I Need People

This is the second post in a series about things the 2020 pandemic has taught me. The first was that journalism is important. This one is about appreciating my friends and family in a new way. I've always loved the people in my life, but the feeling of actually needing other people, like for survival, is new to me. I've always had this strong sense that worst case scenario I would always be fine on my own. Like if I really had to I could hack it alone, and that might not be ideal but in the end I'd be more or less fine. I realize now I was wrong.

The first few weeks

Very early on in the pandemic my city shut down almost completely. Virtually everything was closed, with only a few "essential" businesses remaining open, like grocery stores and pharmacies. Even those often had lineups around the block because of new strict and slow precautions designed to corral people through as contactlessly as possible.

As my plans for the week and then the month got cancelled, I thought "no big deal". I'm kind of a loner anyway even in normal times and am very introverted, so in a certain way I almost welcomed the opportunity to be alone with no plans for a few weeks. If I'm honest it was actually pretty nice for the first little while, but I soon discovered that the couple of regular things I used to do every week were doing more for me than I realized.

Experiencing real loneliness

I used sort of like the idea that I'm just a solo weirdo going through life independently, doing my own thing at my own pace, sharing some moments with others but enjoying being alone the rest of the time. I never really fit in to any group and always struggle with compromise and relationships, but I made my peace with that and just lived my life accepting that's the way I am.

I do enjoy a lot of the things I do alone and I've built a life that a decade ago I thought I would only ever dream of having – doing work I enjoy when and where I want, travelling the world with a home base downtown in my favourite city, no kids to raise or mortgage to pay or lawn to mow or driveway to shovel. Part of what makes up a good life for me is freedom and independence, and I have both now.

The thing about having independence and the freedom to revel in it is that it's not as life-giving or meaningful when everything is closed. After about a month of near total isolation I realized how essential other people were in my life.

It took losing my connection to the world

It was never my awesome job or sunny vacations or comfortable apartment that were bringing me joy. It was the people I shared all those things with that made life worth living.

I realize that probably makes me sound like some sort of social cretin to normally functioning social beings, but it was honestly a revelation for me. I think back to times when my life was much worse than it is now, materially speaking, but I was happier, and I realize now it was always the people. Life really feels meaningless without close relationships, and it's really fucking hard to maintain those in a pandemic.

I used to do things a few times a week – meetups, concerts, dance classes, sports, dinner parties, etc. I always knew the people I shared those experiences with made them better, but it was more like a bonus. Like I had this great life with all this fun stuff going on and getting to share it with people I love made it better. It feels different now, though. Those times weren't just fun and meaningful, they were essential. It wasn't until I couldn't do anything for months on end that I realized I actually need those experiences. Like for survival, the same way I need to sleep and eat.

Socializing in a pandemic

I have no doubt that overall this realization is a blessing, but it's an inconvenient time to have it. It's embarrassing that it basically took three months of solitary confinement to make me appreciate the people in my life the way they deserve. I'm working on it now, though.

It took me a while to embrace socializing online, but the majority of my interactions with other people now happen on my computer. It's worse, but better than nothing, and it's at least enough to keep the severest loneliness at bay. I'm making an effort to cultivate more in person friendships, and I'm looking forward to being able to do that without constantly worrying about covid risks and restrictions after this is all over. I'm one of those pessimists who's pretty convinced that won't be until next year, but I know that this can't go on for the rest of my life, so whenever the day comes where we can do things with other people again without thinking twice, I'm going to be ready for it.