There are not that many solid human beings in the world. There are just enough. If you find a few, you should try your hardest to hold on to them, through moves, through disagreements, through weird romantic relationships and their even weirder endings, through times somebody forgot to return a text. “How are you?” is a question that can lead to a one-word answer, like “Fine,” or a forty-minute monologue about everything, ever. 

These are the most recent texts I have sent and received: “OK, are we doing Zoom? Google hangouts? Would FaceTime be better?”  “Is there a way we can watch it together?” “What time zone is that?” “Oh, you’re out of sync. No, I’m on mute.” “Hang on, let me call back.” I went to a book club meeting on Zoom this morning. And to be honest, it was kind of…blah.

I am so grateful for my friends and grateful to my friends. And in the last year, it has become more and more difficult to stay in touch with them. The game nights and happy hours from March have mostly died out due to lack of interest and the awkwardness of the screen. Some of the shows we used to bond over watching have been cancelled, and the movies we were going to see together met the same fate. So far I haven’t found an app or extension that really lets us watch things in union, that makes it feel like you are sitting next to someone on the couch. There’s no way we can go try new restaurants together or check out a gallery.

It seems really dumb to talk about planning a visit, or a trip together. And when we do talk on video, it is exhausting. I don’t know why four hours can pass effortlessly at a cafe and an hour on Zoom leaves me wrung out like a wet towel. I suspect it has something to do with eye contact and the constant fear of being on mute. 

Sometimes it feels hard to pick up the phone because you…don’t quite know what to say. You haven’t left the house in forever and there is a low number of thrilling, shareable new experiences that is possible to have inside your own apartment. Who wants to hear about what they were out of at the grocery store? Again? I am afraid of seeming like an airhead by talking about a haircut I’d like to get or the weird thing my neighbor’s dog keeps doing, but I don’t always want to talk about statistics, disease and case rates either. 

It doesn’t get all that much easier when you interact with people in person, either. Masks muffle voices. Going on walks gets old. The fear that you will get the dreaded call about getting tested is hanging in the background. 

If everything else has changed this year, I think that friendship just might too. Even long-distance friendship. A steady stream of texts, updates, memes, gifs…these things make up the texture of my day. Long deep conversations sound great, and indeed they are, but only once in a while. We’re in a pandemic and exhausted. When someone sends you a good quote in a text, or an image of a beach, or a video of an animal doing something unlikely, the actual message is “I’m thinking of you!” Limiting screen time for some abstract ideal of mindful calm doesn’t seem so beneficial and important when your screen represents the outside world and the people you love in it. In the next few months, I honestly hope to be on my phone a little bit more. 

Written by Jules Reich. 
Jules is a writer, data analyst and friend living in Chicago. Her interests include texting, food of any kind, and forensic science.