everybody hurts

The Diary of a Teenage Adult

Pandemic dating made me feel feelings I hadn’t felt in years.

Photo: Andrey Onufrienko/Getty Images
Photo: Andrey Onufrienko/Getty Images
Photo: Andrey Onufrienko/Getty Images

If you’re single in a pandemic, there will come a time when it feels like you’re edging toward your former life. You will take your best shoes out of the cupboard and walk unsteadily, as if they’re borrowed from your mother. And as you wobble into the New World, you will realize you are eternally changed in ways you could never have anticipated. So you will write it all down, trying very hard not to forget what happened in the last year. And it will, when you look back, probably read like this.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you will vow and fail to acquire the following: inner peace, abs, the French language.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you will develop such a crush on the idea of having a crush that you will Google: “up-and-coming models U.K.,” “new celebrity chefs,” “list of footballers 2010–2020,” “cool bands.”

If you’re single in a pandemic, the seasons no longer mark the passing of time but various failed bargains with nature. Every morning when you brush your teeth, you will look to the rose plant in your neighbor’s garden as if it were a fortune teller. In late spring, when you see its first pink buds, you’ll think: “By the time the roses are all in bloom, I will stop feeling like this.” The roses will bloom, nothing will change. “By the time the roses have all gone, I will stop feeling like this.” The roses will brown, nothing will change. As you watch each petal fall, you’ll feel increasingly like you’re in a Disney movie — a lonely beast locked in a 45-square-metre one-bedroom castle.

If you’re single in a pandemic, months of isolation will pass, and you will wonder: If I could hold anyone now, just for a minute, who would I choose? “I wish I could hold you as a baby,” you will text your best friend. “Are u OK?” she will immediately reply.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you will become heavily reliant on the phrase “the summer of love.” Things you will do in July 2020 to try to jump-start it include: ’80s aerobics classes in an outdoor shopping complex, the purchase of a neon-pink string bikini, a tie-dye face mask, two further ear piercings, and a cocktail shaker. On the last day of August, as you pedalo miserably under a gray sky on the lake of a London park, you will admit defeat. “It will be the winter of love,” you will say, really believing it.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you will listen to Cardi B’s “WAP” in a way that can only be described as compulsive. You will blast it on repeat for hours at a time, dancing so your body remembers how to move just to express something. You will have recurring dreams that you’re in the music video. Sometimes, you will forget the end of the sentence you’re writing because you can only think in the lyrics.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you may convince yourself like you did in 2002 that you are not fit for love. That it’s for other girls, but not for you. You’ll find yourself drawn to all the things you loved most when you were 14: pink Herbal Essences shampoo, Pop-Tarts, pen-drawn tattoos, John Mayer albums. If you’re single in a pandemic, you will never feel as close to your own teenage self. You’ll be in touch every day — she will become your housemate and confidant.

If you’re single in a pandemic, there will be no one to dream of for a while. No one’s words lighting up your phone notifications, no one to think about before you go to sleep. Instead, as with the fantasy boyfriend you wrote about in your teenage diary, you’ll have to imagine someone. On New Year’s Eve 2020 you’ll stand on your rooftop burning sage as you look out on your city and wonder who else is doing the same.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you notice I want you to park that BIG MACK TRUCK right in this little garAGE can’t remember where I was going with this.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you will probably join a “sex-positive” dating app on a Sunday night. People’s profiles will say things like: “I am in2 BDSM, dom, sub but no spanking bc of recent surgery.” You will delete your profile within an hour. And you will realize that when we think we miss sex, we don’t miss sex. We miss people and stories. We miss desiring and being desired. We miss feeling someone’s knee press against ours under a table in a bar.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you have to sing all the parts to every song. You will learn the chords to “We’ve Got Tonight” and master switching octaves between the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton lines. If you’re single in a pandemic, you learn how to be your own call and response. “What shall we have for lunch today?” you will say out loud on a daily basis. “Maybe minestrone,” will come the reply. “Ah, a nice bowl of minestrone. Good idea.”

If you’re single in a pandemic, there is a high likelihood that the person who broke your heart will be one of the few people who manages to start a new relationship in lockdown, keenly documented on social media. At some point, you will add The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz to your already heaving pile of self-help books. You will read none of it other than the back cover because all you need to see are the words “don’t take anything personally” for everything to make a bit more sense.

If you’re single in a pandemic, you quickly learn not to complain about your microtragedies to your frazzled friends trapped in an apartment with young children. The first of those is that the perfume you’ve been wearing since you were 18 is discontinued. Then your favourite brand of concealer. Then the only lipstick you’ve ever worn. The shade is called Desirable, and you will take Estée Lauder’s discontinuation of Desirable as not only a cruel metaphor for being single in lockdown, but a personal attack on you specifically.

If you’re single in a pandemic, competitive catastrophizing with single friends becomes a hobby of choice. “I’ve forgotten how to kiss,” one will say. “I flirted with my iron skillet tonight,” another will chime in.

Then, eventually, your city will reopen. And some day after, your heart might too. There will be dates and parties and meet-cutes and strangers. At your first wedding in two years, you will dance barefoot outside, under stars and festoon lights, and demand that the DJ play “WAP.” When he says he doesn’t have it, you will shout the spelling of T-H-E-E S-T-A-L-L-I-O-N over the music, insisting that he purchase and download it.

And it will be strange to walk along London’s canal at midnight with your hand held in the warm palm of someone new. Or to feel the nudge of a knee against yours under the table at last orders.

The much-awaited summer of love is not as anticipated; it is not wild and feverish. It is cautious and gentle and full of questions, asked with the same apprehension felt at high-school dances or the first days of dorms. “Can I walk you home?” “Do you want to hang out?” “Are you seeing anyone?” “Can I take your number?” “Can I kiss you?” You will text these encounters to your friend the next morning like you’re passing notes to her at the back of a classroom. “I feel like the singing furniture in Beauty and The Beast!!!!!!!!” she will reply in elation. “Who will be the one to break the curse???!!!!!!”

Because if you are single in the pandemic, the most surprising revelation will be the last one: The teenage pain of loneliness can only be replaced by something else you haven’t felt in 20 years. The teenage rapture of romance.

DOLLY ALDERTON is a columnist for the Sunday Times of London. Her debut novel Ghosts is out now.

The Diary of a Teenage Adult