Thoughts in Isolation

Disclaimer: This blog post will outline some of my thoughts on the current COVID-19 pandemic, and touch on dating (or rather, the lack of) during lockdown. This in no way is to diminish the severity of the current global situation and the way in which it has impacted thousands of lives. I battled back and forth on whether I should even write this post. I follow one account on Instagram, where a woman posted on her body image dysmorphia and how that has affected her mental health and feelings of self-worth. The backlash was quite shocking. She had received comments from people criticising her for even worrying about such things whilst people were dying from Coronavirus. I was confused, surely people could see that she wasn’t taking anything away from how terrible the current global crisis is, but only raising awareness about an entirely separate issue. One issue of many, that don’t merely evaporate because we are living through a pandemic, but exist regardless alongside it, perhaps making this situation all the more awful for others to endure.

If anything, this global crisis has taught most to be kinder to others. We are living in unprecedented times so there is no rule book to follow on ‘best practice’. We can only follow government guidance and do what is individually and collectively best for us all within those parameters.

Every Thursday at 8pm I stand outside my front door and clap for our frontline workers: the doctors, the nurses, the delivery drivers, the supermarket workers, and the teachers; and I tell myself that I’m doing my part by staying at home. But a lot of the time my conscience weighs heavy and I’m engulfed by ‘survivor’s guilt’. Guilt that I’m safe at home whilst NHS workers risk their lives every day for us all. Guilt that I am still able to work from home whilst so many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Guilt for having the luxury of time to sit at my laptop typing out a personal blog post, whilst parents juggle work with home-schooling young children. Everyday guilt that I could be doing more.

I listened to a podcast the other day in which members of the public had written in on their thoughts and personal challenges during the pandemic. I was surprised to hear from nurses who had written in about their own guilt that they could be doing more. I was gobsmacked. These remarkable everyday heroes also felt guilty. A reminder that no matter how many kilometres you run, or parcels you deliver, or lives you may save; everyone feels like they could be doing more. So yes, we should be kinder to others, but we should also be kinder to ourselves; we are only human after all. The woes of dating may seem like a very trivial subject in the grand scheme of things right now, but it is important to remember that we are fighting a war. A war for our survival so that we can continue to live our lives to the fullest, including even the most trivial aspects, as it is in those very small, almost insignificant aspects, that make us human.

***

April 2020. Day 3,452 of quarantine. But not really, It’s only the fifth week. Actually, it’s not so bad. I appreciate that I have it better than a lot of people. I managed to get out to my dad’s house in the countryside before they announced lockdown in the UK, so lots of open spaces and fresh air. Once I’ve had my one daily government-allocated exercise outside, I’m lucky enough to have a back garden to sunbathe or read in if the weather permits. I’ve curated a nice little daily routine of work, yoga, walking the dog, reading and Netflix. Then bed for a minimum of eight hours. Repeat. Yes, I am lucky. But this doesn’t stop me moaning along with the rest of the population about all our lockdown hang ups. Human, remember. Like everybody else I have good and bad days. Days where I may feel creative and attempt a makeup tutorial, painting, or even dress up as Frida Kahlo (complete with drawn on eyebrows) for the ‘recreate a famous artwork’ challenge. And then there are the other days, where I’ll feel lost and lethargic and where even burning my thumb on my straighteners brings tears to my eyes, surprising myself that they were that close to the surface. These are just a handful of my thoughts during isolation:

Running. I hate it. I have never been a runner, and now all of sudden it seems to have become everyone’s new favourite hobby. I was nominated a week ago to do the ‘run for heroes’ 5K challenge and so far, have avoided doing it. This was truly going to be a case of couch to 5K. Don’t get me wrong, I think its’s for an amazing cause and I donated my money as soon as I was nominated. But the actual running? I’m still psyching myself up for that bit.

Makeup. Why does every woman I know comment on how much better their skin looks now that they don’t wear makeup every day? Am I the only person who has had more breakouts than ever since having a bare face in isolation? I swear my skin was in better condition when I wore makeup and it was exposed to the pollution and grime of the London underground every day. Riddle me that?!

Maintenance. Like many others, I’ve had to be weaned off regular beauty treatments. Luckily, I didn’t have a manicure before lockdown so haven’t been left with chipped half-moons of gel on my nails. My hair is dyed in a low maintenance balayage style, so I don’t have to worry too much about root regrowth, and I haven’t bothered with a full wax down there in a while, because I wasn’t having sex. No, the only thing I’m really missing is my monthly eyebrow threading appointment. Cue the only person I’m self-isolating with – my dad. On my first brow he pulled the wax off so painfully slowly that it didn’t even rip out any hair, instead it just left a waxy tuff which when I blinked my eyelashes got stuck to. On his second attempt he managed to rip the strip off with more speed and conviction, unfortunately he also took 3mm of my hairline off with it too. But it’s OK, next week I’ve been tasked with cutting his hair with kitchen scissors whilst following a YouTube video on barbering. Karma works in mysterious ways.

Houseparty. I have a confession; I don’t like it. After a day of video call meetings for work, the last thing I want to do is log on to a poor-quality call with more people who may or may not be pixelated out. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my friends and can’t wait until the day we can all sit in a beer garden together again. But during quarantine I’ve found that I much prefer the one-to-one Facetime call approach in order to properly catch up, rather than to participate in my fifth virtual quiz of the week.

Tiger King. Everyone is obsessed and I just don’t get it. I watched the first episode and whilst I initially enjoyed the entertainment value of watching an eccentric man with a mullet and penchant for animal print rant about an equally strange woman called Carole; 30 minutes in and I started to feel quite uncomfortable.

Sex and the City. Having only watched a few episodes here and there over the years I decided to finally watch all six seasons from the beginning. A TV series which documents the lives of four single women in their thirties navigating dating in a major city; it has never felt more relatable. Although some of the views are quite dated now and others downright offensive, I felt my emotions rise as certain storylines developed. I didn’t like season 3 Carrie: it was beyond frustrating to watch her cheat on poor lovely Aiden and then complain that she couldn’t find a nice, emotionally available man. Then to watch her ignore all the red flags, and go back again and again to Big, was like watching my dating history with toxic men on replay. And then there was sweet Charlotte, who had a shotgun wedding to Trey before even sleeping with him, only to find out that he struggled with erectile disfunction and couldn’t have sex with her. Poor Charlotte. She was then diagnosed with a ‘depressed vagina’ because she wasn’t getting any. I couldn’t help but look down at my own crotch with a raised (slightly botched) eyebrow.

WhatsApp group chats. Like most people, I usually give the obligatory groan when added to yet ‘another group chat’ and endeavour to keep them all on mute. However, during lockdown I applaud the group chat. The memes and emoji games take the edge off cabin fever and it’s amazing what things can keep you entertained for hours on end. For instance, my friend, Kandice, sent me ‘laser beams’ via the new 3D effects on iMessage, which got me disproportionately over-excited. I then proceeded to spend a full half-hour sending animated blown up hearts and fireworks to everyone in my address book with an iPhone; the longest time I’ve spent on iMessage in probably five years. I especially love my girls group chat. Whether we are discussing the current nomination for our virtual book club, or how hairy on a scale of ‘one to sasquatch’ we will be when we’re finally let out of isolation, there is no subject too bizarre or trivial that we won’t discuss. Like, did you know that 70% of people on your chat will mis-read “do you think I’d look good with a perm?” as “do you think I’d look good with a penis?” or that the cost of a mop in Bermuda is over $40? You do now.

And finally, but certainly not the least, the majestic Quarantini. Like 90% of the population, I also run the risk of coming out of lockdown with a growing addiction. I’ve had to limit my drinking to Thursday-Saturday only, for fear of consuming gin like orange squash.

One good thing about quarantine though, is that I now have an extended excuse as to why I’m not dating. Although, ‘iso-dating’ has become quite big apparently. A couple weeks into the lockdown, I was informed that Hinge “was going off!”. All my single girlfriends exclaimed that they’d never known so much activity on dating apps, with a barrage of messages from numerous suitors and setting up various dinner dates over FaceTime. It all sounded very…time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that we have these platforms, especially in light of current circumstances, where people don’t have to feel alone and are only a few clicks away from connecting with not just friends and family, but also romantic interests. But for me personally, I knew it wouldn’t work. I’ve been in the dating sphere long enough to know that I have to meet someone in person and ideally no later than two weeks after first speaking, to determine if there’s a genuine connection or not.

I have had too many experiences where I’ve built someone up in my head through texting alone, only to be desperately disappointed when I’ve met them in real life. And hands up, I know that that is completely on me. Through no real fault of their own I’ve projected my own wants/needs on to a person that I’ve never met before in order to re-create a version of my ideal man. A version that they probably will never live up to because they were never that person in the first place.

Nope, meeting someone after three weeks and being hit with the realisation that there is no connection is hard enough; I don’t have the stomach to be disappointed after three months of talking to someone. Besides, there’s really only one person that I wish I could contact during lockdown; but I know I can’t.

It’s been almost seven months since B broke things off with me, and I haven’t had a single date since. They say that it takes roughly half the time you were with someone to get over them. So, if I calculate this right, I should have been over him by Christmas last year… something terribly wrong seems to have happened to my equation. The first three months don’t really count as we were still talking. But from January when we decided to cut all contact, I told myself I’d give myself six man-free months in order to lick my wounds and get over B. The lockdown coincided with this time perfectly and what better excuse not to date than to say that I’m doing my bit for society. But come June, my time will be up, and most likely lockdown will be too.

So, what happens when I can no longer use social distancing as my get out of jail dating-free card? When this is all over and we’re let back out into the wild again? The logistics alone are going to be complicated enough. Maybe, like the film Contagion, we will need to show a wristband proving that we’ve been vaccinated before we could so much as hold hands with someone. Practising ‘safe sex’ is going to take on a whole new meaning. They’re going to need crate loads of PPE just for single people returning to the shag battlefield. Maybe they’ll invent a genital friendly sanitiser or some kind of protective latex jumpsuit that people can wear like a full body condom. Too far? Anyway…

If I’m honest with myself, it’s the fear I’m struggling with the most. Fear of putting myself out there again, only for another man to ghost me. Fear of rejection or not finding someone I like, or worse, the fear of finding someone, only for them to hurt me; shattering what’s left of my already fragile heart. The more I think about the exhausting process that modern-day dating entails, the more appealing a life of solitude with a bunch of cats and houseplants for company seems. Not that there is anything wrong with that, if you so choose, but I would like the opportunity to meet someone again…

The other evening, I was really struggling with my thoughts around B. The day that this post is published marks one year since that night where he zipped up my dress in a wine bar in Clapham. I felt an overwhelming urge to call him, just for the comfort of hearing his voice again and checking if he was OK. My finger hovered over his number on my phone, at the same time a text from my friend, Annie, dropped down on my screen. I confided my thoughts to her, and she coached me through it. She was kinder to me than I was, saying it is completely normal in these times to want to feel close and connected to others; especially someone we have been close to in the past. She asked what I wanted to get out of a call with him; and would I ultimately be hurting myself by doing it. She was right. B had known how I felt; the ball had been left firmly in his court. There was nothing to suggest that he would want to hear from me. Instead, Annie suggested I keep a journal or write a letter, noting down all my thoughts, and then put it away in a box. The letter was only really for me, it would never be sent.

I went to bed that night, emotionally exhausted but feeling slightly more at ease, and let my previous urge wash over me. And then the strangest thing happened, I woke up early the next morning after a night of weird integrated dreams, I grabbed my earphones, pulled on my trainers, and went… for my run. And do you know what, it wasn’t that bad.

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