‘My friends have fled the city – I’ve never felt more single’

Francesca SpecterFri, 2 April 2021, 2:21 pm

Francesca Specter is the author of Alonement: How to Be Alone and Absolutely Own It
Francesca Specter is the author of Alonement: How to Be Alone and Absolutely Own It

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the past year, it’s that the only real certainty is uncertainty. However, one shift I did not expect was the mass exodus of my London friendship circle: no less than a dozen of my friends have left for pandemic-related reasons. While I’ve been working from my kitchen table, walking the same circuits around my local neighbourhood, my friends have taken off on new adventures.

For context, it’s worth mentioning that just one of the friends who left is actually from London. While I’ve lived here since my early teenage years, most came here to study and stayed on, or moved for a job – so there was never any guarantee anyone would stay. Nonetheless, I wasn’t prepared for so many of these friends to leave London at once.

In normal circumstances, a gradually dispersing social circle might have seemed like an opportunity. In theory, there are sofa beds awaiting me everywhere, from Lisbon to Vancouver. During a pandemic? It’s less rewarding.

In the days of the first lockdown, a handful of my friends immediately decamped to their parents’ homes, drawn in by the promise of home-cooked meals, a garden, and a break from paying rent. Then those in relationships left, for the purposes of ‘settling down’. Would my couple friends have made these understandable lifestyle choices without a pandemic? Undoubtedly – but probably a year or two later. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost them prematurely – these would have been the years we created memories before some went on to plan a family.

What adds insult to injury is that I’ve been on an enforced dating sabbatical for much of the past year. I’ve never felt more single – it’s not just distance, but the increasing contrast of our lifestyles that separates us from one another.

The urge to leave has inspired my single friends too, choosing cities that are more affordable or have a better standard of living (and crucially, fewer harsh Covid restrictions) like Lisbon and Geneva respectively. This was facilitated by the new remote working culture, and the suggestion that it might continue for some time. As one friend put it: ‘I can work from home anywhere, so I might as well do it in Lisbon’. Well, quite, I thought, peering at her Instagram-worthy AirBnB flat on the Zoom screen.

I’ve spent the past year feeling robbed of many of the rites of passages of my late twenties – cocktails in Soho, dinner parties, rooftop barbeques. I imagine that when life does return to normal – hopefully this summer, in time for my 30th birthday – my London social life will involve a dramatically reduced circle of people. For now, the easing of restrictions forbids overnight stays and travel until at least mid-May, so it’s likely to be some time before I’m reunited with my far-flung friends.

Yet I remain hopeful. Maybe distance might make the heart grow fonder. After all, a former university friend has lived in Toronto for the past five years, and yet we’ve never fallen short of things to talk about during our monthly video calls. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve kept in touch with many friends, near or far, over Zoom – and those calls have reinforced the power for maintaining one-on-one connections.

There’s a quote, often attributed to Aristotle, that a friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. I’m learning that that shared ‘soul’ can stretch over oceans.

Francesca Specter is author of Alonement: How to Be Alone and Absolutely Own It (Quercus, £14.99). Buy now for £12.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514

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