Stories from Healthy Mind

The Unexpected Joy of Being Single During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisMay 26, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/W+G Creative

Throughout my childhood, my old-school mother vehemently maintained that the only reason my grandma “married late” was because so many would-be suitors were fighting in World War II during her twenties. Last week, I finally asked my mom how old Grandma was when she got married. The answer? “Old. Really old—29.”

“Mom, I’m 29.”

And then I walked my 29-year-old single self up the stairs to my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house, where I’ve been quarantining for two months, to consider my relationship status, growing age, and what those converging facts mean during this pandemic. Because the general public mood seems to be that now is an extra-bad time for being alone. Loneliness associated with social distancing is on the rise for all, but if you’re not partnered up right now, common opinion would have you think you’ll be feeling the effects more acutely—after all, current dating conditions are less than ideal (see: amped-up awkwardness of Zoom dates and inability to safely meet in person).

But, I realize, I actually relish being single during the coronavirus pandemic. I neither feel old nor an urgency to pair up. In fact, for the first time in my life, I feel like time is pausing, and I feel comfort in the romantic implications of that.

But as someone who actually does ultimately want a romantic partner—and marriage and children and the whole nine yards—I wonder why I really, truly feel solace in being single right now. Upon discussing it with other women, though, I quickly learn I’m not alone in my perspective.

4 takes on the benefits of being single during coronavirus

For Amber Belus, 29, my roommate in my Brooklyn apartment, where I’m not currently living, a silver lining of being single during the pandemic is the opportunity it’s afforded her to focus on herself and her goals. “It’s helped me get money right, have time to get things done, and relax,” she says. “I typically work seven days a week, so I’m [counting on] never getting time like this again.” And even though she’s tiptoed into the virtual dating space, it’s not with anything serious in mind. “I just want to do me right now,” she says.

For Gabrielle Pedriani, 29, who relocated from New York to Paris at the beginning of 2020, being single right now has forced her to focus on self-reliance, a skill she would previously neglect. “I’m learning how to actually work through my moods and lows rather than distracting myself from them by investing my energy in another person. I can’t avoid investing that energy in myself now, which can be uncomfortable,” Pedriani says. “I usually spend a lot of time empathizing with others, but I never empathize with myself. And now that’s my only option.”

Los Angeles-based illustrator Daniella Batsheva, 30, agrees that there are certain introspective benefits that single people, in particular, may enjoy more during this time, but mostly, she says she simply has bigger worries on her mind right now than her relationship status. “My current down moments are related to the state of the world, so I don’t need relationship stress,” Batsheva says.

If you’re single during coronavirus, there’s simply no pressure to get into a relationship for follow-the-leader reasons

Plus, I realize, with most people experiencing a similar life pause, even those who are in happy relationships aren’t having the same type of in-your-face milestones that open you open to the negative effects of the comparison trap. Sure, other people are still in happy unions—with some even getting married and moving on with their lives in various ways—but since your, say, college frenemy probably isn’t posting Instagram Stories about jet-setting to Cancun for a romantic long weekend with her perfect S.O., you may find yourself less inclined to engage in any subconscious game of catchup.

If you’re single during coronavirus, there’s simply no pressure to get into a relationship for follow-the-leader reasons. Especially when the relationship itself would mean settling or otherwise wouldn’t be a great match.

What I’ve learned from being single right now

The last time I was in a relationship while living at my parents’ house in New Jersey, I was 21, had low self-esteem, a lack of emotional control, and nearly no friends who still lived locally. A terrible boyfriend felt better than no boyfriend to me at the time, but being single during the coronavirus has highlighted to me just how wrong I was in that assertion.

And the last time I was in a relationship period, I was 28, living Brooklyn, and it was a healthy relationship that I never thought to question. I loved him and he was my best friend, so when he ended it out of nowhere, I was blindsided and broken.

Part of what I grieved was also being knocked off a timeline that worked in accordance with my ever-ticking biological clock. We’d move in together when I was 29, then get married, have babies, eat a bunch lasagna together, and die old and happy. When that fell through, I needed a backup timeline, and I made one quickly: I would solo date myself, head to Paris before my 29th birthday, come back happy, fulfilled, and ready for a full-blown relationship with my inevitable husband. Perfect, flawless, love it.

Except I’m an April baby, and I never boarded that flight to the City of Lights. Thanks, COVID-19.

Still though, on the day I was scheduled to return to New York from the trip to Paris I never took, I had an a-ha moment about my grand plan—my second failed timeline. I was unable to be present in any relationship—even that objectively bad one when I was 21—because I could only look ahead.

I didn’t know what I wanted most, and I don’t know I ever would have identified that had I never been forced to be alone and single right now.

I developed anxiety in my most recent relationship about whether he loved me as much as something or someone else, I felt I wasn’t enough for him, and I tried to change myself to meet him where he was emotionally. Ultimately though, none of my worries or changes prioritized what I wanted most. I didn’t even know what I wanted most, and I don’t know I ever would have identified this fatal flaw in our dynamic—one that wouldn’t have served me to bring into any new relationship unrealized—had I never been forced to be alone and single.

I’m happy to be single right now for the grace it’s given me to relax about romantic expectations, like the ones Grandma was subjected to, and further understand my relationship with myself. I’m thrilled that for the first time in my life I can feel like a whole person instead of a walking, talking, time-ticking baby incubator. That’s not a kindness I’ve ever allowed myself.

That being said, I’m not aiming to stay single forever. I’d be open to talking to a romantic prospect if the opportunity presented, but still, I’m grateful that loving myself is currently my only romantic responsibility.

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