It’s Not Me, It’s You: Choosing Singledom in the Pandemic

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Even though dating apps present us with infinite options, sometimes the best option is ourselves. (Samson Katt/Pexels)

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ou’ve probably heard of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. But the singles among us are likelier to encounter something else while stuck inside and swiping on dating apps: FOBO—Fear of Better Options.

Coined by Patrick McGinnis, FOBO is the free fall of overthinking every possible option and inevitably remaining in free fall. That’s one drawback of looking for love online during the pandemic. Apps are not just an entertaining way to pass the time—they’re one of the few means of meeting new people safely. But they’re also designed to provide a sense of instant gratification. And some people confuse Tinder with Grubhub, approaching people like a buffet of viable partner options.

The problem with this mindset is it’s impossible to fix the perfect plate. Or maybe you took what you could get to distract yourself, or dipped into the compost bin to reignite an old flame, only to find yourself unsatisfied.

These scenarios operate on the anxiety that COVID-19 is looming overhead. Opportunities to find companionship feel scarce, and some might feel tempted to tolerate flakiness, incompatibility or even disrespect to feel less alone. But the fact is, it’s hard to have a fear of better options when you realize the better option is probably yourself. While articles about single life during the pandemic paint a purely pessimistic picture, this narrative is tired. I’d argue that the pandemic has only accelerated changes in courtship, dating and marriage that were already underway.

Maybe you got lucky and found the one, but if you haven’t, this past year has provided you with two options: either choose to meet the loneliness head on or jump into something lackluster to sidetrack yourself from discomfort. If you choose the latter, you might find yourself rushing into an entanglement for the simple sake of closeness. And I wouldn’t blame you. I tried dating out of fear of my solitude at first. I was giddy with the increased level of courtship involved—picnics in my front yard, trips to outdoor dining while masked up. Navigating COVID-19 safety caused me to abstain from sex for a year. I’m also just at a point in my life where I’m exhausted by games and don’t want just anyone in my intimate sphere. I had fun, especially in the summer. I even convinced myself that I’d roll with one situationship, but soon realized the lack of emotional depth was doing me more harm than my own company. I chose myself.

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The thing is, once you’ve known tranquility, you’ll never take it for granted again. This past year cost many people their lives and livelihoods; it upended most of the social norms. And that stress doesn’t go away if you’re in a relationship. And if you don’t choose a partner wisely, that stress will only increase. For all the challenges this year has posed, I’ve also known peace of mind Malcolm and Marie could only dream of. Is working through loneliness such a bad thing? Some of us have actually been reaching astronomical levels of self-actualization.

And according to recent research, if you’re a woman who dates men, you’re might be more resilient against the stressors of the pandemic than the men you date. That’s because men are socialized to use romantic relationships as their only means of emotional support, and are less likely to get professional help. Tired of playing therapist, more women are choosing to stay single than ever before, a trend we might see COVID accelerating. Millennials are also waiting to get married, which has meant that marriages are lasting longer than they did in the past. Perhaps being the children of a generation with a high divorce rate has taught us a thing or two about getting our lives and finances in order before getting serious or tying the knot.

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ast week, I woke up one morning to a surprising alert on my phone. I’d spent an average of seven hours a day wrapped up in the interwebs. I vowed to change that, and so far it’s going well. I spend more time reading books, biking and meditating. Why was my online habit out of control? Blame it on isolation. Blame it on boredom. Blame it on...Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is a new app that allows users to moderate conversations using audio. It isn’t a dating app per se, but some people are sparking relationships on the platform. Funny enough, my very first evening on Clubhouse was a study in sensuality. I noticed a room titled “Mike Lowry’s ‘The Moan Room’” and thought to myself, “Well, this is funny.” A few hours later, I had not only competed in a moaning challenge, but I won! I did all of this while wearing my bonnet, face mask drying and cat resting comfortably beside me. (Mind you, my cat did occasionally stare up at me, visibility alarmed, as I groaned into my iPhone.)

The “Moan Room” on Clubhouse is now a thing of the past. Internet trends move swiftly like that. But it was a glimpse at the new and innovative methods people are utilizing to ignite passion. What the activities I indulge in are teaching me is that, single or in companionship, I’ll remain adventurous. Of course, I’m not closed off to the possibility of love, but I’m also fully capable of entertaining my darn self. I also refuse to place the burden of harvesting my own happiness on someone else. Some call it solitude, I call it a commitment to my own serenity.