Opinion: Has social distancing caused us to resist physical and emotional closeness, and what can we do about it?

Karen Madej

Photo by Icee Dc on Unsplash

Pre-pandemic, 36.48 million people were already living alone, but at least they had friends and family they could regularly see. I once read about a woman who had a massage every few weeks just for the touch of another human. My son was the only other human who hugged me for two years, with one exception. How about you?

Statista society demographics show the total number of households in the US in 2020 was 128.45 million. Families sharing their home for work and schooling and having an hour for exercise or shopping per day must have added pressure to relationships. 

There was no chance of loneliness, but many, especially women and children, suffered at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. Jefferson, Alabama, reported the highest rise in domestic violence of 27% in March 2020 compared to 2019.

Bonds also grew stronger. A Harvard report surveyed 1,319 American adults, including 284 fathers. Researchers found that “sixty-eight percent of surveyed fathers reported feeling either “closer” or “much closer” to their children since the pandemic began, and only 1.4 percent reported feeling less close.”

“What we’re seeing here is that fathers, many of whom had previously been consumed by their work or absent from their households, have developed a new sense of closeness to their children during the pandemic.” — RICK WEISSBOURD, CO-AUTHOR

Has social distancing caused many of us to fear closeness? 

At first, I couldn’t watch a TV show or a movie where people stood next to each other or hugged without feeling scared that they were ignoring safe distancing rules. 

The impact of social distancing on the lives of individuals can range from fear and anxiety to the development of obsessive-compulsive disorders due to fear of infection (Prestia et al., 2020)

With time and a certain recklessness or loneliness and craving for human contact, I allowed a stranger to hug me on Christmas eve 2020, and I hugged her back. Two souls craving a connection, however brief.

We feel lost and alone without closeness and intimacy; this loss can happen to couples and singletons. Isolating had to happen when infected, but can you imagine (or perhaps you know first hand) a person can feel isolated, disconnected, and alone when surrounded by people. Passion burns out. Incompatibility causes relationships to fail.

Some of us convince ourselves we prefer to live alone. Life is easier when not sharing living space. We can do what we like when we like with no fear of upsetting someone or being upset, irritated, or very annoyed by anyone.

I don’t feel obliged to care for a husband, boyfriend, or son as a woman living alone. It’s easy not to care about anything. In moments of weakness or depression, I realize that little care comes to me because I guard my independence fiercely. But is that true? 

I want to save the world from despicable thieves and protect all species, especially bees and all other pollinators, and those creatures facing extinction. I want fuel companies to become extinct. I want deforestation to cease. I want my fellow humans to think before they consume something.

Despite several close connections, I don’t need someone to mother me or control my actions. I prefer conversation with another human that ranges from the weather to setting the world to rights while walking in the woods admiring snowdrops with a new friend.

Returning to a simpler, kinder, friendlier life would help many of us and urban wildlife. For example, during the lockdown on a residential housing estate, a young deer nibbled shiny hedge leaves, bunnies hopped across a usually dangerous road to check out the plants to eat on the other side, and a bird and I considered each other in the stillness of a lockdown morning on a sidewalk.

Image by Johnnys_pic from Pixabay

We can harness so much and live a good life. A life that doesn’t involve spending money to buy food that is killing us, to do jobs that diminish us and leave us living from paycheck to paycheck. By giving our hard-earned income to America’s largest companies (top 3: Walmart, Amazon, Apple), we continue the cycle of enriching the wealthy and keeping ourselves poor.

The total economic cost of obesity is estimated at $1.72 trillion per year, or 9.3 percent of gross domestic product. Dariush Mozaffarian and Dan Glickman

I’m not advocating hugging or cuddling strangers or being reckless with our health, but taking a chance on living a life of meaningful actions. Sparing a thought for others when we have more than we need. Volunteering our time to do something new or share our skills with others.

There are an esti­mat­ed 500 employ­ment-relat­ed social enter­pris­es in the U.S. mar­ket, gen­er­at­ing over $1 bil­lion in rev­enue and employ­ing 56,000 peo­ple annu­al­ly. THE ANNIE E. CASEY FOUNDATION

Community environment and energy charities bring people together. We have one in my town. I volunteered as a social media blogger, and now I meet people who also care about the community and climate change. 

Greener Kirkcaldy (GK) supports individuals and families with a weekly essentials pantry and community fridge. Also, takeaway or eat-in meals — where anyone in the area pays what they feel for meals made from local food donations. And free energy-saving advice and solutions to those on low incomes.

Lang Toun Cycles is funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund and Paths for All’s Smarter Choices, Smarter Places fund, to make it easier for people in Kirkcaldy to cycle more. 

Lang Toun (say Toon) Cycles Shop refurbishes donated bicycles and sells them at affordable prices. They even loan electric bikes for a reasonable deposit. 

The shop is a social enterprise.; it takes in donated bicycles from local folks and reinvests its profits in refurbishing bikes that were otherwise unused or would have been thrown away. It is a scheme that encourages folks to regularly improve their physical and mental health. 

The Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) in the USA offers a mix of services and resources to encourage members to build communities.

Our SEA membership has connected us with donors, partners and volunteers that have helped us advance our mission. SEA Member.

We can overcome the restrictions and fear the pandemic inflicted on us. Determination to get out there and seek other humans is a great start to emerging from two years of distance and caution.

A hug is priceless. Volunteering benefits both giver and receiver. A job where you can meet your neighbors and help your community connects us with others. A refurbished bike priced at a fraction of a new one is good for your pocket, health, and nature.

Who knows, if you are a singleton, you might meet your perfect match. At the very least, you’ll spend time with folks who have the same interests as you.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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