Last Valentine’s Day Jordan Kurella was freshly out of a 20-year relationship, but COVID-19 had not yet ravaged the United States. This year, the holiday devoted to love stings harder.
Kurella, who uses the pronouns they/them, aired their frustrations on Twitter earlier this month.
“This year it’s been 13 months of near total isolation & please… I just want a hug.”
The 43-year-old living alone in Ohio says the solitude has been rough, as has the feeling of abandonment.
“Sometimes it’s not so much being alone – the physical part of being alone has not been the hardest bit,” Kurella says. “It’s been the being forgotten.”
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With family “on either side” of the country, Kurella feels distant and overlooked.
“I will call, and they’ll be very busy, and they just can’t call back because they have their own lives. Or I will call a friend, and they’ll be very busy,” Kurella explains. “The pandemic has been very hard for everybody, so it’s hard to expect people to drop their extremely busy and very mentally hard and physically hard lives for me.”
In a typical year, Valentine’s Day can serve as a not-so-friendly reminder to people without romantic partners of just how single they are. But amid a pandemic, the pang of loneliness afflicts more than just those without a significant other.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, says loneliness is “the discrepancy between one’s actual and desired level of connection.”
“You might actually enjoy your solitude, and conversely you can feel lonely and still be around other people,” she says. “But, of course, isolation or having less social contact and less social engagement puts you at increased risk for loneliness.”
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Anthony Silard is part of a family of four, but he can relate.
“I’m married with two children, and so I’m not living alone, but I also feel lonely – often,” says Silard, president of the Center for Social Leadership and an associate professor at California State University, San Bernardino. “Loneliness is not just about ‘Have I found the right intimate partner to spend my life with?’ That’s certainly a huge part of it, but it’s also about distinct relationships we have.”
Of course, singles are certainly struggling too. Gen Z and Millennials-focused research company YPulse surveyed 1,000 13- to 39-year-olds and 50% of them said “they’ve given up on love during the pandemic.”
“Over half (of respondents) say that dating during the pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety and 65% say it’s less fun to date during the pandemic,” the December survey found.
Holt-Lunstad says the feeling of having a social support system at your fingertips can lessen the physiological effects of loneliness.
“It’s this idea that if you perceive that others are are available to you, if you need them, (loneliness is) not perceived as threatening,” she says. “Whether it’s a text, or someone reaching out, knowing you have someone you can count on can go a long way.”
Holt-Lunstad also says performing small acts of kindness can reduce feelings of loneliness.
“The one thing that we have learned from research is that those things that seem to provide the strongest benefit when they are responsive to the others’ needs or desires,” she says.
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Silard says people need to feel like they belong to a social group whose values align with their own and to form emotional connections. He suggests really analyzing your relationships.
“If you feel like your friendships are not as meaningful and robust as you’d like them to be, if you feel like your relationship with your parents or one of your parents, or a sibling, or family member is not as you’d like it to be, all of those can cause loneliness,” he says.
Silard recommends making note of your loving relationships, even if they are not romantic.
“I think one way to really build a sense of strength and confidence and poise around Valentine’s Day, or any other holiday, is to recognize that there is love around you always,” he says. “It’s just not always in the form that you are seeking it in.”
And Kurella has done just that. They will be spending Valentine’s Day on a video chat with their “closest, oldest” friends.
“The loneliness is there, but I’ve decided to meld it into, like, rather than being about I need to be with a partner and cuddling on the couch and making out and watching a rom-com, I need to spend it with platonic friends,” Kurella says, “because my platonic friends and my family got me through the last so many months.”
Tips for feeling less lonely on Valentine’s Day
- Be of service. Perform small acts of kindness with the recipient’s specific needs in mind.
- Remind yourself of your support system. Acknowledge the people in your life you can turn to.
- Take stock of your relationships. Asses if your values are aligned with those in your social circle, if you can emotionally connect, and if the relationships allow you to contribute to society as you would like.
- Honor love in all forms. Though you might not be celebrating a romantic love this Valentine’s Day, make it a point to appreciate the form love is showing up as in your life.
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