Social Struggles at UCSB: A Student's Perspective on Friendship During the Coronavirus
By: Alexandra Grant-Hudd
I am one of many UCSB students who decided to leave Isla Vista and move back to my hometown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I can attest firsthand that it’s been incredibly difficult for me to feel connected to the community and friends that I left behind in IV.
As someone who has been taking social distancing and shelter in place provisions very seriously, talking to friends who have not hasn’t been easy. I get asked alot why I can’t just come back to visit Isla Vista for a couple of weeks, or why I am following shelter in place orders so adamantly. I feel a lot of pressure to justify my actions to people who may not understand or agree with what I am doing. “My mother has underlying health issues,” I say. Or, “My grandmother moved in with us because her in-home caregiver service closed.” Those answers seem to be enough to momentarily satisfy people so that we can move onto the next topic.
I’m not in the business of judgement or shame, so for the most part I try to avoid talking about the coronavirus at all. But I still find myself leaving facetime calls exhausted and hyper aware of how different my opinions are from my friends. Because of this, I’ve been struggling to engage in online social gatherings or to reach out to people over the phone.
I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Am I the anomaly? Am I the only one who feels disconnected?” The short answer is — no. In fact, I was in the majority.
As it turns out, many UCSB students are having a hard time balancing their friendships with their social responsibility to adhere to social distancing restrictions. After conducting an online survey of UCSB students, I discovered that 76% reported feeling moderate to extreme strain surrounding maintaining their social relationships.
BUT WHY EXACTLY ARE FRIENDSHIPS ON THE FRITZ? Different opinions on social distancing
Shelter in place orders and mandatory mask mandates have become the new norm. But differing opinions regarding the pandemic response and state laws have added a layer of tension to the mix. And many students are coming to the harsh realization that they are not so similar to their friends after all. While 86% of students believe that social distancing is crucial in the fight against the coronavirus, heightened disagreements between friends remain over the intricacies of how seriously distancing should be taken. 38% of Gauchos disclosed experiencing judgement from others due to adhering to social distancing guidelines. 21% of students reported the opposite; feeling judged for failing to follow social distancing guidelines.
When your core values don’t align with those that you’ve grown close to, it can be a tough pill to
swallow. There's an underlying dissonance in people's daily actions that is creating a wedge between friendships. For one student, the pandemic “has broken up some friendships of those who are being selfish and irresponsible.” It seems as if the pandemic is challenging Gauchos to juggle their friendships with their own civic values.
Household interactions are the only interactions
The pandemic has made everyday routines far more mentally exhausting than they've ever been. Reducing risk of infection requires planning, thoughtfulness, and sacrifice. And living with roommates only adds uncertainty to the equation, as their actions are out of your control. With upwards of 15 people crammed in one housing unit, there's not much room to breath. Add a global pandemic and mandatory shelter in place orders to the mix and it's no surprise that strained social relationships within households are a major consequence. This is especially true, as there's a lot of pressure for these relationships to replace the wide array of social interactions Gauchos are used to having living in Isla Vista.
In the first few weeks of shelter in place mandates, it seemed that facetime, zoom and houseparty were the official sponsors of the pandemic. I felt like I couldn’t go five minutes without talking to people about the next time I was going to talk to people. For a while there was a certain novelty to it all. But now, nine weeks later, it seems that everyone is tired of it. Facetime calls and group chat conversations can’t replace the vibrat social interactions that make Isla Vista the bustling college town that it is.
And with the majority of friendships turning virtual, staying as connected to your friends as you were pre pandemic is a tall order. Spontaneity is a thing of the past, and monotonous facetime meetings all seem to blend together.
Many Gauchos cited that they are tired of the constant pressure to engage in video calls. Some are reverting back to phone calls and texting to alleviate that pressure. But mostly, students have been video calling less and focusing more on self reflection, spending time outdoors, and trying things they usually wouldn’t have time for.
SO HOW DO I NAVIGATE MY FRIENDSHIPS DURING A PANDEMIC? Remind yourself and others to have perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in how drastically things have changed over the past few months. I, for one, struggled with the harsh reality that my senior year as a Gaucho was going to be cut short. I wasn’t going to get to go to my last Extravaganza. I wasn’t going to be able to walk the graduation stage in June like every other graduating year of students got to.
But as more and more cases were confirmed, and more and more people began to die, my problems, while valid, began to seem a little smaller. I felt lucky that I was able to socially distance while others were out on the frontlines risking infection.
Perspective is an extremely powerful tool.
This pandemic, even if it lasts for months or years into the future, is not forever. Social distancing is not a lifelong prescription. This coronavirus, while devastating, has given people a unique opportunity to be resilient, and contribute towards a greater good by simply staying inside. Gently encourage your friends to see it this way too.
When talking to friends, practicing perspective can help conversations transition away from the “doom and gloom” aspects of our current situation towards more positive topics. This is a great tool to dissolve tension and allocate social time to talking about you and your friends lives. Yes, we are all dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. No, we do not have to talk about it in every zoom we attend.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Everyone has their own struggles in some shape or form, including your friends. If you’re having a hard time engaging virtually, tell the people you’re close to that you can’t make it your weekly facetime hangout. Like I said above, the coronavirus isn’t forever. There is nothing wrong with taking the time you need for yourself and your own mental health, especially during a pandemic. Have confidence that your friendships will last even if you’re not talking as much as you usually do. If you approach situations with kindness, your friends will understand if you need some time off. Everyone could use a little more understanding during this time.
React to conflict with empathy first
Your friends are your friends for a reason: they are a positive and meaningful part of your life. A global pandemic doesn’t change that. If you feel that a friend is being irresponsible in their response to the coronavirus, approach them with empathy, care, and information. Explain to them why you disagree with their actions, and have information to support those claims. Ensure them that you are concerned for their health and safely, and the health and safety of those around them. If your friend is also your roommate, establish boundaries for the future so that you are comfortable in your own home, and so that your friend knows what's okay with you and what isn’t moving forward.
Obviously, if they continue to disrespect your boundaries, it may be time to think about if this friend is one worth keeping around. But for the most part, having an open conversation that is rooted in respect is the best way to approach coronavirus conflict.
Be realistic about other people's opinions. If you know that a friend already has very different opinions as you do about the coronavirus, trying to convince them otherwise is likely to be a fruitless attempt. Not everyone is going to agree with you. So it might be best to save your time and use your energy for something more productive.
There are no quick fixes or easy steps you can take to make sure your friendships are as strong as ever during this time. But it's okay, everyone is in the same boat. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that no one, not even our government, was prepared for. It’s okay to feel like you don't have everything figured out — no one does. Just take each day as it comes, act safely and responsibly, and stay social in the ways that work best for you.