I hate hugs. I always actively avoid them, unless the moment absolutely calls for one. Like those instant cradles my arms reach out and give when a friend starts crying. Or those big bear hugs that I just surrender to and take comfort in when things have gone really tits up. But generally, I find physical human contact quite awkward and uncomfortable.
This probably helps to explain why, for the most part, I’ve always been fine with my single status. I don’t crave that physical intimacy that I know many of my friends do. And don’t even get me started on sharing a bed with someone.
But I think we can all agree that this is a time where things have well and truly gone tits up. And I’m actually in desperate need for the warmth and reassurance of one of those bear hugs right now.
You see, like many other people across the UK, I’m spending coronavirus quarantine on my own. I rent my flat with two friends, but they both returned to their family homes in Ireland a couple of weeks ago when it hit us that this is really serious. I have no idea when they will come back.
Once upon a time, the idea of having a newly redecorated flat with a balcony in London Fields all to myself would have been a dream come true. But this isn’t a millennial urban fairy tale; this is the midst of the biggest health crisis our generation will ever face. And I’m alone in it.
I know my privileges in this situation. I don’t have children to look after. I am well-equipped to work from home. I’m not risking my health on the front line like NHS and key workers. And having a teeny-tiny balcony during quarantine is like owning a private park.
I also have plenty of friends, family members and colleagues who I can ring up and chat to with a glass of wine in hand. And when my neighbours came out to clap together for our NHS workers earlier this week, my heart nearly burst with community spirit and love.
So, as a natural introvert who is used to having a lot of solo time, the idea of social distancing didn’t seem too daunting at first.
But I’m realising that phone calls aren’t the same as curling up on the sofa with my flatmate to watch Fleabag for the tenth time. A voice note doesn’t replace bursting into hysterics of laughter with my desk buddy in the office. Those group video parties are no substitute for putting on a new lipstick to meet my pals for overpriced cocktails in Hackney.
And, if I’m being totally honest here, the whole situation has got me thinking about the lack of a romantic relationship in my life.
Many of my friends have made the decision to isolate with their partners, even if they’ve only been dating for a few months. Others have decided to stay in their separate homes. I know it’s hard for everyone right now, but I can’t help wondering if having the option to spend time with someone I love (or just really fancy) would make me feel better. A problem shared is a problem halved, right?
Should I have persevered with those Hinge dates? Was I wrong to call things off with the nice guy who just didn’t excite me enough? Why didn’t I give the whole dating thing some more welly when I could?
The answer to all these questions is, of course, no. I know I just want any balm that might soothe my anxieties, and I need to be careful not to assume that a relationship would fix everything.
But I can’t ignore the perks that I think must come with being in a relationship during a pandemic. Like being able to whisper your deepest fears about coronavirus into the dark of night, knowing that the person breathing next to you and holding you is listening. Like, really listening. Or cooking up a storm with tinned food, knowing you’re going to sit down, switch off from the news and enjoy devouring it with the person you love. And feeling the comfort of the background noise a partner brings – annoyingly heavy footsteps, mumbling chatter while they take a call, a burst of laughter – to remind you you are not alone.
Then of course, there’s sex. I don’t think I need to expand on that.
So, what have I been doing to make myself feel better?
First of all, it’s important to remember that there are so many people going through the exact same thing. Stylist readers have been talking about being single during coronavirus on our Working From Home With Stylist Facebook page. And Girls creator and actor Lena Dunham shared a post saying she knows the realities of being single while social distancing.
I’m also taking advantage of the digital age as much as I can. Talking to a friend on a video call that keeps cracking up because of patchy Wifi might not be the same as IRL catch ups, but we are so lucky to live in a time where you can instantly see a familiar face and hear a friendly voice.
My colleague Lauren is always sharing the best advice on how to manage mental health during this time, which I always turn to for tips for when I’m feeling anxious and low. I know to try and keep a routine, read and listen to things that soothe me, and be kind to myself. Also, my daily exercise window is the perfect time to smile back at other human faces.
And, after hearing about a colleague’s positive experience of virtual dating on The Intro, I’m even dipping my toe back in the dating app world. It’s just a few gentle chats on Hinge, but it gives me a sense of normality, and reminds me that there are plenty of dates to be had when this ends.
I can also confirm that I’ve enjoyed the freedom of taking over the whole flat: gone are the days of trying to find peace and quiet in my bedroom away from chatty flatmates… for now.
None of us know how long life is going to be like this. The idea of living on my own for months is scary. And if you’re going through the same thing, I see you. It’s probably going to get harder and lonelier. But we just have to stick together in whatever ways we can to get through this.
And when the time comes, I’m going to hug everyone who comes into contact with me so, so hard.