I’m Redefining “Close Relationships” in Lockdown

Ioana Andrei

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When I think about people close to me, I encounter a thick fog, oblivious to anything on the other side.

I don’t know what it means to be “close” anymore.

If you ask me who I speak to the most, I can think of the top two people.

If you ask me about the ex who is not exactly a friend, but is there for crisis resolution, he’s there too.

I think of the creative tribe that fills me up with support, encouragement, and inspiration in my work.

I think of the mental health buddies to whom I can show up with my vulnerability.

Those physically close to me: my neighbors and their fluffy companions.

The random but vital strangers who offer up a hello or a smile on my walk.

Categories are easy to list. But the word close doesn’t mean much anymore.

Have my definitions changed?

A year ago, I wouldn’t have faltered. My closest humans would have been my partner and my three best friends.

Two years ago, I could have listed four best friends.

Take me back five years and I may have included friends from work.

My family would have been somewhere in the mix. Depending on the year.

I would operate on four levels of intimacy:

  1. Best friends
  2. Friends
  3. Acquaintances
  4. Strangers

But as of right now, my view on relationships is unprecedented.

I think not of hierarchy, but of situation.

What is the situation of this relationship?

The closest human to me is myself.

For the first time in my life, I have lived on my own. For the first time in 100 years, we are facing a pandemic.

Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way:

“In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously. With gentle, deliberate effort, they must nurture their artist child.” - Julia Cameron

She explains that the fear of being selfish can stop people from allowing themselves play, joy, and creativity. She wrote this book for me, surely.

I was invited to pursue Ms. Cameron’s 12-week program at the beginning of a distressing time alone, in lockdown.

There was little to do apart from caring for myself. Even so, it was one of the hardest practices I’ve undergone.

To let myself be, I had to unlearn the deafening, self-sabotaging patterns in my mind.

I painfully removed jobs, relationships, and labels that had “need for validation” written all over them.

I looked at my trauma and said, “I can live a fuller life than this.”

Situation: External validation runs dry. I am my own salvation.

I kickstarted my dream as a theatre writer/ performer in 2020.

Even in London, the theatrical epicenter of the world (sorry, New York), moods were low.

Hell, they still are.

Incidentally, my mood was low too, albeit for health reasons. But my creative appetite was high.

By speaking my truth and asking for a way in, I found my tribe. Turns out, no matter the stage of their career, artists want to stick together. Share wisdom. Share sorrow. Find new avenues to create.

Situation: creative dreams are high, opportunity stack is low. Human bonds peak.

If I had to choose one person for my bubble, it’s my mother.

A timely decision to make, with England entering another national lockdown.

My mother and I have always had a good relationship. However, even under these emotionally-charged times, I wouldn’t use the word close.

I am able to be vulnerable with her, but not all the time.

I can call her any second of the 24-hour circuit, but not without reticence.

I may talk to her about certain things, but not others.

And yet, there’s no one else that makes me feel unconditionally loved, protected, and worthy.

Situation: world is on fire. Only one person can keep me safe.

I let go of people who could not hold my full self.

It's a paradox. While I'm more open to describing relationships by situation, I'm making fewer compromises on being accepted by others in increments.

Hypocritical? Maybe. Maybe not.

Every day, I get a clearer picture of what makes me whole. My emotional understanding of the world. My ambitions and breakdowns. My desire to do good. My need to rest.

We can all agree these are important parts of any human being, yet the practice of exploring them is imperfect. Someone that's good for us at a certain time may not serve us at another.

A lover who was crazy about my ambition ended up detesting my mental vulnerability in the face of adversity.

A friend who connected to my compassion was not able to embrace me as a powerful woman.

Situation: as I discover my full self, I make room for those who see the real me.

No other global event has shifted relationships the way this pandemic has.

Some say the emergence of social media has pulled people apart. But online platforms weren’t created because meeting in person would induce collective manslaughter.

This is different.

Why do isolation and fear prompt us to see people differently?

Do close relationships require physical proximity?

Is meaningful interaction heightened by touch, breathing the same air, seeing colors in the same hue?

Have our individual benchmarks changed when it comes to:

  • Who we have in our lives,
  • How we define the word “friendship”, or
  • What we deem acceptable in socio-political action?

I’ve read about people cutting out friends and family who support an opposing political party.

I’ve watched self-declared allies be called out for white supremacist inaction.

I’ve seen more 2020 wrap-ups with the words, “I’ve let go of friends” than ever before. (That might also be because I’ve blown up my Instagram use.)

Some of us have too much proximity to their “close” ones. Some not enough.

So, I don’t think I’m alone in reevaluating my relationships. We are all expanding our borders for closeness as a result of this hugely shared human experience.

Though we’re all capable and worthy of love, we’re realizing that certain people do not deserve our time. And perhaps even the most stoic of introverts have learned to reach out for human (virtual) warmth.

Whether this global change will bring us further together or apart, I can’t say.

But we must begin by acknowledging the shift within ourselves.

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice | ioana.a.writes@gmail.com

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