I cried while watching Schitt’s Creek the other night. Now, to be fair, that isn’t really all that uncommon. I’ve watched the series through at least three times (season 3 and 4, a half dozen times). And I frequently tear up while watching, whether it’s tears of laughter or happiness. But this time, they were tears of envy.
Yes, that’s right — envy. And loneliness, too.
It was the last episode of season 2. The one that ends with the dance party at Mutt’s cabin. Seeing all those friends and family, laughing and dancing together … well, let’s just say it hit a nerve.
We’re nine months into this, and it’s not getting any easier.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely things I don’t hate about the pandemic life. Dare I say, there are plenty of silver linings, actually. I don’t miss the constant racing from one activity to the next. I love that I can get into my pajamas at 5:30 if I want, or maybe just stay in them all day long (if I don’t have any Zoom calls for work, that is.) I love the time our family has spent together watching movies, cooking dinner, going for walks. I love the quiet time at night, to binge watch TV or knit on the couch while my husband cleans out his email inbox next to me.
I am an introvert with a touch of social anxiety, so on a day-to-day basis, the freed up social calendar isn’t all bad.
Even though I’m an introvert, I have to admit: I’ve been kinda lonely this year. I miss people.
I miss long and rambling conversations about anything and everything which feel forced during Zoom calls. I’m on social media less because it’s so anxiety-inducing, but I miss the social connections on Facebook. I miss the way I knew what was going on in people’s lives just because of the constant interactions and not because of some planned or scheduled communication. I miss dancing and laughing with friends and family like that scene in Schitt’s Creek. I even miss the occasional small talk with casual acquaintances. I miss people, even though I don’t necessarily want to deal with “peopling” right now, if that makes any sense at all.
2020 has been all about survival – physically, mentally, emotionally. Most people I know are barely keeping their heads above water as we try to manage working from home, remote learning, and the mental strain of trying to keep our family safe and healthy. Those regular Friday night pizza parties aren’t happening. The five-minute chats when we pick up our kids from school or baseball practice don’t happen. The happy hours and work lunches are a thing of the past (at least for now).
Sure, we’re still keeping in touch. We’re Zooming and texting gifs and taking the occasional socially-distanced, masked walk around the neighborhood. But it’s not the same.
I talked to a friend a couple weeks ago and she asked, “What’s new?” I thought about how to respond. Do I talk about stuff going on at work, about the mental health challenges, about the worries and sleepless nights, about the laughter that fills the house every night when my kids play Xbox with their friends, about the volunteer work I’ve been pouring myself into, about the way my body seems to hurt all the time for no reason other than stress taking its toll, about how I’m afraid to get my hopes up for life getting back to normal by next summer but I need some hope for my own sanity, about how I’m lonely and miss people but I’m too exhausted to do much about it?
It was all too much, so I just responded with, “Not much.”
All of those gritty details don’t fit into the neat and tidy “catch-up” conversations we have now. They are the connections that happen when you can linger a bit, when you aren’t staring at a screen, when you can let comfortable silences fill the space before the next topic comes up. Those human connections are hard right now in our virtual, never-alone, overwhelming, survival-mode life right now. But that doesn’t mean they are any less necessary.
Then there’s social media. Facebook has made me want to poke my eyes out for a while now. I managed the annoyances by unfollowing and unfriending Trumpers who came out of the closet, those acquaintances who were trying to hock their MLM crap, and #blessed, humble-braggy friends and family. And that was before the hot mess of 2020.
Now Facebook seems to make me angry at everyone. So for my mental health, I’ve had to make some pretty big changes with the way I use social media. But I miss the friendships and connections that happened there too.
What I’m realizing (through therapy and conversations with others who feel the same way) is that all of this boils down to the need to feel seen and understood. We all have this need, and … well, it’s hard to tend to right now. Sure, we might be surrounded by little ones and maybe a spouse 24/7, but those other pieces of connection are hard to nurture right now.
I don’t have any answers or quick fixes. We need to take care of our physical health so that we have these people in our lives six months from now when human interactions might look a little more like what we’re used to. I suppose it’s enough to admit that we’re lonely right now, to talk about it openly with others so that they might feel just a teensy bit less lonely because of that shared emotion. And it’s enough to do what we can right now, and to cut ourselves – and each other – some slack. After all, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters.
If you’re feeling a bit lonely right now, you aren’t alone. At a minimum, maybe we can take a little comfort in that.