Many people frequently express their distress at not being able to see their close family and friends during the global pandemic and, indeed, this lack of contact has caused serious emotional and mental hardship to many people. Students missing being able to return home to visit family, grandparents not seeing their newly born grandchildren are just two examples of the overwhelming sense of loss being endured at this time.
And there are other relationships which are also suffering, which cause more subtle, yet significant impact due to the resultant feelings of loneliness and separation. When we're only occasionally 'allowed' to go out and are then expected to keep our distance and not engage with others it means that we're losing out on the more casual, yet important day-to-day relationships which reinforce our sense of community and belonging.
I'm reminded of a restaurant which my parents used to regularly frequent. Dominic ran the bar and whenever he saw my parents arrive he would immediately get their drinks poured and waiting for them. My parents loved this special treatment and the fact that he noticed and remembered them. His attention made them feel valued and important. That relationship was an important part of the restaurant experience.
We all have similar scenarios. The coffee or sandwich shop where they know our order, the shops and service providers where they remember little details and treat us well. I recall how I smiled when my usual supermarket cashier expressed surprise when there were no flowers in that week's shopping! Being recognised and acknowledged reinforces our connections with others, making us feel noticed, valued and less alone. It matters little that these people are not friends and we hardly know their names. These relationships are part of a very different, yet important category.
Then there are those people we know well enough to share a few words with, the friend of a friend, a parent from school, someone we see passing by at work or recognise from the gym. We would usually have stopped, said 'hello', asked how they were, enquired after their holiday. Yet again, those gentle connections have gone and we're alone, quickly going out to collect our weekly shopping or ordering a take-away coffee, if indeed we're still leaving the house to carry out those errands.
What about the arena events, the huge concerts and sporting dates, the networking expos where hundreds or maybe thousands of people congregate together with a shared collective enthusiasm, all cheering on their teams, singing the words and dancing to their favourite songs, meeting and exchanging potential business contacts. Again that shared connection unites us with strangers who have similar interests. We may smile at each other, dance together, share anecdotes, stories and reminiscences for a time. Connecting with others raises our spirits. We're part of that club for a while, and it feels good, adding to the quality and satisfaction of the overall experience.
Children too learn about relationships from face-to-face contact. Running up to a group of children who are playing, learning to share, take turns, lose, not get picked are all ways that children hone their abilities to communicate, tune in to body language, discover what works and what doesn't work.
Yet today, many of our opportunities for friendly interaction have been put on indefinite hold, only to be replaced by the delivery driver who now calls on a regular basis, the take-away restaurant that's familiar with your name and your usual order, the pre-arranged zoom meeting. Many of these transactions are now undertaken virtually, with orders left on the doorstep and little human contact.
There have been some new friendships made during lockdown. Many people have started to take their daily exercise at a similar time, maybe going for a walk, run or bike ride. Meeting the same people can mean that a nod and polite greeting gradually evolves into a smile and perhaps a few words of conversation, but these exchanges are often made cautiously, from a distance. We may know very little about who we're meeting, but the sense of having shared interests in walking or nature creates a special bond and ensures a friendly acknowledgement when we meet.
We may not have realised until now that a diversity of relationships is important in life. Not everyone we come into contact with has to be hugely relevant in every area of our life. Many are more whimsical, light connections, specific to certain interests and activities, but all nonetheless add sunshine and a feeling of belonging. A smile, a nod, a few words here or there; losing that is a huge blow to all of us. Let's hope we see them again before too long.
Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.
She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.
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