For the last week-and-a-half, my sister and I have communicated almost exclusively through “90 Day Fiancé” memes.
In times of economic uncertainty, seasonal pains-in-the-asses (oh, hi, taxes) and evolving COVID strains, both of us pretty much only have the energy to joke about Splenda daddies and how inarguably awful Tom is.
I’m not alone in my laziness. As friendships take a backseat to everything else in our lives, so many of us are slapping a meme Band-Aid on them and crossing our fingers that doing so will keep the bonds alive through the pandemic.
The reality is, when juggling all the demands of our lives ― working through the health crisis (or looking for work), paying bills, caring for kids who are remote learning, checking in with family members ― friendships often get the short shrift.
Even Zoom hangouts, which once seemed so novel and at least vaguely fun, feel emotionally taxing at this point. (Who wants more screen time after nine hours of it for work?)
Fortunately, in many friendships, a mutual, unspoken understanding exists that it’s not personal; each party simply doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to engage as usual. There’s often no resentment tied to this slow, pandemic-pegged drifting apart, there’s just sadness.
Given all that, if “memes and only memes” is all we can muster in this moment, that’s absolutely fine, said Andrea Bonior, a psychologist and author of “Detox Your Thoughts.” It certainly beats radio silence.
“When demands get in the way of us keeping up our relationships in the ways we’d like, we feel guilty and pull a disappearing act altogether,” she told HuffPost. “Or we think we have to do some big grandiose ‘catch-up’ since it’s been so long, whereas in reality it’s the little things that can matter most.”
When sending an earnest, “Hey, I’m so sorry I’ve been MIA recently, how are you doing?” text feels a little awkward, a good meme or tweet can break the ice. (Just not anymore “Bernie at the inauguration” memes. For the love of all that is good and holy, make those stop.)
“Sometimes having smaller, more fleeting interactions can keep things feeling more natural and connected than putting undue expectations on yourself that will only feel burdensome, or will lead to further growing apart,” Bonior said.
Even the most notorious of slow responders can get on board with meme exchanges. Brittany Schiffres, a pharmacy technician by day and a digital illustrator and streamer by night, said she has a bad reputation for slow replies.
“It’s a joke among my friends,” she told HuffPost. “With regular texts, it might take a few days, even weeks, to get a response because I’ll read it, intend to reply, and get distracted.”
Memes are a different story.
“You can acknowledge it quickly without having to start a whole conversation with the, ‘Hey, how are you, blah blah blah,’” she said. “I’m not really big on small talk so being able to communicate with my friends in a way that’s almost always guaranteed to make me laugh or at least smile without the taxing small talk is great.”
“Even for people who communicate with friends only through memes, even if it is shallow, there’s nothing wrong with friendships of pure pleasure.”
There’s one caveat here: In closer relationships, if you really have zero energy to devote to the friend, be transparent about it. That’s particularly important if you’re sensing that a friend needs you or is reaching out more often than normal, said Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert.
“You might say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I’ve just been feeling tapped out right now and have been wanting to be in touch so much more than I am. I just wanted to make sure I was transparent with you, so I can let you know that if I take longer to respond than usual, it doesn’t mean I don’t care,’” Franco said.
That said, don’t feel bad if some of your longstanding friendships are running on “this link is hilarious and made me think of you” texts and DMs.
“No one friend has to be all things, and in fact, it’s healthy to have a community to fulfill all of your needs instead of expecting any one person to do it all,” Franco said. “So even for people who communicate with friends only through memes, even if it is shallow, there’s nothing wrong with friendships of pure pleasure.”
If there can be whole college courses devoted to “memeology,” having friendships based mostly on them will have to suffice for the moment.