Single in a Pandemic: 18 Reflections at the 1-Year Mark
There is no one story of what it means to be single during a pandemic. Here are 18 accounts.
Some single people have been having a hard time during the pandemic. I get that. But I also became frustrated with the stories in the media that seemed to suggest that all single people have felt devastated during the past year. So I set out to collect other kinds of pandemic stories and write a few of my own (here and here).
When I asked single people to share their stories with me, they were very generous, often responding in great detail. I’m relating just snippets of what 18 people told me — enough, I hope, to give you a sense of their thoughtfulness and of the many ways that single life has been experienced during the pandemic that are not wholly negative.
I’m identifying the contributors in the ways they described themselves. That’s why there is variation in whether their real name or full name is used, whether there is a title or a reference to sexual orientation or gender identity, whether there is a picture, and the specificity of the place where they live. I thank all of them for sharing their experiences.
2. Sonya Ashby
3. Paula Baker
4. Jennifer Breckner
5. Mary L. Calhoun
7. Dr. Ketaki Chowkhani
8. Jennifer Fields
9. Natassia Gopaul
10. Evan Hoppin
11. Crystal Legacy
12. Kris Marsh
13. Amy Martin
14. Elizabeth Silverstein
15. Steve Thomasson
16. Carla Watkins
17. West Coast
18. Craig Wynne
Economist, 37 years old; Australia
“All I can say is, thank God for 2020. It has taught me so many things about myself, my life, my preferences … and for the first time in 37 years, I feel at peace.
“I am single and have never been in a relationship. That is my choice, and I am ecstatically proud of it. I have always lived with anxiety about being with other people. 2020 was the first year of my life where it was socially acceptable to stay at home and decline invitations to meet with others.
“With the caveat that I am one of the privileged that has kept my job during this crisis, I cannot even begin to describe how wonderful this year has been for me. For the first time in my life, the anxiety has left me. I feel completely calm and at peace, knowing there is no one to meet, no one to interact with, no obligation to put on my ‘outside’ face and pretend I am enjoying myself.
“2020 has made me more confident than ever that a solitary life is for me. I hope that when the pandemic is over, people respect those who have found solace in solitude and continue to allow them to have space to be themselves.”
Library media specialist, 48; West Virginia, USA
We know from research that single people disproportionately provide care to their aging parents, and Sonya has been the primary caretaker for two elderly. Her siblings help, too, but during the pandemic, one of them, who lived out of state, was no longer able to cross state lines, so Sonya did even more of the caretaking than usual.
Working at a school has had its challenges, too. Sonya does not want to return to full classrooms if conditions don’t meet CDC guidelines. “If that happens, I will have to take the risk to pay the mortgage. If someone is coupled, they may be able to rely on their spouse’s income for a time.”
Nonetheless, she is not complaining: “I must admit, the venting my coupled friends were doing on social media about being cooped up with their spouses and children full time made me think, “Thank God I’m single!” on multiple occasions!”
“This year has been insane, but at the end of the day I can say I have never wished for a partner in any of it. I am quite comfortable living the single life — pandemic or no pandemic.”
Writer, 56; Bellingham, Washington, USA
“The thing I’m most grateful for throughout this pandemic is my living situation. I live in a tiny house on wheels, in a small intentional community on a huge wooded lot. This gives me a space that’s all my own (well, shared with cats) — my personal safe zone. I can socialize outdoors with my neighbors in relative safety.
“I do miss contact; my neighbor had a death in the family and I wasn’t able to hold her while she cried. That was hard. But I baked her a cake and she felt my love and concern.”
“I was Single at Heart before the pandemic, and I’ve been grateful not to have to deal with the added risk of exposure from a partner.”
Communications and events professional, 51; Chicago, Illinois, USA
Jennifer ended a year-long romantic relationship just before the pandemic started. Before that relationship, she had been single for over a decade and considered single life her comfort zone.
A few months into the pandemic, her roommate moved out, and Breckner experienced something she never had before — living alone. “It has been amazing. For the first time in my life, I have control over my living situation. It’s quiet and peaceful here. I feel like I’ve finally settled into a place as a home. It is here that I realized that I can take care of myself.”
“Sometimes people, mostly family, worry about me being alone but they don’t understand that it is actually an enjoyable thing for me.”
But it has been lonely, too. “Living by myself under lockdown and being shut out of social spaces has made me realize that I am not the introvert that I thought I was.” She’s decided that she does want a lasting romantic relationship. But she’s far from desperate:
“My confidence and sense of hope have really increased during this time. I’ve realized that my life is abundant and rich and I have a wonderful support system. I am flourishing despite all the negative things I have had to deal with this year.”
Mary L. Calhoun
Retired, 64; KoreaTown, Los Angeles, California, USA
“The pandemic has reaffirmed just how richly rewarding and satisfying my single independent personal life IS. While I was working, I had a personal life, so when I retired, I simply had more time to LIVE my life. The only noticeable change because of the pandemic is that I volunteer less — which turned out to be a good thing. I was dealing with some guilt of not struggling the way a lot older (Black people — women in particular) seem to be. I was over-compensating for my retirement success. I had to step into my reality of “I’ve EARNED” the right to be in this retirement reality.”
Police officer, 47; Canada
In the summer of 2020, the man Canada had been dating died suddenly. That was difficult. But the story of her single life since then is one of resilience.
“I love, love, love my freedom and independence. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good career that affords me the opportunity to spend my freedom as I like it.
“Being single has taught me so much about myself. I have learned to reach out for help when I’m in need, I’ve built up a strong support system, I like learning new things and challenging myself. I trust my judgment and intuition implicitly. I don’t think I could have honed these skills had I been immersed and sheltered within the confines of a relationship all this time.
“Being single is something I’m quite proud of, actually, and I cherish it immensely. It’s taken me a long time to build up what I have and become who I am now despite being dealt a bad hand early in life.
“Now I feel I’m on a new plane of existence where I’m not constantly searching for something that doesn’t suit me anymore. I’m shedding that part of me who longs for a relationship. I do see myself being single long-term, and it doesn’t scare me.”
Dr. Ketaki Chowkhani
Faculty of sociology at the Manipal Centre for Humanities, 35; Manipal, India
During the pandemic, Ketaki suffered an injury that limited her mobility. She realized that her social network had been too focused on people from her workplace. The pandemic, she said, “is showing me ways to build a better, more sustainable single life.”
“One of the things I really missed is going home and seeing my parents and I miss the human touch. The only touch I got of late has been from the occupational therapists and physiotherapists, which I have been deeply grateful for. Their care has also made me feel better when I was craving for some pampering after a lot of stress at work.
“Overall, I would say that the pandemic has made me more thankful about being single and is showing me ways to build a better/more sustainable single life.”
Information developer and life coach, 46; Denver, Colorado, USA
In the summer, Jennifer went on a road trip to see her family. “I love road-tripping solo. It was wonderful and was so good for my mental health. I have also ventured out on hikes and get out in nature.”
“The pandemic has made me feel more certain about being single at heart. In fact, I’ve found it interesting seeing friends who are in couples say that they feel sorry for their single friends or people who live alone. I feel the opposite. I’m so grateful that I don’t have a live-in partner to be quarantined with. I couldn’t imagine sharing my space full-time.”
Artist and art education consultant, 39; Reading, UK
“At the start of the pandemic and amidst a dramatic and painful argument, my utterly imperfect relationship of 2 years ended. I moved in with my parents… I am grateful for a house that I love and feel cosy and safe in, plus there’s a dog here. I like the sporadic company of my parents, who are relaxed and good to be around; one of the joys of being older is that you can appreciate parents more and with more patience.
“Many times I have thought how relieved I am not to be in lockdown 2 with my ex — the strained relationship we were in would only have been amplified by the current situation.
“So, I am in the right place for lockdown, given the options available to me. That said, being single and in this situation is challenging…Despite my better judgement I have found myself wondering if I could have made better life decisions along the way.
“I will continue to use this time to work on the projects that I so enjoy and to be grateful for and nurture the loving and accepting relationships I do have. Including the one with myself — this time of uncertainty has strengthened my spiritual belief that Self is our first home. I can lean into the fact that I am actually really good at making choices for myself and that I have not regretted any major ones so far.
“So, even though lockdown has prompted some understandable wavering. I am doubling down against the pressure to hate being single, and trusting myself and my life choices even more than I always do.”
Deputy public defender, 41; San Francisco, California, USA
Evan, who is gay, has several friends who assumed he was struggling because he was living alone in a relatively small San Francisco condo. “But I felt grateful to be in an urban neighborhood where, even during a pandemic, I could walk out my front door and get a cup of coffee, stop by a takeout restaurant, or take a walk along the waterfront.”
Evan told me that one of his friends, who is a psychotherapist, had an insight into why he had transitioned so easily into pandemic life: “I am basically happy with the fundamentals of my life: being single, living alone, having no children.”
Academic, 40; Melbourne, Australia
“At the start of the lockdown, I turned 40. Two months later, my romantic relationship ended. I was devastated, even though I was the one that ended it. But it wasn’t so much that I missed this man I love (although that was there), it was the fear of being single — again.
“Not too long after my breakup, Melbourne was cast into what became one of the longest and hardest lockdowns in the democratic world. It was with the news that we would only be allowed outside for one hour a day that I started my journey. I was going to find peace in the place I have landed in my life — a single woman living alone. I would also work towards accepting my childless status. To do this work, I enlisted a therapist, I surrounded myself with nurturing books, a couple of close girl friends on speed-dial, and I discovered the Single Serving Podcast. The latter was truly revelatory as it opened my mind to reframing single life into something that can be beautiful. It was here that I realised that I wanted to live a full single life, even while in a pandemic!
“I remain open to love, but I’m not actively looking out for it. The experience of living alone during the pandemic after experiencing a breakup during this milestone year was transformative. Seven months on, as I write, I am happily single.”
Sociology professor, University of Maryland, 47; Maryland, USA
Kris is writing a book on people who are single and living alone in the Black middle class. She said that “being single and living alone during COVID is making me think and rethink everything. Some days I love it. Some days I despised it. The one thing I realized during this time at home is that the most important relationship is with myself. I like me. I embrace my good, bad and ugly.” All told, “COVID has been the favorite part of my adult life.”
Commercial real estate, 45; Dallas, Texas, USA
Amy canceled her gym membership when the pandemic began and instead meets friends at a lake where they paddle board together and go exploring (always at a social distance).
“My dogs would like to add that they have enjoyed having me home during the day and have enjoyed all of the extra walks!”
“I have realized I am definitely single at heart.”
Certified dog trainer, 33, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
“I decided to try the apps since I wanted someone to talk to. I dated about three people from March to November and talked to a bunch, and most recently, I had a guy ghost me. I’m done with the apps and done trying to date safely during a pandemic. Now, as I’m about to move to my own place and my dog training business is doing well and I got another dog, I’ve realized, I’m really happy where I am and who I am. I’m not about to get back on the apps any time soon or at all. I don’t need someone to affirm me or want me. I don’t know how long that’s going to last or if it’s for forever, but I’m doing really well right now and I’m happy being single.”
Freelance translator, 40; Bolton, England
Steve is quite the adventurer. In 2016, he completed the Polar Bear Challenge, which is the Polar Circle Marathon and the Polar Circle Half-Marathon on consecutive days, in Greenland. During the pandemic, he has missed the travel and half-marathons he had planned, but he is not complaining.
“I have been fortunate in that in many ways, I’m either already prepared for such a situation or have a calm, drama-free environment where I find I can withstand the stresses well, simply as I know I am very used to doing everything on my own (or paying for tradespeople to do the stuff I either can’t do, or cannot be bothered to do!) and indeed a couple of friends have been complimentary to that effect. There is a huge advantage to fiercely maintaining your independence when such troubled times come! The foundation was financial though, and if I hadn’t had quite as much work to the point I was going to have to delve into my savings, then there is no doubt that it would have been a more stressful time than it was.
“If there is anything I have learned, it is this: I am very happy that I’ve only had to be my own confidante. I’m more than happy to act as a spare shoulder for friends to lean on, but it’s made me realise that doing it as a partner in a romantic relationship and essentially being that shoulder all the time — I’m really not sure that’s ‘me’. It’s certainly reinforced my proudly childfree stance more than anything. And it also confirmed that my somewhat minimalist approach to life, where I try to cut out as many expenses as possible, has served me quite superbly.”
Photographer, 34; Essex, UK
“I live my best, most fulfilled and most sparkling life when I’m single — and by single I mean without a partner at all,” Carla Watkins told me during the before times, in 2019. She has not been shy about proclaiming her love of single life, even marking the years since the end of her second and possibly final long-term romantic relationship. She is now approaching her seventh singleversary.
Just a week or so into the pandemic, she started fielding variations of the same question. Wasn’t she rethinking her life choices? Wouldn’t it be lovely to be living with a partner during these unsettling times?
Last year, Watkins told me that she had left a secure job to create her own photography business. “My work gives me purpose and joy, and it fills my days with happiness.” In short order, the pandemic decimated her business. Before the pandemic, she had a robust network of friends and felt cherished and loved by them. She called the closest of them “sisters of the heart.” Then, for a three-month stretch during the pandemic, she never saw any of them in person.
“One friend,” Watkins said, “came and sat outside my window in the pouring rain for an hour, others changed their walking routes so they could see me on the way.” Although the three-month dry stretch was miserable, and not something she would ever want to experience again, “I’ve never felt excluded, lonely, or left out.”
When I asked Watkins if the pandemic had made her feel any more or less certain about her single at heart status, she said she felt validated: “My life choices of being single and childfree are so exactly the right choices for me that I am able to flourish even now.”
Female-identified writer, 47; West Coast, USA
“The social Zooming initially seemed apropos for my inclination. Not so. Ironically, I found people reaching out past my comfort level. I confess to not fully honoring myself early in the spring as these were friends for whom company can be essential. They are also relatively healthy. Living with a serious auto-immune condition already did not make me more vulnerable but rather better prepared — in both practicality and perspective. For example: stack of n95 masks already, etc.
“I felt guilty/frustrated as I struggled with greater empathy for those who do not usually consider their health and their fear seemed to translate into wishing to ‘commune’ more. For a minute there, I think I allowed myself to feel irrationally ‘responsible’ for those for whom solitude was/is a challenge.
“Eventually, I knew I could not maintain this level of socializing — even virtually. Found tactful ways to be honest about respecting my natural hermitting tendencies.”
College professor, 42; Washington, DC, USA
“During a writer’s meetup group, someone mentioned, “I can only imagine people who live alone are having a rough time,” which I immediately corrected with, “Some of us do quite well on our own.” I’ve found that I enjoy my solitude as much as I ever have, maybe more so. When I hear stories about couples having a hard time on lockdown, it makes me grateful to have a space of my own.
“I’ve reconnected with my guitar, an old hobby. It started out with me making videos of myself playing, but recently, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and teaching myself blues guitar.
“Overall, I’ve learned that I really do love and cherish my alone time; I do need social interaction in small to moderate doses, but there’s nothing quite like having a ‘room of my own.’”
[Want to learn more? Take a look at this collection of articles on all sorts of topics relevant to single life. Watch my TEDX talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single.” Check out my website.]