By: Zoe Bernardi, Community Editor
The Pandemic of loneliness, COVID-19 has lingered longer than expected. It bleeds into the back to school season, and already dreaded time. Everyone must be there doing a part in trying to stay safe, looking out for those who are at risk, and ensuring they aren’t passing the virus to others. People miss people. This pandemic has exasperated the feeling of being alone and it’s very important to have friendships during this time.
People probably miss going out to public spaces, overhearing stranger conversations, petting other people’s dogs, holding babies at picnics, and even the occasional awkward bump in the handshake-hug routine we do with those we haven’t seen in a while.
Except now, everyone is that “someone I haven’t seen in a while.”
Katherine Sucy is a USM student who had been living in her Portland apartment for the duration of the pandemic. Sucy’s decision to stay in Portland rather than go home to Brunswick, Maine, is for the safety of a family member at home. The pandemic added extra stress for Sucy for the fear of passing along the virus to her own home.
Katherine Sucy is a rising junior, she finished her second semester of Political Science (International Studies track) with a minor in Spanish + Honors at her kitchen table.
Katherine has always been a Portland goer, an off campus babe, she has only known the way of making friends by her classes, putting herself out there, and exerting energy into friendships outside of the classroom.
Before the pandemic, Sucy stated she had to try and place herself in situations to make friends and make connections with her classmates. Unlike in high school where we are always surrounded by people and forced to spend 8 hours together, college people come and go all day. To create concrete friendships she had to step out, be vulnerable, and make friends.
Sucy explained how the majority of her friends live off-campus as well and that she had clusters of friends in groups of 2-3. Each class she had also come with a crew of friends.
Now during this pandemic, she had to hold on to these friends. Being pulled in every direction, repeating our days for each phone call. Having so much energy to stay friends with each other during this time.
In an article written by the New York Times, writer Kate Murphy states, “We are subtly but inexorably losing our facility and agility in social situations.” She then goes into examples of how we are all oversharing when we do see people, how Zoom calls are impromptu therapy sessions, as well as an increase in miscommunications across friends.
Sucy seems to also feel this way, as she has been trying to stay organized in her ways to stay in touch during this time very similarly. Yet, she did lose a few friends, people come and go out of everyone’s lives every year.
However, during the quarantine, it made the number of friends she had and those she had lost more evident. She could see herself putting in the effort and seeing them slip away. This can be a lonely realization and took me time to understand that if people want to be in people’s lives, it should not be a task to have to chase them.
Another common fear that is shared was the feeling of being afraid to come back into our school routine. This is a solemn time that would have been filled with hugs and events and social gatherings.
In the same article, Stephanie Cacioppo is quoted as saying “are wired to crave company. It’s an evolutionary imperative because there’s historically been safety in numbers.” So when social groups are being diminished and smaller in size, people tend to fret and become more lonely. During this pandemic, everyone is given more time to think and reflect, if the common ideas are about friendships, and seeing them slip away and social groups diminish, it can often make those feel more alone.
Along with this slow-paced lifestyle that comes hand and hand with quarantine life, people’s schedules are often lighter and more open than when in pre-COVID conditions. When the free time was spent trying to squeeze everyone in to see each other, has now been time used for longing for companionship.
“Feeling lonely or isolated is as much a biological signal as hunger or thirst.” (Murphy)
So how is the entrance back into this fall and school year graced as we still have to follow quarantine rules?
“I’ve been networking with my current friends to try and befriend their friends, it just calls more into safety as a challenge, I am trying to be choosy about how many people I am seeing during this time,” Sucy explains, this is her way of meeting new people during this strange back to school season.
In another article written by Julia Hotz, she states, “Research links loneliness to severe health consequences — including chronic stress, poor sleep, heart trouble, and even premature death, while studies associate meaningful social connections with physiological well-being and longevity.”
If that is not enough to scare anyone into making more friends, then who knows what will. One of the biggest questions everyone is asking themselves is who should they surround themselves with during this time?
Sucy is among many other students and people around the world who is trying to balance her safety with her desire to create meaningful relationships.
She is soaking up the last summer rays, hanging out on local beaches, where sitting 6 feet away is doable, or hanging outside with masks on as she goes on local trails and walks around Portland and Gorham.
This is a unique time for everyone, and students are trying to find the balance between putting themselves out there to attract new friends, staying in touch with those from a distance, and being choosy and wise about seeing people face to face in small social settings.