While we don’t have the added pressures of home-schooling kids and forbearance required for living with a partner 24/7, being single and living alone during Covid does come with its challenges.
Being unable to spend time with friends, family, and work colleagues takes a toll on us. We didn’t realize how much nourishment we got out of regular and even mundane interactions — from making small talk with the boxing instructor to engaging colleagues in business meetings.
Let’s face it: being single can be challenging.
Amid the worldwide pandemic, it became much more difficult.
If we are not careful, we will fall into a depression trap — a black hole that pulls us in. And faster than we realize, we will lose hope and join in the song of widespread fear.
In such challenging times as these, we must take extra care to keep focusing on the positive and thus protect our belief in a better future. To quote Dale Carnegie, “Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw the mud, the other saw stars.”
When we look at the stars instead of the mud, hope comes back. And to our surprise, we begin to notice the little things that do go well — the beautiful flowers in the garden, the inspiring online webinar, the thumbs-up of a friend, a video chat with your parents, or the “Zoom-Afterwork-Drink” with your colleagues.
Here are some pointers that have helped us.
Nurturing faith is our anchor in times of uncertainty.
When I wake up in the morning, I like meditating. I read a few passages of scripture and a daily devotional. This helps transcend my human cares to divine hope and peace.
Like Jesmane, the first thing I do after waking up lays the foundation for the entire day. I start the day by praying and reading the Bible. I want God to speak into my life. And I want to get wisdom and understanding from His Word. Scripture remains the unshakeable rock during the storm.
Then I reflect and sometimes jot a few thoughts in my journal. I love to ask the question Benjamin Franklin started each morning by asking: What good shall I do today?
Science shows that exercise has a beneficial impact on our bodies.
My mornings include high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at home as I stopped my Boxfit external classes with the Covid outbreak. My training takes only about 15 minutes daily. This gives me a good work out while the brief stint sustains discipline. I include jump ropes, push ups, burpees and squats.
I painfully bore the brunt of teasing in my childhood because of my slender frame. This led to me falsely interpreting thinness as weakness. Exercise conversely allows me to feel so strong and healthy.
Earlier this year, I read the book “The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John J. Ratey. I learned that by elevating my heart rate and sweating, I could beat stress, lift my mood, fight memory loss, sharpen my intellect, and function.
That’s what I experienced. As strange as it may sound, I found physical exercise to help overcome self-doubt.
One day I felt so depressed and did not appreciate the beautiful sunrise. Too many frustrations surfaced due to my singleness and the closed borders. The following day, I decided to wake up early and went running. Afterward, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a different guy.
Before my workout, I was full of doubts and insecurities. When I completed my run, I felt stronger, happier, more secure, more confident, and more optimistic about my future.
During lockdown we’ve focused on acquiring skills we wouldn’t otherwise have the time or chance to master. Quoting from the book Rescue Your Love Life by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, “Happiness is not a good life goal. A much better life goal is growth and one of the by-products of growth is happiness.”
Along these lines we have found happiness as we have sought growth during lockdown.
I’m learning German online. My identical twin sister learned German as a child and I’ve often regretted not learning with her then. I contrast German to my elementary French after a month-long Paris language learning vacation in my twenties, a year of lessons in Johannesburg and four years living in Geneva.
Still, I have more confidence for German as my second language is Afrikaans that is based on 17th century Dutch, a Germanic language considered the closest to German. My great-great grandfather is German and I’m drawing solace that this language resides in my bloodline.
I’m so excited about my new post lockdown goal — spending two weeks in Germany on an immersive language program!
I also read a couple of books on artificial intelligence and innovation and watched documentaries in areas I had less knowledge of spanning from the history of slavery (400’s-1800’s) to the Russian Czar Nicholas II.
Growth for me came from a different source: I’ve had time alone to read books. Solitude is not a bad thing. Instead, I have found great joy and inspiration in reading more than ever before. Pablo Picasso helped me appreciate the Covid season: “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” By reading 39 books in 2020 I have acquired many precious insights for upcoming work.
I determined that I wanted to come out of the pandemic better than I entered it. I loved the opportunity to leverage my team and invest in my skills. I signed up for a New Testament course. I also spent time doing an online mentorship program.
Human connections are sadly sacrificed during Covid and we’re aiming for quality touch points.
Every Saturday I visit my parents. I’m mindful to keep them protected and we all wear masks, sit on the patio outdoors and do a walk in the neighborhood. For our Christmas lunch I ate outside on the patio while my parents ate indoors. I do not want to risk eating a meal at the same table as my parents while we are not vaccinated.
Every few weeks I take a long walk in a nature trail with my good friend Tumelo. Our periodic bonding over a scenic walk nourishes my soul.
On Saturdays I join the Young Global Leaders of WEF on zoom. It’s a special opportunity to learn about the initiatives of my peers from around the world and to feel connected virtually.
I resolved that no virus, no circumstance, no regulations would hinder me from spending quality time with friends and family.
One cold fall day, during my visit in Switzerland, I planned to have lunch with a good friend. Unfortunately, the restaurants had to close down again as the number of COVID-positive test results increased. The stiff, cold wind on the terrace overlooking the beautiful Lake Geneva did not hold us back from sharing our lives.
As I’m living in Cambodia now, I schedule regular video calls with my friends and family. For the time being, I can’t go back to my home country. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot spend quality time with my loved ones. I know one day — when travel resumes and there is no quarantine required upon entry — I will be able to see them again more often and in person.
We’ve tried to use lockdown/quarantine time to tick off personal goals that we would not otherwise achieve.
I had a benign cyst on my back surgically removed last October. I felt productive using the downtime of lockdown to extract a cyst that had formed a few years ago and kept growing. My successful post-surgery recovery benefited from no travel and less activity during lockdown.
I travelled back in November to Cambodia where I’m volunteering at a church and NGO. For the first time in my life, I had to undergo a two-week quarantine. I loved the “freedom” to spend my time on whatever activity I liked.
I decided to grasp the opportunity to review the entire manuscript of my new book, Single for a Season. Revisiting my manuscript several weeks after editing, my own writing inspired and challenged me with a fresh look. ‘’Did I write that? Really?’’, I wondered. This experience filled me with joy.
Gratitude is found in the simple pleasures of nature.
I find joy in the simple pleasures of nature. My bedroom window has a pink rose bush right outside befriended by the adjacent bright orange crane flowers. I am enchanted with new roses springing up soon after life is snuffed out of wilting ones. I also do daily 15-minute walks in my neighborhood in Sandown, Johannesburg. This helps me collect my thoughts and feel contentment as I am serenaded by majestic trees and light purple African lilies in abundance.
Fulfillment comes from adding value to others.
At first, I was afraid to launch an online hangout for singles because I wasn’t sure I could do it well. I worried, “Can I engage people in an open and proactive conversation? Will I find it weird to connect with people I’ve never met in person?”
Eventually I did start it. After our first session, we all felt it was a great success that we wanted to repeat again soon.
Surprisingly, we have developed a friendship although we have not met in person. I feel such bliss every time we get to meet online.
Despite the many challenges during the pandemic, I decided to uplift other people — single people — by encouraging them, helping them to get a new vision, sharing my highs and lows and making them feel accepted and understood.
I gave my time and energy, and yet I received so much more in return. Serving them increased my state of happiness and fulfillment.
Of course, it’s not all shooting stars, and there are moments of loneliness and sadness. Yet, the moments of serenity and contentment outweigh those.
And even in those moments of loneliness we practice kindness to our sometimes fragile selves. We draw encouragement that around the world so many people are experiencing the same highs and lows that we are.
In sum, happiness in the solitude of Covid comes from our realization that we can’t change our circumstances. Nevertheless, we can determine the way we look at them.
How to feel joy again? Turn your head and begin to recognize the stars.
By David Brühlmann and Jesmane Boggenpoel
David is Swiss. He authored Single for a Season: How to Be Single and Happy. He is an experienced biotech industry leader, and dedicates his life to the development of high-quality education for children and young adults in Cambodia. David holds a Masters in Chemical Engineering from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Würzburg.
Jesmane is South African. She authored My Blood Divides and Unites on racial reconciliation. She has experience in private equity, is an entrepreneur and serves on various boards. She is a Chartered Accountant (SA) and holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard School of Government.