This is a special guest post from Elizabeth Gordon, Psy.D. Dr. Gordon is a clinical psychologist at Conason Psychological Services and specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image.
This has been a rough year for single folks. While the pandemic has upended all of our lives, it has posed unique challenges for single people, especially those living alone.
In the early days of quarantine, when households were discouraged from mixing, many single people were left totally alone, some going months without seeing another human being in-person. The human brain is wired for social connection and even the most introverted among us eventually yearn for human contact. With dating at a standstill and social activities cancelled, many single people were left in a lurch without the networks they relied on for companionship.
More people in the U.S. are single than ever before. In 2019, over 50% of people aged 18-34 in the U.S. didn’t have a steady romantic partner and in 2018, 35% of people 25-50 had never been married. These statistics include both people who don’t have a desire for a romantic relationship and those who do but are still looking for that special someone(s).
Regardless of their reasons for being single, Valentine’s Day—and especially a Valentine’s Day that falls in the midst of a global pandemic—can be a time when many singles feel alone. Scrolling through images of happy couples on Instagram might leave a single person feeling bitter, resentful, or even wondering what is wrong with them. In spite of the increasing numbers of single adults in the U.S., we are surrounded by messages that make us believe that marriage is the key to happiness and that if you’re single, it must be because you are doing something wrong (or even worse, because there is something wrong with you).
While none of these things are true—that you must be married to be happy, that being single is something that needs to be remedied, or that anyone who is single must be too picky or insecure, put up walls, not put themselves out there enough or some other equally insulting assumption—it can still be difficult not to internalize these messages. So what can you do when you’re single and struggling to feel good about yourself?
- Remember that love exists in so many forms. Just because you don’t have a current romantic partner doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate all the love that does exist in your life! While not a replacement for romantic love, love for friends, parents, siblings, children, relatives, pets, teachers, coworkers, and mentors are all important and just as real as love for a significant other. Reach out to those you love and let them know how much they mean to you. Let them know if you’re feeling lonely and could use some extra love or support.
- Celebrate all of your accomplishments—and those of the other singles in your life. We live in a society where it is common to spend astronomical amounts of money and time on wedding ceremonies (celebrating marriage and romantic love), but often not so much on other accomplishments. Celebrate graduations, career milestones, birthdays, paying off debt, friendiversaries, moves, starting therapy, new hobbies, new pets, and even just getting through a rough day! Send a card, flowers, or chocolates to your single friends on Valentine’s Day if you’d like.
- Focus on doing things that make you feel good. Love to read, watch old movies, bake, or hike? Settle down with your favorite novel or black-and-white film, whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, or go for a walk in nature. Pick up a new hobby you’ve always wanted to try, or find new ways to pamper yourself: Take a bubble bath, do some yin yoga, or find a way to help you relax and feel good in your body.
- Find ways to be touched. A recent article in The New York Times noted that one of the biggest struggles for single people during the pandemic has been a lack of touch. From the moment that we are born, touch helps us thrive. Research suggests that touch therapy and skin-to-skin contact can help preterm newborns grow and improve cognitive skills, stress response, and sleep patterns even 10 years later. Touch has been shown to soothe us, calm cardiovascular stress, and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps us feel more connected with others and increases overall well-being. Explore ways to bring touch into your life, whether it is a hug from someone in your quarantine pod, a COVID-safe massage, or getting some cuddle time with your pet.
- Know that you are not alone, and that whatever you are feeling is valid—whether that’s lonely, depressed, angry, exhausted, or anything else. No matter how you are feeling, someone else out there is feeling the same way as you are. If you don’t have any other single friends with whom you can connect, look for a singles support group, or reach out to a therapist to help you process your feelings.