For Dorothy Reddin, lockdown has shown that life is too short and precious to surround yourself with toxic friendships. Here she talks about her time at university and how she came to reevaluate her circle of friends.
The pandemic hit at the perfect moment. After three years of hating my time at Uni, I was ready for it to end. That was when the outbreak of COVID-19 cut my time there short.
For too long I held up a facade around other people, pretending to agree with them about certain things in order to avoid confrontation. When the pandemic hit, it gave me an opportunity to rid myself of toxic friends who I definitely no longer needed in my life. It was three years of trying to please everyone around me. Enough was enough. I will no longer squash any part of my identity to fit in with other people. I am living my life for me and doing what makes me feel happy. However, it was a journey to reach this point.
I couldn’t wait to begin university. My school years were very up and down, and I was the only person from my year group to go to UEA. Needless to say, I was very excited for a fresh start where I knew absolutely nobody.
But my Uni experience at times was a complete nightmare. I lived in en suite accommodation during my first year. This had its obvious benefits, but also made life lonely because my flat was divided from day one. The arguments were instant. People were openly calling each other boring and judging each other for their differences right from the start of Freshers Week. This definitely was not the best way to begin a new chapter together.
My new flatmates were from an entirely different world. It was the first time I realised that my Catholic upbringing meant I had lived in a bubble for 18 years. I felt pressured to do what the other girls in my flat were doing, which was going out every night and pulling guys. However, this was the thing… I didn’t want to pull guys. I was gay. I had never told a soul about my struggles with my sexuality, and I was not about to tell people I barely knew, especially people who were so hostile towards these differences.
After signing what felt like another unavoidable housing agreement, my anxiety levels were at an all-time high. I would spend days crying in my tiny room. There were so many issues I was dealing with, including unprocessed childhood trauma, a nasty breakup, not to mention that I still hadn’t opened up to my parents about my sexuality.
Anybody looking in from the outside would have thought my university life was fantastic. I was going out 3 or 4 times a week, and constantly uploading videos of the night onto my Snapchat and Instagram Stories. The irony was that my Instagram was full of pictures with my “best friends” who I was always falling out with. When you are with your close friends, you should feel comfortable and secure, not like you’re constantly walking on eggshells around them. However, this was how I felt. I had to have certain opinions, I was not allowed to be friends with people who they hated… In reality, I was associated with a bitchy clique and I was ashamed. The picture I was presenting wasn’t real. I was lying to myself and I continued to lie to myself for a very long time. This severely affected my mental health and is something that I am still dealing with to this day. It manifests especially when I meet someone new. When this happens I try to decipher whether or not they could become a toxic friend. I am much more guarded now as I’ve experienced irreversible damage. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it felt like a blessing in disguise. I had just begun dating someone, though I was hiding it from my housemates because I couldn’t be bothered to argue over whether or not they approved. Things had become so tense at our house but the pandemic gave me an out. I decided to move back home with my family for the initial lockdown.
During the first 5 to 6 weeks of lockdown, my housemates were posting pictures online of their little clique and gloating about how much they were enjoying quarantine. Meanwhile, being stuck with mum and dad at home left me feeling ostracised. It was probably at this moment when all remaining hope was extinguished, and I knew our friendship was not going to last long after university ended.
I had been living apart from them for nearly 2 months, and they seemed happier and closer without me in the picture. This resulted in mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was ecstatic to have had some respite from their overbearing presence; on the other hand, I knew this represented my biggest fear, that the people I had chosen to spend so much time with would be happy to throw me under the bus for their happiness.
I moved back to Norwich in mid-May to finish off my exams and final pieces of coursework. As soon as I entered the door I regretted coming back. The remaining 5 members of my student house had become close and were playing games every night. I instantly felt unwanted and completely out of place. My housemates would tell me how much fun they had before I came back, which deeply hurt me. Every time I would walk into the living room I felt like I had just been the topic of their conversation.
In late 2019 we had begun planning our house holiday to Zante, Greece, for Summer 2020, to celebrate graduating. By the time Summer came around, however, we were in a global pandemic, and I no longer saw my housemates as the close friends I wanted to travel with. I knew it wasn’t right, but I felt peer pressured into going. I knew I wouldn’t get any of my money back if I dropped out, and I thought it might be a nice thing to look back on. But I was wrong. Predictably, my housemates would force me to drink and join in the “fun”, even though every club was closed because of the pandemic so we had to make do with bars. I was miserable, and I could not wait to go back home. Real friends should not make you do anything you’re uncomfortable with, or make you feel bad for not wanting to drink excessively. However, they had done this for 3 years and I was sick of it.
Now that it has been a couple of months since university ended, I can look back at everything with a clearer head. In many ways, my uni days were the best years of my life. They taught me valuable life lessons about who to make friends with and gave me a sense of independence that I had always craved. But the heartache of realising my close friends were toxic individuals who did not care about my wellbeing is still quite fresh. A big part of me is relieved that I don’t have to be in that place ever again. Due to the pandemic, our graduation ceremony was cancelled. It is meant to take place in July 2021; however, I will not be complaining if it is cancelled a second time.
Six months later, I have the most wonderful, beautiful, and supportive girlfriend, my mum survived a horrific brain aneurysm, and I’m starting my journalism career with small steps, which I couldn’t be more excited about. I spent 3 years trying to please everyone around me. However, the pandemic revealed how short and precious life is and that it is so much more worthwhile to surround yourself with real friends who bring you happiness.
About Dorothy Reddin
Dorothy Reddin is a 22 year old feature writer, blogging everything from life experiences as a young LGBTQ+ person in the U.K., to reviews of films and series, to being a political reporter. Follow her on Twitter @DotReddin and on Instagram @dorothy.r_98
This personal essay was commissioned for Disembodied Voices: Friendship during COVID-19
How we think of friendship, intimacy and closeness has radically altered during this period, perhaps irrevocably. Lockdown and quarantine has left us relishing time with friends and family, or dealing with feelings of isolation, anxiety and abandonment. WhatsApp, Zoom and social media are our new lifelines, changing the tone, register and channels through which we communicate. We’ve reached out to old friends and been turned away by new ones; rekindled old bonds and discarded others. There are friends who inspire and those who infuriate; there are relations we’ve failed and some who’ve come through for us, and shown love in a way we’ve never experienced before.
We want to curate a series of essays, interviews and stories on friendship, experienced during the time of COVID-19. We are keen to hear from marginalised perspectives, underrepresented voices and communities significantly impacted by the virus.
We are also open to submissions and pitches on the representation and concept of friendship more generally. How friendship is represented on television, film, and social media; in books, music and videos, before and during the pandemic, is also important. Are there representations of friendships that have given you hope (such as I May Destroy You or Broad City) or those that have appeared toxic to you (such as that recounted by Natalie Beach about Caroline Calloway). If so, we want to hear from you too.
For the full Call Out and details of how to apply, click here.
Submissions are open until the end of February 2021.
We look forward to hearing from you,
Aysha Abdulrazak and Samaya Kassim, Guest Editors of Disembodied Voices.