Being single is awesome — or, at least, it can be. Let’s face it: relationships are inherently complicated. Still, being alone inevitably gets… well, lonesome. Compound that with an ongoing pandemic, and you end up with many socially dissatisfied singles.
In fact, a recent Statistics Canada report suggests many singles might not have their social needs met. The report, published in November of 2021, states that more than one in 10 Canadians report “always or often” feeling lonely, with young women and single people cited as being particularly susceptible. The report further specifies that singles are three times as likely to “always or often” feel lonely as those who were “married or living common-law.”
There are countless valid reasons to be single, and we’ve already established that most (see: 72 per cent) of singles enjoy being single right now — but we also want to know how singles can feel a greater sense of connectedness. So, we turned to Dr. Julie Aitken Schermer, psychology professor and loneliness researcher at Western University, to find out how singles (and others who might be struggling with loneliness) can live their best lives despite the ongoing pandemic.
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Know the difference between loneliness and solitude
First, let’s clear up a common misconception. Loneliness and solitude might sound synonymous, but there are some important distinctions to draw between the two states of mind.
“People have the perception that loneliness requires being alone, but loneliness is defined as a dissatisfaction with your social interactions, so you can actually be lonely but be in a crowd,” says Dr. Schermer. “Solitude is when an individual is looking for silence, peace of mind and relaxation — when they can sit and think for themselves and enjoy being alone.”
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Live with intention — and have a sense of humour
It goes without saying that most of us would rather feel solitude. It turns out that mindfulness has a lot to do with it. Thankfully, Dr. Schermer says much of it has to do with intention: “if I was looking at a painting, and I wanted to share my thoughts with somebody, looked around and realized nobody was there, I might have gone from solitude to loneliness. But if I just wanted to look at something, appreciate it, absorb the information and I don’t feel like being interrupted by anybody, I am not lonely. I’m just enjoying solitude.” Being mindful can also look like actively seeking connection when you feel lonely, and what better way to foster connection than through humour?
…we’re not saying you should take yourself too seriously — but try not to make fun of yourself.
In an article published in the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute’s Journal of Behavioural Sciences, Dr. Schermer and her colleagues found that affiliative humour and self-enhancing humour are negatively correlated with loneliness, while self-defeating humour is positively correlated with loneliness.
That is to say, while joking around about relatable trivialities can make you less lonely, adopting a self-deprecating style of humour can worsen feelings of loneliness. Bottom line, we’re not saying you should take yourself too seriously — but try not to make fun of yourself.
Look for enjoyment, and get involved in your community
Dr. Schermer’s research indicates that loneliness is heritable. More specifically, she says one of the studies she co-authored found that roughly one third of a given person’s proneness to loneliness — for better or worse — can be attributed to genetics. On a more optimistic note, Dr. Schermer says the other two thirds of a person’s proneness to loneliness are environmental and can be influenced.
…if you experience loneliness while navigating this pandemic as a single person, know that you are not alone.
It turns out that getting involved in one’s community is a simple and effective way to feel less alone. Dr. Schermer says interactive community events are the best way to relieve loneliness: “For example, maybe going out to dinner won’t make you less lonely, but going on a nature hike with a group of people will because you’re actually doing something interactively, together.”
Interactive community events sound great in theory, but where to start?
Dr. Schermer encourages us to find commonalities with others through shared interests. She invites us to ask ourselves what we enjoyed doing in the past, because we so often get caught up with life and lose interest with the passing of time. You might even consider trying something entirely new and giving yourself a hearty dose of both challenge and humility.
“It’s amazing when people go to their public library and see just how many community events are taking place,” says Dr. Schermer. “[People] shouldn’t be hard on themselves if they’ve signed up for something and bail at the last minute. Unless you’re very social and extroverted, putting yourself out there is a stressful thing to do.”
Alas, if you experience loneliness while navigating this pandemic as a single person, know that you are not alone. By leaning into mindfulness, humour and community, you can foster a greater sense of connectedness. After all, we are all deserving of belonging.