The global pandemic has altered everyday reality for people of all ages and life stages. One group, however, that is rarely mentioned in the conversation but has been profoundly impacted by the realities of life amidst a global pandemic is single millennials — especially those living alone.
When the pandemic hit, many of us found ourselves in our small apartments in once-bustling cities. Working from home and devoid of our regular interactions with friends in the office, at the gym, on a weekend trip, over brunch or happy hour, at church, or volunteering, we were abruptly cut off from the interpersonal interactions that anchor our lives — that give life to our lives. For many who were living alone or far from family or without a significant other (with whom it would be easy to form a “quarantine group”), the intensity of the sudden increase in quiet, alone time ushered in a new degree of loneliness without an obvious antidote.
As a single millennial living alone when the pandemic hit, I quickly realized that mentally, emotionally, and socially, I needed to form a quarantine group of a few close friends whom I could see regularly. Although we were careful about entering one another’s apartments, we took long walks, rode bikes, sat outside for meals together, and accompanied one another through those early weeks when our hearts ached for social interaction.
When friends spoke of the constant presence of their young children without any respite or quiet, I imagined how intimate another person’s touch would be. When I FaceTimed with other friends living alone — whose calendars were clear and nights were quiet, like mine — I sensed the shared longing for sustained human presence. As the quarantine continued, I worked to regulate my social media use, knowing that the inevitable comparisons would only deepen the ache I felt.
This loneliness reminded me of the human need for intimacy.
There is something inherently human (and, thus, good and holy!) about intimacy, whether it be romantic or platonic. Single people rely on the communities to which we belong to meet this need. But during this pandemic, regulations around human touch and space impede our natural ways of being with those we love. I’m finding it more difficult to satisfy my innate intimacy needs — I am sorely missing tight hugs at the end of a day, potluck dinners with groups of friends, hand-squeezes that encourage and affirm, couch-chats over wine, fun dates downtown, coffee shop meet-ups, and more.
Despite that reality, people (especially those of us living alone or without a significant other) have responded in creative ways to this unique manifestation of loneliness. Some have adopted dogs, while others have joined dating apps and thrown themselves into meeting new people in their area virtually. Some have been baking sourdough bread and trading recipes with friends. Others have used this extra time to cultivate a green thumb in an at-home garden, using their hands to grow herbs and vegetables. Meeting with a virtual book club, sending more snail mail, cooking more involved dinner recipes for your “quarantine group,” scheduling recurring phone calls or virtual game nights with friends, hiking new trails or biking new routes, listening to podcasts and then discussing them with a friend, and journaling with more regularity are some ways for single millennials to use this time to experience intimacy and connection.
For me, taking my mind off of myself and focusing it on other people is the best way to alleviate feelings of loneliness and, thus, feel more connected to the people I love and miss. In this pandemic, I have had to ask myself how I can show love with my feet, my hands, and my time when the ways that I had once served are not feasible.
I can’t wait until long hugs and large dinner parties and happy hours are back for good, but, until then, I’ll be seeking intimacy where I can find it. And, when it seems hard to find, I’ll take the initiative to cultivate it.