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Have We Reached Peak Loneliness?

One of the hardest parts of hitting the “pandemic wall” is feeling like you’re totally alone.

By Caitlin Abber

February is never an easy month. The holidays are long over, and spring still feels a bit too far away. Depending on where you are in the country, the snow seems perpetual. The minute it melts enough to create sloppy gray puddles, a fresh flurry is on the horizon. It’s dreary, damp, and even in your snuggliest cashmere socks, your feet are always a little cold. 

This February in particular is getting to me. This “pandemic wall” everyone says they’re hitting doesn’t just seem to be getting higher, but also slipperier. The minute I think I’ve reached the top and can climb over, there’s something that brings me right back down: The new variants of Covid, the uncertainty about when my friends and younger family members can get vaccinated, the realization that, even when this is over, the trauma of the last year will live on in all of us. It’s a heavy load. And more than anything, it’s really lonely.

One doesn’t have to be alone to experience loneliness—one just has to feel isolated, alienated, abandoned, or just perpetually bored.

The loneliness is so real, isn’t it? Everyone I know who is still taking Covid seriously is struggling right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re married, have children, or are single—the loneliness of our day-to-day lives is impacting all of us. One doesn’t have to be alone to experience loneliness (as many an unhappy wife can attest)—one just has to feel isolated, alienated, abandoned, or just perpetually bored. And I think, to some extent, it’s understandable for all of us to feel those things right now. (That said, single people, I am especially empathetic for you). 

Even before the pandemic, three in five American adults considered themselves lonely. Factors that contributed to this number explicitly included the changing nature of work—that people are working remotely, and that they have to be “always on.” Again, this index was released before the pandemic, which has only increased all of those things, not to mention robbed people of the ability to shut off their work brains and be together in person. It’s no wonder experts are calling loneliness the second epidemic

For me, part of the loneliness stems not from being unable to see other people in person, but rather, from not having other people see me. I was nine months pregnant this time last year, and it was impossible for me to go anywhere undetected. My big belly caused strangers to smile, offer their subway seats, and ask me rude questions, like if I was carrying twins. But now, aside from Zoom and video chats, the only people who see me are my husband and now almost 1-year-old, and like a scratch on a wall you hardly notice anymore, I am beginning to feel like I just blend into the background. 

This is where I am: Last week, I made a dermatology appointment and realized I was excited to be seen in person by someone who didn’t live in my house. I long to be awknowledged and examined by a total stranger. Heck, I’m even happy to see the inside of a different building. 

What I’m really looking forward to is life just being easy again.

It doesn’t make it any easier to know that so many of us are struggling right now. The other day, I posted on Instagram about loneliness, and I expected a few heart emoji responses, but my DMs were filled with messages echoing my feelings. “It’s so hard and so bad, even if you’re not dealing with the worst of what could be happening,” wrote one friend. “It’s like every day is the same. A horrible-ass Groundhog Day,” wrote another. One friend even said “we’ll sew our jackets together when we can finally hang out.” The intention of these messages was to help me feel less alone, but at the same time, they just made me want to see these people even more. I hate that the people I love are sad. I hate that I can’t hug them and help them feel better. This is what that hurts the most, I think—that we can’t show up fully for the people we love. Our friendships may be stronger than ever before, but that’s why it’s so impossible to be apart. 

Logically, I know that spring will come, as will the vaccines. I have many fantasies about what life will be like in June, July, and August—the traveling, the celebrating, the BBQs. I can’t wait to do all of those things. I’m going to thrust my daughter into the arms of every person who hasn’t been able to meet her. But what I’m really looking forward to is life just being easy again. “Want to come over for dinner?” I’ll text a friend. And she’ll reply, “Sure, what can I bring?”

We’ve lost so much this year (some of us much more than others), and we still have so much collective grieving to do. But when all of this is over, let’s agree to never have a February this cold, dark, and lonely ever again. I don’t know if our hearts could handle it. 

Caitlin Abber

Written By

Caitlin Abber

Caitlin Abber is the Brand Editor at M.M. LaFleur, and an award-winning writer and content creator. Over the last decade she has held senior editorial positions at MTV, Women's Health, Public Radio International, and Bustle, and has bylines at InStyle and OprahMag.com.

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