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While the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, rising vaccination rates across the United States have prompted many people to return (as much as possible) to pre-pandemic life.

You might notice this reflected in your social media accounts. Snaps of restaurant meals, group hikes, and selfies with friends, captioned “Finally!” or “I’ve missed this SO much” begin to replace the posts sharing fancy home-cooked meals or DIY projects.

As more and more of your family and friends begin to swim back toward more social waters, you might feel somewhat adrift. They encourage you to join in, issuing invitations urging you to hang out and catch up, but you can’t seem to muster up any desire to return to “normal.”

You like your empty social calendar. You’ve enjoyed not feeling any pressure to find a romantic partner (and have zero intention of reactivating your dating apps). In fact, you realize as you respond to messages more dutifully than enthusiastically, you don’t particularly miss anyone at all.

So, what gives? Has the pandemic permanently affected your ability to connect with others or turned you into a cold, unfeeling human?

More likely, these changes reflect a period of self-discovery and personal growth. You’ll find four potential explanations below, along with guidance on how to move forward.

Chances are, you cut way back on social events during the pandemic. While you probably mostly avoided close contact with others to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this virtuous isolation may have illuminated some surprising truths about your personal relationships.

Some friendships provide a lifetime of strength and emotional support. Other social connections do more to drain you than fortify you, and you may not always realize how those interactions aren’t meeting your needs until you get some space from them.

Friendships don’t have to be toxic or unhealthy to leave you wanting more. Certain friendships work well for a time, say, during a specific life stage, but they often fizzle out once you discover different interests or take a different path.

Best friends for… a bit?

High school friendships don’t always last into adulthood, and you might struggle to find common ground with your best friends from college several years down the line.

Even current friendships with old roommates and co-workers may rest on little more than a shared living space or office. As that shared space disappears, it’s only normal (and OK) for these connections to taper off.

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Plenty of people believe spending time alone is unhealthy. Introversion, a natural expression of personality, is often stigmatized and linked to mental health conditions.

Pre-pandemic, you may have put in the effort to maintain more casual friendships, despite a lack of common interests, simply to avoid being labeled a loner, or worse, “antisocial”:

  • Then: You didn’t really want to meet your friends at the bar. But they invited you and you weren’t doing anything, so you went — only to spend the night scrolling on your phone and wishing you were home with a good book.
  • Now: You can’t think of anything you’d like to do less than “Drinks at 8?!” Your plans for the evening involved organizing your desk, calling your grandma, and catching up on “Mare of Easttown,” and you see no need to change them.

Moving forward

Certainly, unfulfilling friendships don’t offer many benefits, and it’s understandable you wouldn’t miss relationships that leave you feeling less than connected.

Still, keep in mind that people generally do need some sort of human connection. Instead of expending your energy on all those draining casual relationships, why not cultivate a more meaningful friendship or two instead?

True friends will, for the most part:

  • consider your needs as well as their own
  • share some of your interests or, at the very least, show enthusiasm for your passions
  • match your effort to keep the relationship going
  • confide in you and demonstrate their own trustworthiness

You might already have a friend like this — that person you did keep in touch with through the pandemic, for example.

Learn more about the benefits of friendship and how to get them.

Given enough time, humans can get used to quite a lot.

No matter how surreal and unsettling the first few weeks of lockdown felt, you eventually adapted to the new state of things. Maybe you worked from home, kept in touch through chat and Zoom, and stayed away from public places as much as possible.

If solitude has become your new normal, the thought of a return to your old normal might overwhelm you, to put it mildly. Even if you don’t feel at all stressed by the thought, you might consider venturing back into the world pretty pointless.

After all, you went most of a year and a half without crowding into a house party or meeting your latest Tinder date for drinks at your favorite pub, and you’re just fine. If you’re being completely honest, you didn’t miss those activities in the slightest. Why bother changing anything?

Moving forward

Sure, you may not miss socializing in groups because the pandemic awoke a long-unrealized preference for your own company. But it’s also worth exploring whether you’re staying home because it makes you happy — or because you aren’t quite sure how to adjust to a post-pandemic world, and isolation simply feels safer.

Your brain is pretty good at adapting to new circumstances, especially when doing so helps you dodge a potential threat. But it also likes routine, especially when a reward follows a specific routine behavior — something you might already know if you’ve ever tried to break a habit.

When isolation becomes a habit

Self-isolation becomes routine because it reduces your risk for developing COVID-19. Your perceived “reward” might be good health, along with the knowledge that you’re protecting others, too.

Yet if solitude isn’t actually your jam, you might end up convincing yourself you don’t actually miss anyone to make yourself feel a little better.

To get more insight on whether your newfound love of alone time truly reflects your needs, try asking yourself some open questions:

  • What do I enjoy about spending time alone? Maybe you love finally having time to pursue hobbies and creative work, or catch up on your reading list. You don’t just feel safer staying home — your own company satisfies you completely.
  • How would I change my situation, if I could? Do you spend a lot of time engaged in wistful thought about pre-pandemic parties? Absent any COVID-19 considerations, would you wish yourself into a roomful of your nearest and dearest? If so, slowly but steadily rebuilding a social circle may help truly meet your needs.
  • Does my life feel balanced or lacking in something important? Even if you don’t miss anyone in particular, a sense of imbalance or loss could suggest you need a little more in your life. One option? Getting to know some new people.

Looking to make new friends? This guide can help.

Everyone needs at least a little time alone.

Not everyone realizes that even enjoyable activities can lead to burnout. It just might take a little longer to realize that the endless barrage of dinner and movies with friends, game nights, dance classes, and family brunches are fueling your stress.

Contrary to what many believe, spending time by yourself offers plenty of benefits, including time to:

  • sit mindfully with your thoughts
  • express your creativity
  • relax and unwind

A complete lack of time to yourself, on the other hand, can eventually increase stress and negatively affect well-being.

If you weren’t getting much time to yourself before pandemic lockdowns began, you may not miss your social circle as much as you imagined you would. Once you have room to recalibrate, you might begin to take pleasure in your own company and notice a distinct unwillingness to give up those quiet moments.

Moving forward

Without a doubt, reconnecting with yourself can leave you less inspired to rekindle casual friendships or seek out new opportunities for interaction.

All the same, most people need a dose of social interaction alongside their alone time, though the size of that dose generally depends on whether you lie more toward the introverted or extroverted end of the spectrum. Striking the right balance between time alone and time with others can go a long way toward helping you maintain optimal well-being.

Now that you know you need more time to yourself, creating healthy boundaries in your relationships can make it easier to protect your energy and share it with people who respect you and your needs.

In the early days of the pandemic, the people you considered your closest friends formed their “quarantine bubble” — but you weren’t in it. They didn’t invite you to their Zoom hangouts, and they responded to your messages slowly, if at all. When you suggested a watch party or socially distanced meeting outdoors, they made their excuses or never got back to you at all.

Eventually, you got the impression that they weren’t terribly interested in maintaining a friendship. Maybe you made a few passive-aggressive remarks and then muted your chats, resolving to ignore any future communications. “It doesn’t matter anyway,” you might’ve told yourself. “I don’t even miss hanging out.”

While it’s entirely understandable to feel hurt or even a little angry after rejection from people you care about, keep in mind that everyone dealt with different challenges during the pandemic. Your friends could have been navigating any number of struggles that prevented them from connecting regularly.

That said, it’s also quite possible they felt ready to move on from the friendship but didn’t know how to communicate that compassionately. This is, admittedly, a difficult skill to master.

Still, forgiveness can offer a better balm than anger when it comes to soothing your pain and building new bonds with people who do want your company.

Moving forward

If the friendship still matters to you, consider reaching out one more time. Share those feelings of rejection and express your desire to reconnect.

For a more productive conversation, try these communication tips:

  • Use “I” statements: “I felt like you didn’t value our friendship when I didn’t hear from you.”
  • Keep your language polite.
  • Make sure to listen.

Remember, too, that it’s always OK to move on from one-sided or unhealthy friendships.

Get more guidance on recognizing and handling toxic friendships.

While pandemic restrictions left some people feeling hampered and trapped, others felt liberated. And plenty of people felt something in between the two.

Solitude creates lots of opportunities for self-exploration and growth, so if you thrived during lockdown, you’re not alone — and it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Learning to honor your needs is never a bad thing, but it also helps to remain mindful of any deeper concerns that might diminish your interest in socializing, including feelings of depression or grief. The COVID-19 pandemic was, and still is, a significant trauma, and its heavy emotional toll can’t be denied.

When spending time alone leaves you feeling lonely and lost, or you avoid the company of others because you feel afraid of rejoining the world, a mental health professional can offer compassionate guidance and support.