“He responded with ‘I didn’t ask for a lecture. You could have just said no,’” Amaya said. When I interviewed Amaya, four days had passed and his friend hadn’t spoken to him again; he found out later via Snapchat that his friends had gone out to play soccer without him.
Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship researcher based in Montreal, has heard many similar stories from her clients lately. It’s common for people to perceive input or feedback from their friends as criticism, she told me—and to take that perceived criticism as a personal insult, even if it’s not meant as one. “We tend to see it as criticism not just that we’re doing something wrong, but that we’re inherently bad,” Kirmayer told me. Plus, in this situation, the subtext of You’re doing this wrong is coupled with the heavy accusation that you’re endangering people’s lives—which, well, you could be. (Do a little digging on Twitter, and you can find first-person accounts of what it’s like to hear from a friend or relative that you haven’t taken social distancing seriously enough.)
Katie Stanley, a 17-year-old high-school senior who lives in Indiana, had already lost a number of her teenage milestones to COVID-19 before it started interfering with friendships she’s had since kindergarten. Prom had been canceled, then school was closed; now she’s not even sure whether she’ll get to start her freshman year in person at Butler University this fall. Instead of enjoying the end of her senior year, Stanley is staying home and watching her friend group unravel from afar.
In her group of eight close girlfriends, Stanley told me, only she and one other friend have been practicing social distancing. The other six have reportedly been driving together to Dunkin’ Donuts to drink coffee and then hanging out at one another’s houses. Stanley, whose dad and stepmom work for what have been deemed essential businesses, was horrified when she found out. Stanley’s friend who has been staying home called the other six out on their behavior over text: “Did y’all forget the social distancing thing?” That “put everyone in defense mode,” Stanley said. According to Stanley, the six Dunkin’ regulars began leaving comments about how delicious the coffee is on Stanley’s other friend’s Instagram, and then started a new group chat of their own.
Before the pandemic, Stanley said, these were the girls she did Secret Santa with at Christmastime. Now she’s not sure if she’ll ever speak to them again. Senior year “feels like it has a bunch of holes in it now,” she said.
In normal times, a rift like the one Stanley described might be easy to repair. Picture it: Two teenage girls are rule-followers, while the six other girls in their friend group aren’t; some tension ensues, but look, it’s senior spring. The knowledge that your time together might be ending is a powerful incentive to move past disagreements. But when people are anxious about the future and worried about their loved ones, it’s much harder to forgive and forget. In the current situation, “we’re all feeling increasingly irritable and frustrated, lonely, anxious, and bored,” Kirmayer said. “So we then have less patience for those around us. This is obviously true in romantic relationships; we take out our frustrations on the people that we’re closest to, because we have a certain level of felt security. To some extent, that can also happen in friendships.”