It’s 10PM on a Friday and instead of going out like you might have done in 2019, you’re staring slack-jawed at people’s Instagram stories. Look, there’s one of someone’s brand new puppy. There’s another of someone taking a pumpkin pie out the oven. And there’s another of a few people having some drinks in a kitchen. “Support bubble party,” reads your mate’s text overlay as a sly reminder that no, they’re not breaking the rules. They’re being responsible!
Cut to the next morning and you can now see their “close friends” content. You touch the little green circle with your thumb. Every clip seems to include another new body, shoved into the kitchen, Kylie pumping out the speakers. How do all these people live here? Isn’t it a two bed? Is that someone doing coke off someone else’s tit, “2h” ago? (It’s now 9.09AM.)
Over the past few months, our timelines have been awash with people going on socially distant walks and posting pics of their handmade ethically sourced masks. The vibe online – at least on my version of online – is clear. During a pandemic, being responsible and looking out for others is cool. It’s not cool to ignore lockdown rules when it means you might give a bunch of people COVID-19 and accidentally kill someone’s nan.
As it stands under current lockdown rules, households in England aren’t allowed to mix indoors at all, unless you live on your own. In real life, things can get muddy. Many people, particularly in cities and the north, have been told to stay away from friends for weeks on end. It’s obviously not been easy. A few drinks down and, for some, the idea of inviting a few people over “just this once” starts to look increasingly appealing.
Many see their slip-ups as a one time thing. “I’ve been so cautious this entire time, not seeing anyone, not even going out when lockdown was lifted and everyone was back in the pub. But the other weekend I ended up getting trashed and a few friends came over, even though we were in Tier 2,” says Sarah*, 27. “Anything I posted was on ‘close friends’ because I knew they wouldn’t judge me.”
This has created a strange dissonance on many of our timelines. No one wants to look like a dick on main, so instead you’re getting a more accurate picture on “close friends”, where people might not be so careful about what they deem a good look or a bad look. If you’re on someone’s “close friends”, it probably means they trust you not to judge them, make a big deal out of things or even worse, snitch on them.
Reece*, 24, has been using Instagram carefully, even when he’s not technically breaking the rules. “I went on holiday recently, but because it’s not a great look I posted all the fun stuff we did to ‘close friends’,” he says. “We were super careful and everything, but for people who have had to stay inside this entire time, I didn’t want to make them feel shit.”
Others justify what they post on “close friends” because they believe the lockdown rules don’t make sense. “I don’t go to work and I rarely leave the house,” says Tristan*, 25. “It’s less of a risk for me to invite my girlfriend over than it is to go to the supermarket. But obviously I’m not going to shove that in everyone’s face.”
Sarah says she’s noticed more people doing this on her own timeline during the second lockdown in England. “Back in April and May, people were being really careful. And rightly so. But it’s almost like everyone got a taste of freedom during the summer months and can’t envision going back to how things were, even just for a short while. I’ve noticed people being more slack this time round – that’s what I’m seeing online among close friends.”
For those who are being more cautious, it can feel jarring and kind of hopeless to see your mates seemingly not give a shit. But no one wants to be the weirdo sliding into someone’s DMs to remind them to “keep 2m apart!!! and wash hands!!!” as if they don’t already know. The only thing that would likely achieve is them taking you off their “close friends” list.
Still, while the pandemic is raging on and claiming thousands of lives, it’s probably best to give that party in the kitchen a miss – even in private.
*All names have been changed