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Fictional Friends: COVID’s Perfect Companions

Credit: JESHOOTS via Unsplash

Has Quarantine Left Me Overly Involved in the Lives of Your Streaming Pals?

Once upon a time, I had friends. Actual flesh-and-blood buddies with whom I made plans. Went out. Shopped and danced. Ate and drank. Took walks. Met for coffee. Attended shows.

We knew the intricacies of each other’s families, kept up on each other’s work, hobbies, and health. Their problems were mine; my struggles theirs. They felt like my Allies for All Eternity.

And then the Pandemic hit.

Sure, we Zoomed a few times. We tried online games. Masked and quick-footed like bandits, we dropped little treasures at each another’s doors: baked goods, lemons from the backyard tree. Then our confab dwindled to texts and comments on the occasional social post.

The sad truth is that over the course of the year, my Forever Friends have become much like the perfume, wedge heels, and statement necklaces collecting dust in my bedroom: archaeological relics of The Time Before COVID. They’re all things I would miss terribly — things that would, in fact, inspire whiny-baby sobs of WHERE DID MY LIFE GO?! — if I indulged in that particular pity party.

Instead, I’ve developed this almost-certainly unhealthy alternative: I’ve collecting a tribe of colorful new companions from the shows I binge on streaming services.

I mean, who needs friends when you have Friends from College? The New York City dramedy follows six Harvard grads as they become adults … or don’t, as the case may be (damn it, Ethan, get your $#@% together!). Or Scott & Bailey, the British show about two women detective constables—one careful, one impulsive (damn it, Rachel, get your $#@% together!). Or Rita, the Danish series about a hell-raising teacher who leaves messes in her wake (for søren, Rita, get your lort together! … It seems I’m attracted to a certain kind of friend).

From Netflix to Hulu to Amazon Prime, the characters on my screen these days are always there when I need them. Which is more than I can say about toilet paper. Whether I have 10 minutes while awaiting DoorDash, or an entire Saturday that should absolutely have been spent cleaning the house, my new friends are a relief to eyes tired of staring at the same real-life quarantined faces.

When I watch Saul and Carrie on Homeland or Tig on One Mississippi or Lip and Fiona on Shameless before bed, I dream about them all night long. During the day, they haunt my thoughts: You know what Fiona would say in this situation? Haha, I sure do — and it would be rated TV-MA!

Look, these folks must be my friends because I know the intricacies of their families; I keep up on their work, hobbies, and health. However — their problems are not mine, my struggles not theirs. And that’s by design.

You see, whenever I begin to resent my new friends for being out there living their lives, roaming their make-believe worlds maskless, hugging people, sharing elevators, sharing drinks, making out with strangers (oh, Rita), and not getting COVID, I remember they’ve got other problems. And that’s what I love most about them!

I duck into my shows to evade the overwhelming statistics and headlines and predictions of our current reality. To watch other people cope with other headaches. To forget, for a blissful, blue-lit spell, that we’re living — and dying — in a humanity-shifting moment that will be chronicled in history books (to say nothing of the dreadful action-movie plotlines it’s bound to engender).

But while my scripted-character chums offer respite from the nonfiction nightmare that resumes when I hit pause, their friendship comes at its own cost: the dreaded series finale. I find the end of a beloved, long-running series is an emotional letdown on par with hearing your state’s going back into lockdown … again. You just think, “Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ll get through the next two weeks. Is there any chocolate??”

At least I know that when quarantine finally ends, my real friends — my Allies for All Eternity — won’t be relegated to reruns. They’ll still be around to shop, dance, eat, drink, and carry on with me again in the flesh. And to call me out for ever trading them in. I can almost hear them now.

Damn it, Starshine, get your $#@% together!

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