The coronavirus pandemic has hit virtually everyone hard.
But those who have been single through isolation, fear, and upheaval say they have faced a number of challenges – not necessarily more or less severe than those who are connected, but different. Some who said they were content to be single before the pandemic are still struggling with what they lack in emotional support and even routine physical touch.
“For the first few months I was like, ‘That’s fine, I can work on myself,'” said Gagan Bhatnagar, 35, a clinical oncology consultant in London. “But then it just dragged on. One day I realized it had been three months since I had touched someone. “
With a widespread Twitter thread in December, Mr. Bhatnagar tapped into a wide range of individual fears. The thousands of responses he received indicated that individuals often felt that their needs were being overlooked or dismissed, and that they often felt guilty about expressing them. What is a little bit of pug loneliness when others die?
While everyone has their own level of comfort when they’re single – there are many people who spend time alone – those who responded publicly and privately to Mr Bhatnagar’s thread expressed similar frustrations, he said.
Some, especially those who live alone, said they felt left behind by lockdown policies preventing households from mixing. Even if government policies allow those who live alone to form a “support bubble” with another person, as in the UK, most close friends are already gushing with partners or family members, leaving individuals uniquely isolated, Bhatnagar said.
Not being able to date as usual has robbed people of the hope and excitement they can get from typical rough spots, he said. (Many reported that socially distant walks in the cold, one of the few Covid-safe ways to meet people after online matching, didn’t help make connections.)
And while people missed sex, there was a heightened longing for non-sexual forms of contact: daily contact, cuddling on the couch, and hugs – even high fives – that were severed in times of social distancing.
“The most physical contact I had was with a cashier who gave me change,” said Marc Fein, 35, a Jerusalem educator and mental health attorney. “I don’t think I realized how much I needed it.”
Mr. Fein said he “pressed my hand against the wall for a tactile feel” or slept with another pillow to simulate the hug.
Science supports the need for human touch: Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, said research showed that touch is vital as a mood stabilizer.
“To be comfortable, you have to have touch,” she said. “And when you don’t have that, you go into those states of anxiety and depression.”
Lane Moore, a New York comedian and author of How to Be Alone, said lack of touch was the most common complaint she’d heard from individuals. However, the pandemic has also taken a considerable psychological toll and exacerbated existing fears and depression. One partner “can calm you down when your brain is spinning,” she said.
For some, it’s time to lose almost a year in finding a partner, which people didn’t think was possible, Ms. Moore said. That’s especially a problem for those experiencing a biological onslaught on children, she said.
“Whatever your schedule, it just throws a serious wrench in,” Ms. Moore said.
Even those who consider themselves completely on their own have felt the loss of chance meetings or the decreased possibility of an unexpected surge of excitement.
Kris Herndon, a 49-year-old in Greenwich, Connecticut, said she generally accepted being single but always imagined she could meet a future partner in the course of her daily activities. The opportunity gave her comfort and hope that has diminished during the pandemic.
“There isn’t much to do other than stay home and I won’t meet anyone in my house,” she said.
Mr. Fein, who lives alone, said he had learned that he was “much more resilient than I thought”, but all the time he spent alone invited awkward questions: What decisions led him there? What could he have done differently? When will things change?
But recognizing his difficulties inspired him to take action, he said. He began talking on the phone regularly with friends with whom he would not normally chat. He attended virtual dance parties, made appointments via video chat, and met people between lockdowns in Israel.
None of this is ideal and it wasn’t easy to do it alone, said Mr. Fein.
“All of the self-sustaining energy has to be self-generated,” he said. “There is nobody else there. There is no one in the physical realm to rely on emotionally, physically, or spiritually. “
Grace Rogers, a single 24-year-old in Charleston, SC, said friends in relationships sometimes told her she was the lucky one without being with kids and a partner.
They imagined she could read all the books she wanted in peace, but she countered, at least they had people to talk to regularly.
“It sucks for everyone,” said Ms. Rogers. “It sucks in different ways, but it sucks for everyone and there is no need to minimize it.”