I got my first birthday party invite in June to a sleepover in a friend’s backyard.

I hadn’t seen anyone since March and I was desperate to spend time with my friends. But it was clear pretty quickly that these friends had already been together and were planning on sleeping in one tent, riding in one car and pretending like things were normal. 

“You can social distance!” “Just come for the day and don’t spend the night!” they said when I told them I was uncomfortable with it. 

I thought about how it would feel to be in a corner wearing a mask and watching my friends have fun without me. I didn’t go to the birthday party. 

Instead, I FaceTimed and called this group of friends often, but every time I felt left out as they talked about the things they had done while I wasn’t there. It got harder and harder to feel so left out, and I started wondering if I was being too scared of COVID-19 and if seeing them was really a bad idea. But then I thought about the guilt I would feel if I got my parents sick and something happened. As hard as it was, I remembered that it was worth it to me.

But I was still lonely. So, I reached out to a friend I hadn’t talked to in a long time and she hadn’t seen anyone either. We FaceTimed and it was different because now I wasn’t hearing about things I had missed. We talked about life and how good it felt to connect to someone again. Eventually, we met up in the park with masks and plenty of distance, and I didn’t feel pressured to break the rules. I was just happy to see someone again and talk about everything that was happening. I realized that all I needed was someone who didn’t make me feel silly and paranoid — someone that felt how I did. 

It can feel like everyone around us is breaking the rules and meeting up without masks and it’s really tempting to let go and act like things are normal again. But there are also plenty of people being safe, for themselves or their families. There’s a good chance those people are just as lonely as you, and they want a friend too. It was scary to reach out to someone I hadn’t talked to in months, but it ended up being one of the best decisions I made during this pandemic.