My dear friends, it’s almost our one-year anniversary with a global pandemic and national lockdown. As we round the corner into this sobering milestone, we are spun as ever. We’ve got that glazed over look, like we’ve been swallowed by a computer screen for hours on end. We are grieving, impatient and absolutely lusting after a horizon that has yet to arrive. The implications of 365 days of increased isolation are too profound to be apparent. We are still in the midst of the pandemic — the eye of the storm and the center of the whirlpool. How will we define the “new normal” when we can return to the streets and strangers return to our sheets once more? Will that day ever come or is it just a fantastical hope to sustain our spirits?
As we endure, my curiosity is beginning to perk up. I’m considering how this experience is shaping us all from the inside out. Who will we be as leaders in a new world? And what kind of world will these changed versions of ourselves choose to create? Intention sets actions into motion. To commit to a direction and walk a path through to completion, we must know what’s important to us and reflect our values in our choices. Without a strong connection to an ever-evolving self, we can easily become lost or find ourselves on a path that doesn’t feel right. And boy, are we evolving — dynamically, significantly and perhaps in permanent ways still waiting to appear in our social behaviors.
Like any good screen addict with a penchant for instant gratification, I turned to Instagram to cast a 24 hour poll of young adults responding to the question, “Do you think your approach to relationships will change in a post-COVID world?” Today I present to you my “scientific” findings. Keep in mind that this inquiry is a snapshot of my tiny online bubble of millennials, Gen Z, and “in-betweenies” (that’s us, ‘96ers).
Out of 108 participants, 76% confirmed that their approach to relationships will be different after we recover from the current apocalyptic fallout. When I asked why they voted yes, the 76% submitted a variety of responses. Some favored sovereignty, saying, “I learned to be ok by myself in isolation – [potential partners] have to add to or respect my alone time.” No matter what form of relationship, a number of young people have decided that they “really don’t have the energy to maintain relationships that aren’t full of heart.” I feel that on a personal level. Life is precious and should be enjoyed to the fullest extent possible with people you can count on. Every relationship has its purpose but they don’t all need to be the core focus. Perhaps this “new level of self intimacy” will enable people to choose relationships with “stronger boundaries and communication, and more effort and presence with those [we] love.” One young woman reflected on extending a gentle hand, writing, “It will be easier for me to have more compassion and seek to understand others.” Another mused, “How people handled caring for others during this time tells A LOT about who they are.” When it comes to our craving for social interaction, one participant added, “I think people will value meeting each other in real life and not just online scrolling on apps.” Hypotheses abound, but to each their own. Life is not set in stone.
Other respondents were focused on the restlessness in the air and its sensual component. “We’re all bottled up, everyone is going to explode like champagne after a NASCAR win.” And then there’s the consideration of exclusivity, to which one man chimed in, “I’m looking for monogamous love right now but when the world is open I think I’ll be looking for as many forms of intense human connection as I possibly can.” In contrast, one woman admitted, “COVID-19 made me realize [that] having multiple romances isn’t sustainable.” In totality, this spectrum of responses was more evenly split when 73 participants evaluated whether sexual freedom or true love would be their primary focus in the future. To be fair, the phrasing of this poll was open to interpretation. In good fun, 55% voted for the heart-based answer, while 45% chose the playful sexual innuendo.
While these polls are far from an accurate assessment of the full picture, the belief that we will be forever changed by the current state of our world is shared widely. Where we go from here and how we get there are playing on everyone’s minds. It is important to note and, I believe, safe to assert that the poll participants generally agree with my views or else they wouldn’t dare follow my Instagram account. In 2021, we must never disregard the severe ways that digital algorithms shape our relationships every day. It’s critical to consider this when engaging with any online platform, from Instagram to Hinge, and its extended bubble. While some people have been able to grow by confronting the tough questions that have arisen simply from the brutal nature of the year, there is an entire sweep of young people who have encountered debilitating depression and taken their own life during quarantine. Not everyone sees a light at the end of the tunnel; some see a bottomless pit. In an era when death is on the table in a very visceral way, our individual reactions will be understandably varied. There is no status-quo guideline for how an entire generation can remain mentally and emotionally sound during an unprecedented global health crisis, for that would most assuredly be absurd, dystopian and against human nature.
This year has been no cake walk. Despite distance, we have turned to each other for much needed support. The year has reminded us of our absolute need for relationships. To pursue growth would mean attempting to move forward with a clarified understanding of our current needs, values, desires and their inherent nuances. First comes the business of owning them in private, then follows the work of stating them in public so that our community can better honor and understand us. Closing the gap between who we know ourselves to be and the degree to which others know us authentically is a worthwhile investment for forming reliable bonds. Whether it’s a preference for abundant booty, real love, or a juicy combination of the two, we’re learning to declare, without shame, “This is who I am.” It’s the answer to the follow up question, “And who are you?” that we need to listen closely to.