As the anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic came around, I found myself pausing to chronicle my feelings on the regular. Perhaps that’s because I am a journaler in nature or an observer by trade. Whatever the origin of my observations, the product is startling. I think we may be the loneliest batch of humans to walk the earth. Separation, lack of human connection, and at worst, isolation and quarantine, are not circumstances in which humans thrive. But you’ve heard that before.
What you may not have heard is how this loneliness manifests itself. As a recently graduated college student, aged 21, I have seen the hookup culture we have all grown to accept (and even love?) transition drastically. Sure, hookups are still happening — I mean, the pandemic can’t stop people from wanting to have sex, but hookups are happening… well, differently. In my pocket of COVID-conscious New England, most people in my circle aren’t meeting hookups at huge basement parties, crowded bars or even in in-person classes or activities. Nope. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of a platform that I personally didn’t think could rise any higher: the dating app. Dating apps provide the perfect way to see someone you may find attractive and scope out your compatibility before meeting up in-person or virtually. Yet they’re also superficial in nature, and come with a series of downsides. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and other dating apps take away the intention behind dating. It’s so easy to swipe and judge and then feel hurt when the person that you judged to be decent enough for a swipe doesn’t message you first or back. Though the process of dating on an app is completely different than dating “in the wild,” the same vulnerabilities and feelings of rejection apply. Though they’re COVID-safe, dating apps are far from perfect, and sadly, they’re kind of all we have right now. Dating apps are the petri dish of Gen Z’s romance.
Does that sound depressing to you? Yep, I hear you. But let’s spill some tea: I don’t think Gen Z’ers are the loneliest we’ve ever been because so many of us are single. I think it’s actually the easy answer, the one that’s made us mask up and sanitize on the regular. I think we’re lonelier than ever because of the pandemic. Though I know I’m crossing into trite territory, there is a blessing in the loneliness you may be feeling. It lies in perspective. Loneliness is giving you the gift of self-reflection, and truly, what a gift that is.
(Get ready, unsolicited advice is coming.) I challenge you to observe this loneliness. What does it feel like? Is it in your body, your mind? Do you hold it in your shoulders, your toes? Is this feeling very present in your life or only there in a subtle way? These types of questions cannot cure the feeling, but they bring an awareness to it that might lead you in another direction. Perhaps you try some more stretching-based yoga classes to ease the ache in your shoulders. If you’re feeling extra-lonely, think of something that may soothe the part of the body where you recognized it manifesting. If loneliness is strictly a mind or heart feeling, maybe try doing something that’ll cheer you up. Play some of your favorite songs and take deep breaths. Pour yourself a cup of tea. Do some self-care. Treat yourself like the royalty you are because you deserve it. And through it all, be sure to remember that you’re not the only one feeling this way. Most of us truly are, single or not.
If you reflect and realize that the loneliness begins to feel hopeless or never-ending, or if it begins to resemble a kind of depression or anxiety, now may be a great time to look into resources to help you feel better. If you have access to therapy, take it! Speaking to someone in a safe space, whether the loneliness is pandemic-related or something more, can make the difference between living your life and watching your life be lived. Taking a purposeful step in caring for your mental health is an achievement all on its own. (Check out BetterHelp.com for a great place to get started.)
By the way, I’m not suggesting you don’t date or use dating apps during the pandemic; I think that if you can find a way to do it safely, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself out there, because you never know where something may lead. All I ask is that if you are going to date, you owe it to yourself and those who you meet to check your intentions. Really think deeply about why you’re choosing to put yourself into the dating pool, how you can make the most of your time on the apps and what you would need to have your needs met. Remind yourself daily of the greatness you bring to the table, and that what someone sees on an app isn’t all of you, not even close. If they swipe left or don’t message back, it’s not you they’re saying no to, it’s a two-dimensional slideshow of photos that show a sliver of what you have to offer the world (that they probably sift through at a rate of one profile per second). Plus, it’s helpful to remember that everyone on dating apps is talking to dozens of others at a time; sometimes we all lose track of people in the midst.
But let’s say you’ve reflected and realized that dating doesn’t feel right at the moment — great! I’m so glad you can recognize that, and it’s perfectly okay! Dating is not the only solution to the loneliness problem. You may find it helpful to start a project or dive into something that will help you embrace some of the weekend time that’s less social than it used to be. Maybe take a class in mindfulness meditation or explore a new hobby. Try making a list of all the “problem areas” in your house/apartment or the things that need to be fixed. Then go and complete them one by one. If there’s nothing that needs to be fixed, trust me, a backsplash can always be updated or a wall papered. Volunteer with a food bank or an animal shelter nearby. Maybe start an Etsy store if you’re feeling extra crafty and want to make a buck! There are millions of avenues down which you can expend your energy; dating is only one.
If you take away something from this piece, let it be this: don’t be so hard on yourself. Without the social expenditure that we’re used to on a daily basis, life is simply more lonely. But daylight savings 2021 is in the books, spring is on the way, and Biden and Harris have promised that all adults over age 18 will be eligible to be vaccinated by May 1. It’s been a hard year, but I think, finally, things may be looking up. So that loneliness you’re feeling? Well, it may begin to recede.