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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

The ‘social bubble’ concept is making me feel more alone

28th Oct 2020

Michelle Heffernan lives alone without any family in her 5km radius. For her, the ‘social bubble’, meant as a defence for loneliness, was having the opposite effect.

So, who’s going to be in your social bubble?

Echoes of “will you shift my friend” ring through my head. Since last week I’ve been singled out consistently for being, well – single – as people repeatedly ask me “So, who is going to be in your social bubble? Lockdown Take Two has given me the option of a plus one, but just like a real life wedding invitation, I feel a mixture of gratitude, and, well, pressure. “Who are you going to choose?” texts my best friend in Vancouver, as if I’m on Blind Date and there are three sexy men behind the partition just waiting to entertain me. “I don’t know!’ I reply. “Who would honestly want to take me?”

I’m 31, single and I live alone in Waterford with my cat. As if I don’t sound pathetic enough, I don’t actually have any immediate family within 5km of me. I grew up in Waterford and think of this place as my home, but both of my parents now live in other counties. My three best friends are in Cork, Belfast and Vancouver, respectively, and my siblings are just not orbiting in my solar system.

Last Monday I mentally scrolled through my list of options. ‘There’s my work colleague Sean…oh, but he’s exceptionally busy with his two jobs. There’s my school pal Sarah…ah, but she has enough on her plate with that bereavement. There’s Laura…but her Dad is just too high risk’. No matter which way I turned, I couldn’t think of inflicting myself on any one of these people, as they all have enough on their plates already. “It’s kind of like finding someone to take to the debs,” laughed my sister on the phone. “Yes, but I’m not asking them to go to a giant session with me,” I say, “I’m asking them to be my family for a month.”

Spirits feel depleted

Not so long ago, I didn’t have this choice and I did actually manage ok. In March I was newly single, and things were tough, but April sunshine gave way to new ways of living. The local river walk was the new happening spot, and my daily walks were as social as Friday night drinks. Dating apps were alight and I was in demand; I even had a ‘corona-mance’. Soon there were house visits, restaurant dates, and trips to the girls in Cork and Belfast. There was something to look forward to, and I truly believed we would reunite on a dance floor for my birthday in November.

Fast forward to now and it’s a whole different kettle of crap. The weather is so cat even she won’t go outdoors. The ‘isolation-ship’ set sail long ago and the apps are full of the same time wasters looking for Snapchat sexting. The idea of a Zoom quiz is painful and there’s no Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones to make everything more bearable. Weather and TV aside though, I just don’t feel the same sense of community spirit as before. Not to sound all Barney on it, but we’re not chanting “hold firm” with rainbows this time. Everyone’s spirit feels depleted, and Christmas sounds like a second-hand consolation prize we’re not even looking forward to.

The ‘social bubble’, meant as a defence for loneliness, was having the effect of making me feel more alone. I didn’t like to think of others with partners or families. I didn’t like being singled out for being single. I wished the rules were different, so I could see many friends, or some family, or even just be in the office around other people. The only one I could see benefiting from this arrangement was the fur ball on my lap.

I once read a meme that said “Yes ok I will be over it, but I have to be dramatic first.” And that about sums up the experience. Thankfully, after a few days of feeling singled out and self piteous I, of course, had a hearty feed of perspective. There are women, I’m sure, reading this now, who would give their right bottle-feeding arm away to be in my position. There are peers living daily with their parents’ neuroses who would dream of being in my flat by themselves. There are women, and men, who must endure alone, the hardship of abuse from a partner. I may not be having the greatest time, but I have no dependents or threats in my household. I am extremely lucky to be alone. I have only myself to worry about!

And it may seem tougher the second time around, but you know what? I think we can wear March and April like a medal of honour. I had lockdown thrown at me in a time when I felt truly vulnerable, and incredibly, I actually survived. We may not see it now, but every one of us has learned a new set of skills this year, skills of incredible resilience. We were dealt an impossible hand, but we have each survived, and I have to believe if I can do it once, I most certainly can do it again.

So in the spirit of resilience, rather than resignation, I’m picking up the phone and asking people to commit to walks with me. I’m calling the local book shopand ordering the books I will need to keep me company. I’m crying like a child when I need to, and I’m cradling myself like a parent too. I’m on my own, but I’m here for me, and I will be ok. Bubble or no bubble, I’m ready for this. I’m a veteran of vulnerability.


Related: Couch traveller: We’re dreaming of fabulous floatels

Related: 9 of the best TV shows to enjoy this Autumn

Related: Zara King: ‘You can never get used to that level of death and grief’

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