One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic has been keeping in touch with friends with social distancing and other Covid restrictions in place.
But for some these changes instigated unlikely friendships with people they might otherwise never have met. Five Guardian readers share how these friendships have helped them get through the past year.
‘I watched Star Trek Voyager with people I never met – for 172 days’
Christopher Ince, 34, a university lecturer from London, braced himself for what would become months of social isolation when the first lockdown began in March last year. He decided to comfort himself by bingeing on a favourite TV show.
“I randomly tweeted something about putting on the first episode of a TV series. I’m slightly afraid to say that it was Star Trek Voyager, but it was,” he says.
“A few minutes later someone on Twitter, who I’d been friendly with, responded to suggest we watch along in sync, which led to a small gang of people joining in. Some of us knew each other, some of us didn’t, but we’re all part of the LGBTQ+ community. The six of us ended up watching an episode alongside each other at 7pm, every day, for 172 days. We became a crew and wound up joking about ourselves as such.”
What was supposed to be “a bit of a laugh”, as Ince puts it, became a support network. “The point of the show is a small group of people on one ship making their way alone through tough times for an extended period. They stick together and keep each other going.
“A year on, we’ve watched all sorts of films and events together, gone to online museum openings, celebrated birthdays, and emotionally supported each other through book launches and the passing of family members. Some of us met up in ‘real life’. Our anniversary was a few weeks ago, and I spent it virtually with friends I made from a tweet.”
‘We became great friends over the phone’
David Lloyds, 63, from Hedge End near Southampton, joined a local telephone buddy scheme when he was placed on furlough last year.
“I signed up to be a telephone friend. I was assigned a gentleman, Eddie Ridler, who I was told was nearly blind, hard of hearing, lives on his own and had to self-isolate due to his age: 96. I was apprehensive but gave it a go,” Lloyds recalls.
The two men overcame the initial awkwardness of talking to a stranger when they bonded over a shared disinterest in professional sports.
“That was a huge relief and we then went on to talk about current affairs. Eddie is 32 years my senior, but his mind is as sharp as anything. Although we have not yet met face to face, we have become great friends. I ring him every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. We put the world to rights, have a laugh, and share news about our families.
“I learned that ‘yes, yes’ means he didn’t understand me. We trust each other. He’s the most wonderful person. I’ve never met anybody this cheerful.”
When Lloyds returned to work, he let the buddy scheme know. “They offered to ‘assign’ him to someone else. I was horrified. Our phone calls have helped me keep my sanity during lockdown. He became a continuity in my life. We still speak three times a week and I hope to meet him when we open up completely.”
‘We decided to move in together the day we met in person’
Rosie Wolf, 24, an artist from London, met Laura, 22, a Bournemouth University graduate, in a Facebook group for Labour supporters in March 2020.
“During one group video call we were both making the same faces over the behaviour of another person and started messaging privately,” Laura remembers.
“We hit it off straight away, and in June Laura got a job offer in London,” Rosie says.
“The first time we’d ever met in person was to go to a house viewing, which we immediately made an offer for. It was really amazing to finally meet. It sounds cheesy but it felt like we had met before, we are platonic soulmates.”
The two friends now rent a flat together and “co-parent” their two cats.
“We’re pretty much inseparable,” Laura says. “We have made holiday plans for the future and joke that if we win the lottery we will buy a big mansion together and live there with our husbands.”
‘We forged a connection over my sad orchid in the window’
Bernie, 37, a director and arts trustee from Northampton, forged a friendship with a regular passerby under her window.
“I spent the year working in my study, which sits on the ground floor. A man started to nod [a greeting to me] on his dog walk, every morning.
“One day he started pointing through the window, gesturing something quite persistently. I wondered whether he was OK, to be honest, but opened the window. I had a rather sad orchid on the ledge and he told me I needed to trim it and take it out of the sun. I thanked him. We smiled,” she says.
“We began to wave every day, and continued throughout the year. One day, at the front door, he told me he had been a prize orchid grower in his day but an infection destroyed all of his plants years ago and he lost heart.
“I would make sure I was at my desk around 10am so I didn’t miss him. At some point he told me he’d lost his wife to dementia the previous year, and introduced himself and his dog.
“Around Christmas I gave him a little cake. Days later he brought me a card and one of his orchid books. I’m a single mum and it’s just nice to see a friendly face, I’m always really happy when I see him. Even the people I’m in video meetings with know him, as I’d say: ‘I’m waving at my gentleman friend.’ He lights up when he sees me in my office.
“We still wave. My orchid has flowered.”