Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, has called for Britons to cut back on “unnecessary socialising” ahead of Christmas, such are the concerns about the spread of the new omicron variant of Covid.
At first, it seemed funny. In the past 18 months, we’ve been served some fairly unclear guidelines, which put the responsibility on the individual and removed blame from the institutions supposed to keep us safe. But as I sat watching the news – and seeing my social calendar dwindle – I realised that something more sinister is happening here. Once again, as during the height of lockdown, we’re faced with the grim reality that the pandemic affects single people more than those in a relationship.
Like last year, single people or those living alone, have to face the reality that they could be isolated during the festive period – finding they fall off the radar of their coupled-up friends, for whom socialising is “unnecessary”. The truth is that, what might feel like “unnecessary socialising” when you’re in a couple, is often a lifeline to those living alone or single.
I for one started having painful flashbacks to the height of the pandemic, when, newly single, self-employed and living alone, I desperately craved the company of anything and anyone other than my Montserra houseplant Charlie.
I felt this sense of isolation so strongly in lockdown that I started a WhatsApp group for those living alone and put it on Twitter. Within days, it had amassed over 50 people, all of whom spent a large part of the pandemic sending each other photos of their dinner, sharing podcast recommendations and an evening online cocktail hour together.
It was those small moments of interaction that kept us all sane during those incredibly bleak months. I’ve had people message me since saying that the WhatsApp group kept them alive during that period.
We need people, laughter and conversation in our days to feel happy. Brief moments of conversation and chatter, which were so missed when you live alone during a pandemic, kept me sane. My best friend would drive to my flat every week and park outside, and we’d chat from the doorstep as she kept the heating on in the car and spoke through the window.
Perhaps, for someone in a relationship, that would be a small moment in your day that doesn’t amount to an awful lot, but for someone living alone, a 20-minute conversation even from your doorstep is everything.
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So when I saw the news that “unnecessary socialising” was now advised against, all I could think was poor, poor single people. Because, of course, they are the ones that are going to be classed as “unnecessary” in the lead-up to Christmas, as everyone takes extra precautions before seeing their loved ones over the festive period.
Within moments of the announcement, my phone started buzzing with plans being changed and parties cancelled. And what about dating? Is that necessary? The guidelines stamp out the fun in life for single people – the spontaneity, the chance encounters, those random spur of the moment after work drinks – the very things that make being single so fun and exciting.
So next time you cancel on your single friend because you don’t feel like it’s necessary, I want you to think about the person you’re cancelling on. Perhaps they haven’t left the house all day, perhaps they’ve been looking forward to it for weeks, perhaps you’re the highlight of their day and the only social interaction they’ll have. Think about the other person before deciding that they are not necessary.
Unattached: Essays on Singlehood by Angelica Malin is out on 3 February
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