I’m not one to pine for romance. While I’ve had my share of infatuations and heartache, they’ve always been connected to a specific individual as opposed to the coupled experience as a whole. In fact, at times, I’ve wondered if being in a relationship is even for me, as I’ve so enjoyed my life, filled with spontaneous solo travel, an open social calendar, and peaceful nights at home watching all the reality TV my brain can process. However, my perspective on romantic relationships has shifted as the effects of social distancing, especially as a 30-something single woman seep further into my quiet apartment of one.
To be clear, my current situation is hardly the depths of solitude. I have close family and friends who I check in with regularly as we all navigate the new isolated norm brought on by COVID-19. I do all the things suggested: engage in virtual happy hours, check in daily with co-workers, call my mother regularly, etc. Luckily, I also have a dog with copious amounts of energy who demands regular strolls outdoors and indoor fetch sessions on the hour.
Sure, these things are all incredibly helpful in keeping me connected with the people (and non-people) in my life. However, there are emotional hurdles connected to the current reality that can’t always be easily fixed with a lively, wine-filled Zoom call with girlfriends. “It is very frightening to be home alone as a single woman during this crisis,” says Licensed Mental Health Professional Haley Neidich, LCSW in an emailed interview. “What I am hearing from my clients is that the most frightening part about this situation is the fact that there is not a clear end in sight. The media is feeding on that fear and constant exposure to the news or headlines on social media has the potential to be very impactful on women's mental health.”
I can say with complete honesty that I’ve had moments in which I wished I was navigating this time with a significant other.
Again, I acknowledge that I have much to be grateful for and that there are people in the world in far more dire and difficult situations than mine, including being sick. That said, I, like everyone else right now, am grappling with very human emotions like fear, stress, sadness, and even restlessness.
That's not to say couples quarantined together don't face their own challenges. Lack of personal space and a steady building of tension and emotions can take its toll on even the most dynamic of duos or family unit. I get it. However, from my perspective, I think there’s something to be said about having a significant other with whom to discuss your feelings and navigate the day to day. To be able to speak freely and vulnerably to someone and be encouraged by them (and vice-versa) is impactful and healing.
Admittedly, these moments of loneliness have actually tempted me to reach out to exes and people in my past. I've had selfish urges to text or call for a brief sprinkling of attention and pick-me-up. But, luckily, at my "older and wiser" age of 34, I understand that many of these people are in my rearview for a reason and I don't want to revisit a situation I know isn't healthy or right for me. In fact, many of my past relationships lacked depth and vulnerability, which is what I'm craving right now — so why would I go searching in places that won't deliver? So, just as quickly as the temptations enter my brain, they leave.
That said, my feelings toward new relationships and experiences are more positive than ever. The past month has actually lightened my perspective on dating, which I swore off for a year, and had yet to warm up to again. My new appreciation for human interaction and connection has in turn made me excited about the idea of virtual dating. I’ve reactivated a couple of my dating apps and invested time each day to check out prospective dates, carefully perusing profiles to see if they might be a fit for my personality and interests — as opposed to swiping thoughtlessly and inconsistently. (Just a few months ago, I couldn’t go five minutes on a dating app without being hit with a wave of impatience and irritation. It felt like a lot of time and energy to spend on something that could amount to nothing.) I feel like I have a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm — and I like the idea of having something to look forward to.
This fresh perspective on new relationships has also impacted the current ones in my life. I’m notoriously terrible at calling people regularly and checking in. And while I hate the circumstances that have caused my shift (and am embarrassed that it’s taken something like COVID-19 to open my eyes), I’m grateful to see my connections with friends and family for what they are: precious. “One of the greatest things that my single clients are sharing with me is all about how they've been connecting with old friends and feeling even more socially connected than they had in the past to people who they don't always get to see,” says Neidich.
I’ve been using my lunch breaks and quiet evenings to call friends and family I haven’t spoken to in ages. I’ve also been trying to be more intentional about making small gestures like picking up the phone for a loved one during work hours (even if they just want to check in), doing no-contact care-package drop-offs to neighbors, and actually being active in group text chats with friends.
I can’t say I’ll never take my circumstances or relationships for granted again. However, this health crisis has definitely shifted my perspective on human connection for good. Yes, the single life is fabulous and freeing (especially in your 30s!) — but so can an honest and vulnerable heart-to-heart with someone you deeply love.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.
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