As John Brown University’s COVID-19 numbers remain low, the temptation to let up on social-distancing measures may become strong. We know that, while we miss open dorm, sports games and in-person events, we still must take precautions and show our regard for each other’s safety. But how do we navigate relationships while working through the issues that come with social-distancing guidelines?
If you’re feeling anxious about maintaining relationships or feeling lonely, you’re not alone. Derek Gwinn, director of relationship education for The Center for Healthy Relationships, explains, “This is a time of uncertainty for everyone, students and faculty alike. Because COVID-19 has made everything tenuous, our levels of uncertainty stay high. One challenge with this is that our uncertainty about COVID-19 can bleed over and create uncertainty in other areas of our lives, like our friendships. This means we have to take extra steps to make sure our friends know we’re still there for them—but still six-feet apart.”
We may know that we have to take extra steps to maintain friendships, but how do we nurture healthy connections? “Plan ahead and actively reach out to classmates.” Gwinn suggests, “Technology has made this easier for all of us. We’re now more versed in Zoom and video calling, for example. Utilize your resources to remind your friends that you’re thinking about them. Send an email, drop a text or even leave a comment on social media. Given CHR’s Look Up! efforts in the past, this might seem contradictory, but it’s not. Our message has always been about the importance of being intentional about using technology, rather than letting it get in the way of your connections with others. This year is a great opportunity to make technology a resource rather than a problem. It can reach past masks and across Chip-widths.”
Intentionality means everything in a time when everyone is busy, stressed and trying desperately to find a “new normal.” If you’re having trouble connecting with friends, remember that everyone is struggling. “Ultimately, give yourself and others some grace.” Gwinn concluded, “It’s hard to read facial expressions through a mask, and that can sometimes lead to misinterpretations and misunderstanding. Be thoughtful about how you say things, from your choice of words to your tone of voice. And if something gets misunderstood, don’t be afraid to interject and kindly correct the misunderstanding or seek to gain better understanding yourself. Miscommunication is more likely in uncertain times.”
As friendships during COVID-19 take extra effort and intentionality, it’s also important to choose to nurture relationships with people who will be authentic and real. Gary Oliver, executive director of the Center for Healthy Relationships, provided this list of traits that authentic individuals have. “People who are real are emotionally available and encourage one another,” he said. “They are genuine, true, reliable and trustworthy; [they] are generous. Little acts of love can make a huge difference; [they] are empathetic; [and they] aren’t afraid to join you in the sad and scary times. Sometimes when people are going through hard times, people don’t come around because they don’t know what to say. People who are real aren’t afraid of sounding or looking foolish. They just show up and often times say nothing.”
Though it may be difficult to maintain friendships in a safe and healthy manner right now, it’s crucial that we continue to make an effort to connect with others. Illustrating this, Oliver shared this quote from C.S Lewis’ book, “The Four Loves”: “To love is to be vulnerable . . . If you want to make sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken—it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the danger of love is Hell.”