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  • Writer's pictureMihlali Mbobo

LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID: Friendship, Family and Self-Love

Updated: Oct 6, 2021


Friendships grew in lockdown and friendships ended during lockdown. The rhetoric about 'who is checking up on you' 'stop calling and see' was rife across social media.

Many of us have friendships where we drift in and out of each other's orbit but the friendship remains strong and mutually beneficial. There’s also seasonal friends who we experience and learn from but for whatever reason things fizzle and fade out. The pandemic showed me the importance of both, I learnt that I don't need to hold on to people who are no longer aligned with where I am at present out of fear of things changing between us or feeling like a shitty person because the person hasn’t done anything wrong but the friendship has reached the end of it’s road.

I realised I had a lot of unhealed hurts from friendships from childhood to best friend break ups and frenemies.

We see everything as a competition or failure when really a lot of things are complementary and interdependent. I’ve been challenging myself to cultivate the emotional capacity to experience and accept that, I think that approach allows us to be braver and more open with people.

Even though romantic partnership tends to be more prioritized and championed as the ultimate relationship, the pandemic showed a lot of people that when the chips are down, it's your friends and family that will hold you up.

Even in the best of friendships we can get complacent and before COVID, we could reasonably get away with some inconsistency on our friend duties without causing offense or hurt. We’re all human and flawed after all but the pandemic forced us to really look at the people we call friends and also look at the kind of friends we were. What kind of sibling or cousin or colleague are you?

Our social bonds and social conventions were tested, when the worst happens, what do we do? Who do we become? Do we practice what we preach? Do we turn towards each other or do we turn away from each other?

Lockdown showed me the ways in which we as friends can better show up for each other in general and when we fail to, how we can find opportunities to do better.

Love is such an abundant thing, it grows exponentially every time you allow yourself to fully embrace it. The more you love yourself, the more you will love the people around you and the more you love the people around you, the more you will also love yourself.

I made calls, joined Zoom parties and bought alcohol on the black market all in the name of showing up and loving my friends and I'm all the better for it. Sometimes in relationships, we can be so focused on what the other person can do for us and how they make us feel but one of the best feelings when you love someone is showing up for them and being the reason for their joy. It's a beautiful cycle of loving to love and loving to be loved. I water you and you water me and we both grow.

I've always liked the adage that ‘Friends are the family we choose’.

Throughout my life I'd have to say the friendships I’ve chosen have been the integral and defining relationships that taught me a lot about the world and myself. This past year reaffirmed to me that the way I approach friendship is one the best decisions I’ve ever made for my life. My friendships have been some of my most enduring and formative experiences with love. My whole life it has always felt like a different kind of romance. The way we share each other with our friends: the milestones, the setbacks, the lost years and the comebacks. The way we hold each other and the way we live life alongside and with each other.

There were really tough days but even a 2 min voice note was enough to at least get me out of bed and there were days filled with laughter and fun on Zoom game nights and binge watch WhatsApp sessions. It made a difference knowing someone out there cared, it made a difference to hear soothing and encouraging words, it made a difference knowing I wasn’t alone.

These days many of us have friends all over the world so social media, WhatsApp, and video chatting has kept many a friendship going and many a depressive episode at bay. It's allowed us to see beyond a shared physical space as a necessity in being emotionally and spiritually connected. We've allowed ourselves to be expansive by recognising that a connection is defined by the effort and actions of the people involved and invested in the relationship and little else.


Never have family bonds been tested as they were during the last 18 months and how they continue to be tested as this pandemic and it’s chaos continues.

The past few months, I’ve found myself thinking of extended family a lot. Cousins I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, the aunts who always remembered birthdays, the uncles who let me drive tractors and ride horses when my grandmother wasn’t looking.

The past year has been quite nostalgic, I remembered the joy of family gatherings in my childhood and the wonderful feeling of being surrounded by people who looked and sounded like me. We all shared the same features and quirky mannerisms: the sharp incisor in our smiles and the lines on our faces as our eyes squinted against the sun. Elders commenting as you walked past, ‘ that one is the spitting image of her great grandmother but has her father’s temper’. The feeling of being a part of something bigger, that you belonged to people you have never even met and they love you all the same. That your life and well-being is important to the life and well-being of other people. I think essentially this is what family is or rather this is what our expectation of it is. When I was younger I experienced my family and what family means differently to how I do now.

COVID has highlighted how much I’ve been lacking that greater sense of belonging. In our modern society the nuclear family is prized and prioritized as a result of Capitalism and western individualism that says what’s important is me and mine. Extended family bonds can be complicated even with the best laid plans and intentions. Generations of beefs and dysfunction that have nothing to do with you but ultimately shape your bloodline and the relations you have with each other.

In everyday life we have jobs, social obligations, deadlines and many other things that require our attention, so understandably we’re not as in touch as we all used to be even 30 years ago. The world of work and technology has reshaped our society and consequently how our relationships are formed and operated.

Reading articles and watching trending videos about old people and young people living alone learning tips and ways to prevent dying alone in their apartments.

It made me question the way we live and how at every turn, especially in this crisis we realise the way we live and organise our lives is not conducive for our health. It feels unnatural for human beings to be so isolated as a matter of design. And as more pandemics and global events happen, we will no longer be able to deny this and the ways it has damaged our individual and collective physical and mental health.

One night I woke up with a tight chest, hyperventilating not sure if it’s COVID or a panic attack. I managed to calm myself and remembered that Eucalyptus would at least take care of the physical side of tightness just in case. Having to apply Vicks vaporub to my own chest and hard-to-reach back made me feel an isolation and loneliness I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I thought of my late grandmother's arthritic hands, soft on the inside and tough and leathery on the outside. Then of course I listened to Bill Withers - Grandma’s Hands and cried my eyes out, which at least helped clear some mucus.


Who are you when no one is loving you? When you’re not a partner, a sibling, a best friend, a beloved child? Not a respected professional,not the life of the party?. Are you able to sit with yourself and attend to your own needs for love and affection?

I’m talking about the self-love that says delete that number cause you know this is not gonna end well, the one that says get up and stretch because you’ve been in bed too long, the self-love to push through an e-course or Zoom meeting because these are things you care about even though you’re struggling to find the strength to care in that moment.

Self-love that’s also about fun, dancing out solo in your room. COVID lockdown helped me discover the well of joy and chaos living inside me, it’s entertaining, amusing, scary and exciting at the same time.

Faced with the reality that I wouldn’t be able to be held by another person, I had to learn to hold myself. I’ve learned that the point is the practice and the affirmations being said out loud, by me to me. To affirm myself, my joys and pains, my loneliness, my lust for connection with another. To honour my own life because whether there’s another person there to share it with or not, I am always here and that is always reason enough.

I caught myself talking out loud about something and then answering and laughing with myself. It was a random moment but I felt this swell of clarity and gratitude.

For a long time I had centred other people in my life, I was the one always chasing friends and acquaintances, wanting to make friends, build close bonds and all that mushy stuff but it didn’t always work out well and that was very crushing for a long time.

But now I’ve discovered a friendship with myself, a real loving vibe filled with laughter and ridiculousness half the time but also genuinely understanding and self-compassionate. My relationship with myself in the past year has completely transformed and in hindsight I see that as the result of hard work over the past few years to challenge myself to become more self-sufficient, more grounded in myself and really working through my Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment style.

I realised so much of my anxiety and avoidance of myself was old emotions, old patterns and old fears that have actually fallen away and haven’t been true in a while but because they were such difficult and ingrained mechanisms I didn’t realise it when they left. I now had the chance to marry my healed reality with my unhealed past.

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