CHICAGO — As the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on Chicago, Danielle Campbell reached out to seven of her dearest friends. Most had gone to college with her; all had been in her wedding. But now, one was in Seattle, and three were living in France.
“You’re my favorite people,” Campbell texted. “I want to make sure that you’re all OK.”
The “Fabulous Babes” group chat that resulted was flooded with messages, and soon, there was a weekly Zoom meeting with wine or cocktails. The “Babes” discussed their anxieties and challenges, but they also shared silly photos and joked and laughed.
“It just really became a lifeline for all of us,” said Campbell, 47, of suburban Oak Park.
Many have reached out to dear friends across the country and the world during the pandemic. And in some cases, they’ve stayed in close contact with multiple conversations, texting sessions or video chats.
In interviews and responses to Chicago Tribune queries on Facebook, two dozen area residents said they were spending more time with close friends who live far away than they did before the pandemic.
That makes sense to Washington, D.C., psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco, who said she, herself, is in more frequent contact with her best friend in Chicago, in part because this is a stressful time and in part due to pandemic-related flexibility in her schedule.
“Work life is less rigid,” Franco said.
“We’ve heard a lot about how the boundaries of our work life have changed, but in the same way, I think, the boundaries of our emotional life have changed. For friends, that can be useful because it’s like, ‘Oh, now let’s chat at 1 o’clock, when I don’t have a meeting at work.’”
Others point out COVID-19 makes proximity less of a factor in friendship.
“When you can’t be close to people physically, it opens up (your options),” said Kryss Miller, 47, of Oak Park.
“If I’m connecting with somebody across the street with Zoom, I can also connect with my friend in Paris.”
River Forest resident Emily Paster, a freelance food writer who grew up in Washington, D.C., touched on a common theme when she talked about connecting with close high school friends on Zoom.
One of her former classmates is living in Rome, she said. Others are in New York and Washington, D.C. But their 30-year bond remains strong.
“When we get together, it’s just the easiest thing in the world, without any of the awkwardness or superficiality of some of our adult relationships,” Paster, 46, said.
“It’s so different — it’s such an authentic, honest connection — because we knew each other growing up. We’ve been in each other’s childhood homes, we knew each other’s parents. When my dad passed away in 2011, my friends in River Forest were lovely and supportive, but it was nothing like hearing from my friends from high school who knew my dad.”
In one of the more innovative twists on the trend, Melanie Pivarski, of Oak Park, is taking a Zoom ballet class with an old college friend who lives in England.
Nicole McCabe, of Naperville, is now in daily contact with a close high school friend in South Carolina via the Marco Polo video app.
“Those old friendships — there’s such a comfort and an ease. They know you in such a deep way,” said McCabe, 41, who works for an educational nonprofit.
Aurora resident Neeta Pal, who grew up in India, attended a Zoom meetup with a dozen friends from college who are living in India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Dubai and Singapore.
The women, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, recalled college crushes and hijinks, including sneaking out of the dorms after the 7:30 p.m. curfew for tea or dinner with friends.
“It was like no time had elapsed,” said Pal, 42, a mechanical engineer. “It felt really, really good.”
Early in the pandemic, Oak Park resident Becky Fuller sent a meme to her next door neighbor and close friend Danielle Campbell: “Check in on your extroverts. They are not OK.”
Campbell, the extrovert in question, said the message hit home.
Campbell started a WhatsApp chat for both women and six friends from Chicago, Seattle and France. France was going into lockdown, and Americans were feeling scared and isolated. Major life events such as high school graduations and weddings were canceled.
“In retrospect, I think I was mourning, because I did something I did when my dad died,” recalled Campbell, 47, an executive at a software company. “I was staying up way too late — till 1 or 2 in the morning, alone.”
But because members of the chat group were in different time zones, there was round-the-clock support. Regular Zoom meetings allowed the women to compare COVID-19 experiences in different countries, voice their fears, talk about work and share concerns about remote schooling.
The group met weekly at first, and still comes together every two weeks or so.
Campbell said the popularity of this type of long-distance socializing surprises her a little, but she’s glad to be a part of it.
“I feel like it was necessary,” she said. “Everybody panicked and threw out life preservers — like, ‘Somebody pull me up into your boat.’”