Pandemic Isolation Has Weakened Group Bonds While Clarifying Friendships, Students Say

Photo by Reid Alexander.

Like the rest of the world, the GDS community has seen a drastic change in the way people interact with each other during the pandemic. Students have noticed differences in their relationships with friends and romantic partners in the past year, though the pandemic has had divergent effects on different groups’ experiences. Interviews with 11 students from all grades revealed that students took connections with others for granted before COVID transformed the social landscape. 

As the pandemic has stretched on, some students have felt isolated from their grade. “If we were in person and COVID hadn’t happened, I would definitely have a better bond with my classmates,” freshman Madisyn Moore-Nicholson, who is new to GDS, said.

Freshman Quentin Brand said, “When we used to do lunch in the lower school garage, there was a noticeable divide between freshmen who went to the middle school and those who didn’t. There were a bunch of lonely new kids who nobody knew.” 

In particular, some new students have had a hard time getting to know all of the people in their grade. Because of the unusual school year, Cole Huh, a freshman new to GDS, is still meeting classmates for the first time in the second semester, which he said has been an amusing experience. “I heard about people I never knew existed,” he said, “and that’s kind of fun.”

Because of the limited time together as a grade, sophomore Maya Raman noticed, “Our grade is more cliquey now because everybody only talks with their groups.” With most interactions happening outside of school, whether digitally or in person, and with much variation in their adherence to COVID guidelines, students are less likely to engage with those outside of their social spheres. According to sophomore Alex Gerson, his grade as a whole has grown less tight-knit.

Junior Brock Davis pointed out the difficulty of meeting new peers and teachers over Zoom. “I’m more of an intimate person so I like meeting people face to face,” he said. As the administration applies stricter rules to keep the community safe, students’ in-school interactions are less natural. 

Outside of school, students have noticed shifts in how they interact with their closest friends. “It’s a lot of sitting or going on walks,” junior Caroline Antoipillai said of social interaction during the pandemic. “But that requires constant conversation; I’m very uncomfortable with silence.” People put more pressure on themselves to hold stimulating conversations to make the most of their time with friends because conversing is often the only thing friends are doing with each other when they hang out.

While many of the students who spoke to the Bit felt that bonds with large groups of people, including grades, have weakened, they also said that the pandemic has tested their friendships and showed them which ones were strongest. 

COVID has done the job of weeding out students’ weaker friendships. “I’ve been able to see what my stronger friendships were during quarantine,” Moore-Nicholson said. Just over half of the people who spoke with the Bit noted that their friend groups have shrunk, which has improved the quality of relationships that have endured. 

Ten of the eleven students interviewed agreed that the transition from normal, in-person school to online last spring and hybrid in the fall has severed many of their more casual friendships. “Some people were able to make the transition from informal talking to informal texting and others weren’t,” Brand said. Without tone or facial expressions, many conversations do not transfer well to texting. 

In addition to the weakening of grade bonds and a change in friendship dynamics, some students have also noted problems COVID-19 has created in romantic relationships. 

Senior Elliot Oppenheim described his concern for how strictly potential romantic interests follow COVID-19 guidelines. Referring to approaching those with whom one might engage sexually, Oppenheim said, “It feels less safe because you don’t know what they have been up to and how they have handled COVID.”

Antonipillai also pointed out the added complications of relationships during the pandemic. She said, “You kind of have to be like, ‘Hey, can I break social distancing with this person?’” Relationships have an added layer now as people must trust each other to keep them and their families safe. Antonipillai laughed as she added, “There’s a lot more parent involvement than I think typically, which I think is entertaining to watch.” 

While many of the struggles that students face have not disappeared with hybrid school, some students have felt that being able to go in person, even for just two days a week, has improved their social skills. Huh noted, “For a while I didn’t talk to people outside of my family.” He then went on to say that going into school on his days is “kind of like shaking off the rust and getting used to talking to people again.”

Brand observed that the detachment, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, when students were unable to see each other at school, made students realize the value of friendships. “I think that COVID has been good for me as a person because it has made me realize what it is like to be so disconnected from friends,” he said. 

The pandemic allows for connections to form where they otherwise would not have. “I’m involved with the GDS buddy program so mentorship has become pretty prevalent in my life since the pandemic hit,” Davis said. “I’ve been able to build relationships with people I don’t think I would have built if the pandemic never happened.”

Despite the positives some have found in the social atmosphere of the pandemic, students most of all yearn for a return to their normal social lives. 

Oppenheim articulated a feeling that many GDS students share: “I am most excited to just hug my friends again.” 

Keevan Kearns ’23 and Lucy Mezey ’23