I'm 35 and have been single for the majority of the last seven years. In that time I have been to countless weddings, bachelorette parties, and family gatherings on my own — and yet I've never felt more single than I do right now.
As the world is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, I am facing up to the fact that if we get put in lockdown I will be stuck in my flat all by myself. Loneliness aside, if I get sick nobody will be able to come over and look after me.
The thought of this has made my anxiety skyrocket in the last few days and for someone who often advocates for single positivity, it’s difficult to face up to the fact that, right now, part of me wishes I had a partner who was forced to stay by my side in sickness and in health.
I usually advocate for single positivity but right now, part of me wishes I had a partner who was forced to stay by my side in sickness and in health.
Like many others, I have been glued to the news in recent days. And while I have seen articles with tips on how to cope with self-isolation if you live in a shared house or with children, I have seen little out there for the 7.7 million people in the UK who live on their own.
The attitude seems to be that we will be fine; we'll find it easy to isolate ourselves. I just wish people would spare a thought for those who are on their own, because any period of lockdown or quarantine is going to feel particularly daunting if you have no other half to ride it out with.
I already have the triple whammy of being freelance, living alone, and being single, but I'm always very careful to schedule coffee dates, dinner, or drinks with friends and other events to ensure I have a reason to leave my house and some social interaction. Even though our government has not yet told us all to stay in, I am getting emails and WhatsApp messages cancelling events each day. I have this horrible feeling that the net is closing in. While I’m lucky not to be in one of the more vulnerable categories due to my age and good physical health, I also know what happens when I’m stuck by myself for too long.
I have seen articles with tips on how to cope with self-isolation if you live in a shared house or with children. I have seen little for the 7.7 million people in the UK who live on their own.
A few years ago I lived in Berlin for a short period. I went through one of the worst periods of depression in my life, and it started with being off sick and stuck at home in my studio flat. I barely knew anyone in the city and didn’t want to put new friends out, so I didn’t ask for help. The week dragged on but — when I felt better — I found myself unable to leave my bed for a different reason. I was doing a placement and my job said it was okay not to come in. So I didn’t. I almost wish they had made me because I spent the next few weeks lying on my bed, binge-watching Gilmore Girls while eating takeaways and feeling so alone that I swear it physically hurt.
It was only when two of my best friends flew over for a pre-arranged visit that I snapped out of it. I may be single and independent but that doesn’t mean I don’t need people.
While not every person who is single also has mental health issues, loneliness and social isolation has very real consequences. It’s more than simply missing being around people; research shows that isolation can have huge knock-on effects on both mental and physical health. Studies have found loneliness as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
There are also the practical issues to consider. Not long after moving to London, I was struck down by a terrible stomach bug. When the vomiting had died down, I needed to start eating again but had nothing suitable in the house. The shop was just across the road but I was so weak that I couldn’t get there, so I had to text a friend to bring me energy drinks and Jacob's cream crackers. Even just seeing her face at the door and knowing someone was there for me cheered me up. The thought of going through something similar by myself again fills me with dread.
In its advice for people with mental health problems, the charity Mind suggests that people consider going to stay with friends or family if possible.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Britain is already the loneliness capital of Europe and this is because we are much less likely to know our neighbors than residents anywhere else in the EU. Sadly, I fit this stereotype as although I am friendly with my landlord who lives downstairs, the only other neighbor I knew died recently.
Worryingly, given the current situation we are facing, a high proportion of the population already has no one to rely on in a crisis, according to the ONS, even before you consider that those who usually do might not be able to rely on them if they come down with coronavirus too.
So while people are preparing for working from home and stocking up on toilet paper, I'm wondering whether to take the drastic action of decamping to my parents' house in Shropshire and riding out the crisis from there. In its advice for people with mental health problems, the charity Mind suggests that people consider going to stay with friends or family if possible. Not everyone has this option, however, and I’m incredibly fortunate that I do.
Social media often gets a bad rap but in these strange times we are living in, these online support networks are becoming invaluable.
In its guidance, Mind also stresses the importance of remaining connected to loved ones and setting up times to have video chats. The charity also runs an online peer support community called Elefriends, where you can share your experiences and hear from others.
Social media often gets a bad rap but in these strange times we are living in, these online support networks are becoming invaluable. There are also online communities for single people. I recently set up a Facebook community group for the newsletter I run called The Single Supplement. It has been a huge source of comfort in the last week. Knowing other people feel the same way as you really does help you to feel less alone. Again, connecting with people through the internet is something not everyone will be able to make use of if they don’t have it at home and their local library closes down. I'm thinking of them in particular at the moment.
Apart from this research, the other thing I have done is share how I’m feeling with my best friends. Everyone is worried for different reasons. Some have parents with underlying health issues who could be at risk, others are new mums or about to give birth while some are worried about elderly loved ones who live in far-flung parts of the country.
Sharing with your friends how you feel about being on your own at a time like this – or if you are in a relationship, remembering to check in with your single friends – can really help diminish the feelings of loneliness. As we retreat further and further indoors, finding ways to reach out and offer support really could make all the difference.