In April 2020, Marissa Langevin’s cousin’s grandfather died of covid-19. For the 25-year-old living in Boston, that was a serious wake-up call.
“That set a really sobering tone for all of us,” she says, recalling a socially distanced funeral and how the loss sent a jolt through the family. Langevin, a marketing specialist who works in senior care, continued to see the effects.
It was difficult, she says, “having to take calls from [clients], who are like, ‘My mom’s not doing well and I can’t see her. ... What’s going on?” she says. It led Langevin to take public health guidance seriously, she says, staying at home with her family and avoiding all contact with others.
So when Langevin sees friends and acquaintances of hers on social media heading on vacations or hanging out with several other people, it gives her pause. Much of it has been consistent throughout the pandemic, she says, but in the past few months, it’s gotten more frequent. Langevin calls it a mentality of “covid was a 2020 problem, but we’re close enough to normal now.”
“It’s hard seeing people act like covid-19 isn’t happening,” she says. “It’s really unfortunate to say that I’ve lost trust in a lot of people.”
The rapid pace of vaccine distribution has become a light at the end of the tunnel. President Biden this week announced that every adult would become eligible for a vaccine by April 19, and has hinted at the possibility of a close-to-normal summer. Langevin, who has received one vaccine shot so far, doesn’t view getting vaccinated as a get-out-of-jail free card.
“If I have friends who are vaccinated and still respecting mask [and] social distancing guidelines and not trying to pressure me into ‘acting normal,’ then those are people that I’d want to see and repair relationships with,” she says.
Langevin isn’t alone. Other women are trying to figure out how to rebuild trust among family and friends after a year in which different approaches to the pandemic might’ve eroded some relationships. And the introduction of vaccines — and loosening guidance for those who are vaccinated — mean people can start to be around each other more.
The question is: How do you have the same level of trust as before?
Kari Rusnak, a counselor and certified Gottman therapist in Mississippi, says the political environment, including racial justice protests and the 2020 election, made those strains even more acute this past year.
“There was a vast scale of what people were disagreeing on,” she says. “Trust certainly becomes tied in that, because when you have an idea that someone shares your values, and then, here’s this big thing that happens, and you’re not on the same page, you feel like you don’t know the person.”
Langevin, for example, says she can, to some extent, understand the mentality of her friends who have partied or traveled during the pandemic: “I’m young and fun, I don’t want to lose my 20s,” Langevin says. But, in private Instagram messages, Langevin says she has confronted friends and asked them to consider the impact of their actions: “What if you’re asymptomatic?” she has asked them. “Is it really worth it?”
Those conversations haven’t gone well, according to Langevin, with friends often telling her she’s overreacting or saying they’ll be fine, deepening Langevin’s mistrust.
Adam Brown, an associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research, says the pandemic situated individuals in interpersonal situations they aren’t typically comfortable with. Many people, he says, were forced to have uncomfortable conversations with friends, family, roommates and co-workers around boundaries and safety — something many people are ill-equipped to talk about.
On top of that, people are experiencing high-levels of fear and uncertainty. “For many people, the reaction is to find ways to try to control the situation around them to reclaim some sense of predictability and controllability in their environment,” Brown says.
Rusnak says she thinks vaccines may now possibly cause further relationship conflict, particularly if a loved one doesn’t want to get vaccinated.
“That’s a huge hurdle you have to work through,” she says. “Everyone is entitled to have a choice for that,” she adds, but it can be uncomfortable if it’s someone you have to work or live around.
Jordannah Elizabeth, a 34-year-old in the D.C. metro area, says she has struggled with trusting many of her White friends this past year for the reasons Brown described: She felt like many of them were trying to enforce a level of control over her.
“It seems like my White friends have started becoming more and more judgmental,” says Elizabeth, who is Black.
Usually, Elizabeth says, she is more social, grabbing coffee with friends or going to bookstores. But she believes that being home all the time has made it easier for friends to make assumptions about her and her life, including her career choices.
“It’s like we’re all just kind of stuck in our own little places and everyone’s focusing on one another,” she says. She’d prefer her White friends to ask, instead, “How are you?” and, “Is there anything I can do for you?” before judging her.
Rusnak and Brown say for those who do want to repair the relationships that were hurt during the pandemic, baby steps are key.
“Try to think of … small and concrete ways that you might want to try communicating or being with that person again,” Brown says.
Rusnak recommends small, physical ways to be together, such as grabbing coffee together if you’re both vaccinated. If you are sure you want to start the mending process, it’s important you don’t want to wait too long either, she says: “The more time we let go on after a conflict, the harder it can be to repair. The brain kind of sits in those feelings.”
Going to counseling together, she says, can help with starting the journey towards rebuilding trust. To get someone who may be resistant to counseling, Rusnak recommends using a script: reminding a loved one of your long history together and your desire to not lose one another.
“If someone is really resistant, tell them to try one session. When most people come they see this can be helpful,” she says.
Both Brown and Rusnak say conversations need to center around listening with intent and trying to understand where the other person may be coming from. This may come in the form of explaining to another person your own experiences during the pandemic, for example, and then giving the other person an opportunity to share their own.
Brown says the better someone tries to understand the motivations and fears that drive a person’s behavior, the more likely they are to have some more compassion for that person’s actions — even if they don’t fully approve of them. “And over time, people can start creating new memories, creating new experiences, and beginning to trust a little bit more again,” Brown says.
Self-reflection is also important before a conversation, according to Brown. You can ask yourself: How might others have perceived you or your own behaviors? Doing so, he says, may help you be more compassionate and flexible towards the behaviors and needs of others.
Elizabeth, who says she is planning to have sit-down conversations with friends to talk about her feelings, recently had a three-hour talk with her best friend after two weeks of taking a hiatus — Elizabeth felt like her friend was trying to control her life too much. During that conversation, they both voiced their concerns.
As Elizabeth puts it, her friend acknowledged they felt they needed to “teach” and “change” her. But her friend also expressed something Elizabeth hadn’t considered: that they neglected to express when Elizabeth was hurting their feelings. “I want to know those things,” Elizabeth says.
Langevin, who confronted friends over social media and on the phone, says she does have plans to repair her relationships, particularly with an end in sight for the pandemic. But her trust in some people has permanently changed, she says.
As Langevin puts it: “I don’t want to completely cut people off for good because of this, but I think that I’ll just kind of look at them in a bit of a different way going forward.”