If you live in London, you will understand what I mean when I say it is exceptionally hard work to maintain a social life here.
Shortly after I arrived, given that I already knew a few people who lived here, I tried to organise a get-together to celebrate my birthday. I invited about 11 or 12 people. Only three came. It wasn’t that the others didn’t all have good excuses – one was working, one was travelling, one had another party, one had to visit her grandmother, etc. – but it was remarkable how so many of them were unavailable on the same evening. I was disappointed and a bit embarrassed, until one of the friends who actually turned up told me “Don’t take it personally. It’s a London thing. People here are busy and everything is far away.”
So it’s hard to get a group of people together in London. Perhaps it’s easier to arrange to see one person at a time? No. It is not.
This is what happens:
“Fancy meeting for coffee one day next week?”
“I’d love to but we live an hour away from each other. Let’s do a weekend instead, when we’re less pressed for time.”
“Not this weekend – I’m working. How about next weekend?”
“I have arrangements with another friend then. Maybe the following weekend?”
“I have arrangements with another friend then. The weekend after that?”
“I’ll be travelling for the next two weekends. End of October?”
And so on and so on, until you finally find a time when you’re both free two months later.
I have several friends in London who I would love to see more of but who I only actually see a couple of times a year, simply because the city is so sprawling and London life is such a hamster wheel and it’s so hard to coordinate timetables.
Under lockdown, however, my social life has become positively vibrant. I’ve caught up with so many people. Often it’s by Whatsapp, but in many cases we’re having video calls – or actually talking on the phone, old-school-style. My lovely friend Tijana even sent me a snail-mail card to say hello:
Phone or video calls are a lot more emotional work than text messages, but the reward is proportionately greater, and I always come away from a call happy and fulfilled and feeling well caught-up with the person I’ve been speaking to.
Part of the reason for all this catching up is that everyone is sending each other messages asking ”Are you OK?”
Part of it, I suppose, is that some people are feeling lonely, so they’re more up for chit-chatty calls or long Whatsapp exchanges than they would normally be.
And part of it, I suspect, is that people finally feel free to phone or message just to say hello, safe in the knowledge that neither of you is going to feel obliged to conclude the conversation with “We must meet up soon!” Because you can’t. You’re in lockdown! Not only are you freed from the obligation of performing calendar Tetris to schedule coffee and then spending an hour each way trekking across London on a crowded Tube train, but you couldn’t even if you wanted to. So now that a catch-up, of necessity, takes an hour rather than an entire afternoon, everyone is more willing to do it.
It’s been an opportunity to catch up with friends in other countries too. I think many of us would like to be in touch with our friends more often, but life tends to get in the way. And while I wouldn’t wish a pandemic on anyone, it has motivated many of us to make contact with all those people we’ve been intending to get in touch with for ages. And that’s been really nice.