bakersfield matters march

From left, Ralph Bailey, Corey Gonzales and Scott Cox.

A year into the pandemic, we are still stuck in neutral it seems. Our social lives and essential interactions with others are all on pause. People remain laser-focused on their immediate needs, making it difficult to absorb much else, including keeping friendships afloat that have gone adrift during this extraordinary time.

“It’s tough. We are all social beings, wired for attachment and connectivity,” said local clinical psychologist Corey Gonzales. “We have lost a lot with this pandemic.”

Facebook, until 2020, was a cheerful reminder of fun times past with its memory pop-ups. Today, they are a cruel reminder of what we are all missing. Gonzales, a talk radio contributor, recently posted a social media memory photo with fellow radio personalities and friends, Ralph Bailey and Scott Cox, with the caption, “Miss the good times and seeing my boys.”

“No question, the yearlong pandemic has altered just about everything we knew, including our friendships,” he lamented.

It hasn’t helped, Gonzales noted, that so many people have turned to their computers and social media to fill the void.

“We all have a need for social approval, but we need to be careful and not go from Utopia to Dystopia,” he added. “Social media doesn’t fulfill our needs. It has us amped up, and too much anxiety impairs our psychological immunity."

In her book “Friendship,” released last year, science journalist Lydia Denworth writes that friends are the very key to our survival, happiness, emotional and physical wellbeing. While some studies showed that the bonds of friendship can begin to wane in as little as three months if people aren’t able to meet in person, they are more likely to be revived once friends are able to socialize again. Oxford University psychologist Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar concluded in a recently published review that the impact of the health crisis on shrinking friendships is likely to be “fleeting.”

Gonzales advises taking stock and inventory, reflecting and prioritizing in order to keep the most essential relationships afloat.

“Be present. Don’t take the relationship or interaction for granted,” he said. Conversely, respect that not everyone will have the same risk-tolerance level. Someone’s desire to distance shouldn’t be taken personally.

“Be grateful. These relationships are meaningful and that needs to be expressed,” he added.

Opt for FaceTime and Zoom, rather than relying on texting and phone calls.

“When you see people and their facial expressions, even if it is through video conferencing, it is more satisfying for our attachment needs,” Gonzales said.

“Try to find something good out of the bad,” he added, referencing the 1946 book by Viktor Frankl “Man’s Search for Meaning.” “In any situation of adversity, if we can find the good, growth, optimism, and gratitude, it will give depth to the quality of our interactions.”

While the pandemic has remade some friendships, pruned, shrunk or eliminated others, appreciate the time it has afforded us all to reassess them and their place in our lives.

The views expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble.