It was the kind of raucous night out Reece Clark, 32, a lawyer from Olathe, Kansas, had dreamed of during the dark days of 2020: a boisterous group of friends and colleagues packed into a small karaoke room, with music and laughter bouncing off the walls. .
But even as he was enjoying this much-anticipated celebration a few weeks ago, Mr. Clark felt a strange longing: nostalgia for lockdown; or rather, longing for the intimacy of his pandemic pod.
For seemingly endless months last year, his social bubble, which also included his wife, Katelyn Clark, 34, and another couple, did everything together — game nights, UberEats banquets, even a road trip across the Southwest.
As everyone began to drift back to their normal lives, Mr. Clark felt an absence.
“How often as an adult do you get the chance to connect on that deeper level?” he said. The empathy, the shared experience. And now he said, “I miss that sense of closeness.”
It may sound strange to suffer a break-up blues over a social arrangement that in many cases was the equivalent of a lifeboat bobbing in stormy seas (and, of course, could return if the spread of the Delta variant goes unchecked). But as vaccination rates soared and social calendars began to fill up this summer, some people crave the camaraderie and sense of collective purpose of their pods, and they still crave it.
“There’s just a sense that something is missing,” said Shana Beal, 41, a communications director at a technology nonprofit based in Greenbrae, Calif., looking back at the three-family group, the “Coronavirus Crew,” who formed simply because her family shared a house in Lake Tahoe with two other families over a long weekend in March 2020, when U.S. cities began to close.
Before the pandemic, the three couples were just neighborhood parent friends, Ms Beal said. Once the lockdown started, they were inseparable, living in a small world of six adults and six children who ate, exercised and coached each other through anxiety attacks, marital squabbles and moments of despair.
As restrictions ease in California, the Coronavirus crew vowed to stay tight. When a family moved to Austin, Texas, Mrs. Beal wept. With the other families, “the kids are in summer camps, but they’re different summer camps,” Ms Beal said. “They’re going on vacation, but they’re not together. Now I really have to contact them and say, ‘When are you free?’ I would almost like to put their travel schedule in my diary.”
Who could have predicted this? Pandemic pods were often thrown together in the blink of an eye, with some sort of friends or someone who happened to be willing and available. For most, they were intended as an emergency measure. Hey, backyard margaritas with those folks down the road are better than another Zoom trivia party, right?
But as the months went on, a us-against-the-world spirit began to take over.
“It was like school,” Mrs. Beal said. “It was just obvious that we hung out together every weekend because we were the only people to hang out with.”
For decades, sociologists have identified three conditions for making good friends: “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and an environment that encourages people to let go and confide in one another,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a sociologist with The School of Health and Human Sciences at University North Carolina Greensboro. (The quote is from a 2012 NewsMadura article about the difficulty of making friends over 30.)
Those conditions were all too apparent in many pods, especially when podmates stacked together.
“Our pod lived in a house with no secrets,” said Sabine Heller, 44, an executive at a Manhattan medical start-up who spent much of last year podding with a handful of friends in a house in the Hudson Valley.
Despite brutal remote work schedules that often left them hunched over laptops after midnight, the roommates forged powerful bonds during fleeting moments of downtime, Ms. Heller said.
Calling themselves the Quarantine Commune, they joked about their vaguely cult-esque strategies for decompressing: straining through group zumba classes, meditating together in a group sound bath, and enjoying breakfast together in the same Desmond & Dempsey pyjamas.
“There’s so much I miss about it,” Ms. Heller said of life in the pod. “The ease, the comfort, but above all the complete lack of artifice and pretensions.”
And of course the confidence. In addition to the game attempts at recreation, people in pods were tied to the same mission: to survive. Even the simple — or not so simple — act of establishing safety protocols that everyone in the pod was comfortable with required a deep level of trust, said Thrupthi Reddy, 41, a marketing manager at a tech start-up based in Oakland. California resides. ., and spent much of last year pooping with two other families.
Do we do shopping? Are we hanging out with people outside the pod? If so, how much? True?
“When you live on your own and have your own nuclear family, you tend to put your own needs first,” Ms. Reddy said. “In a pod, you think about everyone’s collective well-being and comfort, because you have to — you need your pod to survive.”
Sharing household chores also brought them closer together.
“I grew up in India, and you usually raise a kid there with the whole ‘it takes a village’ mentality,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘This was probably how it used to be. One cooks dinner while the other takes the kids to the park or bathes them.’”
This is not to say that living in the pod was a halcyon experience anyway. Anxiety, restlessness, frustration and gloom invaded even the happiest pods, and isolation often felt like torture, especially for extroverts, several said. (And learning pods, another form of lifeboat, involved different stresses.)
However, many introverts were extremely satisfied. Sarah Tiedeman, 36, who lives in Seattle, Washington, lost her job at a London-based adventure travel company early in the pandemic and ended up forming a pod with another couple. Months away from living in the bubble, she said she misses the freedom of obligation she discovered there. There were no obligatory parties with friends of friends. There was no FOMO “It just felt like a cocoon,” said Ms. Tiedeman, 36.
No wonder she was a little wistful about those quiet days when she recently went on a camping trip in the Snoqualmie Valley with about ten other people, most of whom she didn’t know well.
“I think it was fun – fun with a question mark?” she said. “We were drinking beer on a river. But just chatting with people you barely know, it was kind of like, ‘why are we doing this?’”