Strung Together

By: Lori Sun

Graphics by Sophie Chen

“I’m just so bad at responding to texts”. This excuse became my refrain, time and time again, to justify my poor response times and abundance of unread messages. As quarantine started, the increasing emphasis on virtual connection only exacerbated the problem. I’d find myself losing all sense of time before realizing days had gone by since I’d last responded to a message. 

“Hey, just checking in! How are things going? What have you been doing during quarantine?” 

I came to dread the obligations that came with each message and allowed myself to disengage from many relationships I used to treasure. With the exception of a few close friends, extended periods of remote interaction allowed me to easily forget the fond memories and intimate moments I once shared with others. I’d find myself in my room at 1 a.m. rewatching Glee on Netflix and ignoring invites to Zoom movie nights, Discord games, or random Penn freshmen social events. However, the guilt and loneliness I felt from abandoning these relationships would overwhelm me every few weeks, and I’d send a flurry of messages in a desperate attempt to re-secure my ties to others. 

Even when I’d muster the motivation to force myself to join Zoom calls, my experiences would often only reaffirm my distaste for them, as I was reminded of how disconnected I felt. As the pandemic worsened, I began to wonder if the only choices available were to push through these interactions or to accept solitude until I could satisfy my need for in-person interaction.  Hopping onto scheduled Zoom meetings and reminding myself to respond to texts felt like a to-do list of tasks, replacing the natural and spontaneous development of relationships with intentional and calculated actions. 

In conversations I’ve had with peers and friends, I noticed many of them also admitting their natural disinclination to text. Especially now, with texting and FaceTiming becoming social norms for sustaining relationships, it seems like there exists a disparity between a genuine desire to express care towards friends and loved ones and a struggle to adopt the conventional ways of doing so. 

In May, I started making friendship bracelets. At first, I made them for no one in particular and purely used them as a way to get through hours of remote learning. As I quickly realized that an abundance of bracelets were of no use to me, I began to make them for others. What I thought was just a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone, by giving these extra bracelets a purpose, soon became so much more meaningful. As I meticulously chose a combination of colors to use, as I slowly scrolled through countless “string bracelet patterns” on Google Images, as I inscribed names and addresses on envelopes and slid them into the mailbox, I realized how making these bracelets had become a natural vehicle for me to demonstrate care towards those I cared about. 

I came to realize that the ways we can express and receive care are limitless. By becoming more cognizant about this, I began to see how I failed to notice that people had been reaching out to me because they strayed from conventional methods of expressing care. My mom asking me to walk the dog with her or to help her make dinner was her way of trying to spend more time with me. She wouldn’t explicitly express that she wanted to spend time together, so for weeks, I saw her proposals as disruptions to whatever I was working on. When I realized her intentions, I began to appreciate her gesture and suggested other activities we could do together. In the same way that we grow to understand how others are reaching out to us, it’s equally as important to accept how we, as individuals, express compassion, rather than to jeopardize our well-being by conforming to society’s standard. 

For you, maybe it’s making friendship bracelets. 

Maybe it’s dropping off surprise cookies on a random afternoon.

Maybe it is sending that check-in text. 

Links to websites that provide string bracelet patterns:

Haru Sukegawa

a thing about Lisa