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Relationship

All this time at home has shown me how few friends I really have | Mariella Frostrup


The dilemma The lockdown has made it crushingly obvious how few friends I have, and I feel depressed and lonely. It feels as if everyone else is having Zoom parties, quizzes and virtual meet-ups, while I’m sending the odd message and going to bed early after spending the day talking to no one except my partner and one-year-old. In normal life, interactions with colleagues and “mum friends” helped disguise the fact I don’t foster close relationships. Now that it’s all about keeping in touch, there aren’t many people who are bothered about a catch-up with me.

I feel like a big part of it is caused by my relationship. I used to have an active social life, but when I left a very outgoing partner 10 years ago for my current one, that ended. He’s awkward, a terrible drunk and not as cool, so friends slipped away. I feel resentful towards him – as if he’s led me to a life of loneliness.

Before lockdown we had been trying to forge new friendships, but few had made it to the point of warranting an online meet-up. I don’t know if I can face another 10 years of this and I don’t want to end up like my parents, who never had any friends.

Mariella replies You say that social isolation has forced you to acknowledge the absence of good friendships in your life, but that it’s your relationship that needs attention. You’ve summarised your partner’s less appealing characteristics, but provided no mitigating qualities. It makes me wonder why, last year, and nine years down the line, you thought it a good idea to start a family with this man who made your world smaller.

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There’s nothing like being trapped with someone to bring them out in all their gory glory. If there are issues in your relationship that you’ve been able to deftly dodge in normal times, then having no escape from them during lockdown will have been pretty traumatic. I can’t really point the finger of blame as I only have your word for your partner’s shortcomings.

The father of your child may be a sociopath with an alcohol problem, or he might still be the same guy you found appealing enough to leave your last lover for – and all that has changed is that you’ve simply had an overdose of him in recent months.

There’s no question that this enforced period of close proximity has driven many of us to look around for a place or person to blame for the multiplying cracks that have become ever more visible in our lives. We can try to conceal these cracks from the world by trumpeting our perfect sourdough, sharing memes of Donald Trump or celebrating crazy haircuts (or all three). When even these things start to wear thin, along comes Zoom seemingly to the rescue. But complaining about video conference calls has created a new standard by which to gauge our self-worth: in the post Covid-19 social pecking order, the more you complain about your endless day on Zoom, the more important you clearly are. It leaves those whose computer cameras aren’t perpetually switched on feeling redundant.

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It’s really important not to let other people’s propaganda affect your expectations of your own life. Friends are essential to our wellbeing, no question, and a few of them are worth huge investment but, like an over-large garden, they do require energy and attention. If you’re not prepared to put in the work, dare I say it’s time to downsize? A single person who you can turn to in a crisis is worth 20 people available for a chit-chat – and I’m pretty sure you have the former.

Your insecurity about friendships appears to have a historical precedent – it’s possible that you’ve repeated the pattern you saw in your parents’ lives. So, how much of your dissatisfaction is provoked by unsettling times, and how much by your choice of partner mirroring your parents’ dysfunctions? Whatever the cause it’s an issue that’s entirely in your gift to change and therefore it’s slightly disingenuous to blame your partner.

If there are people you’d like to talk to, call them. Don’t sit around evaluating whether the relationship has “matured” enough. And if your partner is as hard to love as you suggest, it might be time for an upgrade – but consider first that being part of a highly sociable couple in your 20s and being a parent in a partnership in your 30s are two very different lifestyle choices.

Being stuck in one place with your family forces you to take a hard look at who you’re shacked up with, but let’s not forget that the list includes you. The possibility here is that too much exposure to each other has begun to take a toll on tolerance levels. Most modern relationships aren’t built on 24-hour proximity to one another, and few are improved by it. The easiest thing in the world is to blame the person next to you and it doesn’t require a global pandemic to acquire that bad habit. If none of that rings true, then roll on the end of lockdown and the beginning of your new single life.

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If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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