Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman’s life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we’re considering how the pandemic has impacted our priorities and views of leisure in the lives of single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other’s experience.
When it became clear that the pandemic would keep us at home for a while, I—like many single people—formed a “quaranteam” that I began seeing a couple times a week.
Our gatherings started as a necessity to keep us from experiencing loneliness during quarantine. But the externally-imposed intimacy has led to friendships deeper than I could have thought. In the real world of working and moving to new cities, I’ve found it difficult to build this kind of circle of friends. My time spent with these women has not only strengthened our relationships, it’s shifted how I think about my social life. It’s shifted what I like to do with my free time. It’s reaffirmed the value of my spiritual life. It’s returned me to my authentic personal values.
Making your own fun—and appreciating the fun made for you
So much of single adult social life is given to you: you just show up somewhere cool and consume (most of the time literally—ha!). And you always have things to talk about, because someone’s always just done something interesting, been somewhere awesome, had a crazy new dating experience . . . new, new, new, something, everything is new, and so “fun” is made for you.
These days, however, you have to bring the fun yourself. I’m seeing the same tiny circle of people multiple times a week, and very little of interest has happened in our lives. So we catch up, and then we make our own fun. We get dressed up (or let’s be honest: we get dressed!), enjoy a nice cocktail, and make dinner for each other. Because we’re only seeing each other, our visits quickly move to personal things: how our families are, how quarantine is affecting our relationships, what we’re struggling with professionally, what our goals and hopes are for the future.
But more than just talking, we’ve bonded through having fun. The other day, I broke out my old cribbage set, which I’d hardly touched since college. The bocce set I found in the trunk of the car has become a biweekly staple for my little quaranteam. I used to play when I was in college, and had driven the set across the country when I moved, but I’d only used it once in the four years I’ve been here. These kinds of activities deepened our friendships, strangely, far more than the usual social circuit does.
Simultaneously, this time has reminded me of the value of a large circle of friend-acquaintances. I used to take this for granted: there was always another party, another birthday happy hour, another something hosted by or for someone. There were always more young single people to meet (especially here in D.C., where the turnover is so quick!), new bars to try, new restaurants to experience.
At some points in my life, all of this has felt like a burden. I’m an introvert, so larger scale social interactions can exhaust me; I also struggle a bit with social anxiety, so getting to know new people one-on-one is also tough for me. But I also am surprised to discover how much I miss these kinds of events.
Finding a new balance for my priorities and my social life
As the world reopens, I’m determined not to lose myself again in the fun frenzy of adult social life. This time at home has made me reassess what really brings me joy, what makes me feel refreshed, what makes life good. Without social pulls and with only limited socializing, my time is largely my own. I’m rediscovering what activities I genuinely love and realizing how often in my life I’ve chosen not to do those things. I’d skip playing my guitar for an evening of cocktails with friends. I’d rush through cleaning to get to party x. I’d choose the crazy night out at the bar followed by the next-day all-day brunch over a relaxing evening, early bedtime, and lovely morning at home doing the things I love and want to do.
In the absence of the regular pulls on my time, in the silence of loneliness, in the calm of no calendar commitments, I’m feeling my old loves resurface. I’d forgotten how much I love to garden. How much joy it brings me to sing and play (however badly) on my guitar, alone and unheard. How cathartic it is to sit and write. How stimulating it is to sit and write something good. How much pleasure it brings me to do hobbies like quilting or sewing, even simply to clean out cabinets and closets and drawers. Somehow all of these things, whether higher or lower arts, were things that I simply didn’t value as “worth it.” A lot of those things are things that need to be done alone, and I’d forgotten about them in the joyful frenzy of living as a single woman with a wide circle of friends in a fun city.
The quarantine has created a negative space in my life, and in that space I’ve rediscovered what I love. I’ve also rediscovered that I am a single person, and that this state brings with it both opportunities and obligations. Being single means that you are your own and your first priority. I don’t think this is selfishness, though it can tend that way and it’s important to combat that. But from conversations I’ve had with my friends, I know I’m not alone in struggling to prioritize myself.
I think singleness and its concomitant obligations are realities we often ignore because we fear to admit that we are alone. The frenzy of social life is a tempting escape from this reality: it makes that singleness seem like something I need to escape from rather than revealing it as a state of opportunity—and, again, obligation. Acknowledging that you’re single means acknowledging that you are the primary director of your time, and this power brings with it a responsibility to use that time well. The social distancing of COVID has reminded me that I need to—and want to—cherish this opportunity of singleness to develop myself by actively carving out time for the things I love in order to throw myself into life with more zeal.
Do you have an experience about rethinking your priorities after quarantine that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.