar said there is most likely to be a ‘bounceback’ effect of rushing out to see friends and re-establish relationships, and most friendships should be back to normal within 12 weeks of regular meet-ups.

But this isn’t the case for all age groups.

‘I think the big problem here will be for elderly people,’ he said.

‘One of the biggest factors in terms of our wellbeing, happiness and health is the number and quality of close friendships we have.

‘There’s already a massive epidemic of loneliness among the elderly and it’s a great precipitation for the onset of Alzheimer’s and similar conditions.

‘They’re already on the downward slope of losing friends. So if the friendships they do have are weakened, it could increase the risk of mental and physical ill health.’

Professor Dunbar said further studies need to be done to assess just how many friends a person, on average, could potentially have lost during lockdown.

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