‘Skin hunger’ has single, solo dwellers seeking out human touch during the pandemic
“If we’re being honest, it’s brutal to be single right now,” said Seattle writer Nicole Hardy. “Especially if you’re an extrovert.”
Hardy has been extremely careful during the pandemic, mostly only spending time with a pod of two friends who have agreed to be just as careful.
“I just cried the other day because I wanted someone else to bring me a cup of coffee,” Hardy said. “The absence of small gestures of care has been maybe the hardest and unexpected part.”
So she started to explore dating apps.
“Every time you go on a date with someone there is this really hilarious conversation that you have to have,” she explained. “When is the last time you saw someone without a mask on? How many people come into your house? If you share kids, how many people do those kids see? You’re constantly doing this math about risk of exposure and if it’s worth it. There’s all this strange negotiation that takes all the romance out of things.”
Hardy gets her friendship needs met from her pod, but that doesn’t quench what she calls “skin hunger.” She desperately craves human touch.
“There was this guy who was in kind of the same boat as me. I was like, ‘I feel like I’m literally going to break if I didn’t touch someone.’ And he was like, ‘Are you free at eight o’clock tonight?'” Hardy laughed. “Which is not my normal M.O. The sun was setting, this bright orange ball over the sound, and he was sort of backlit, walking up the driveway and I was walking down, and we just fell into each other’s arms like in one of those movies where someone had come home from war. And we had never met! We clung to each other. It was so weird. I invited him up and never saw him again and feel like it was one of the most important experiences of my pandemic mental health.”
Hardy said it’s been difficult to meet interesting, charming, attractive people; she thinks all the good ones got snatched up early in the pandemic when people knew they needed to couple up for the long, lonely haul.
“I couldn’t get anything going with anyone online for weeks, and I was really withering from skin hunger and isolation,” she said. “It was four in the morning, I called Alaska Airlines, and I was like, ‘Do you have a flight from Seattle to New York City with virtually no one on it?’ They said, ‘Yes, it leaves in four hours.’ I said, here are all of my frequent flier miles. There is a person there who likes to touch me but I didn’t tell him I was coming because I was worried he would tell me to stay home.”
“I needed human contact so bad I could not be talked out of it, even though I knew I was risking illness and death and I shouldn’t be traveling,” she continued. “But there was nobody on the plane, nobody in the airport, nobody in the hotel — it was really a ghost town. I texted him from my hotel room and it took him six minutes to respond, which was the six longest minutes of my life.”
But he agreed to spend the weekend together.
“It was magical, it was like we were on a honeymoon for three days, and both of us knew the deal: We were going to pretend to be madly in love for three days and then we’re going to go back to our lives,” Hardy said. “That few days fantasy is every bit of medicine that both of us needed to keep going for another six months.”
Fantasy has become a big part of Hardy’s pandemic dating experience. It’s desperate times, and that means she’s not focused on finding a serious relationship, just someone who feels safe, where there’s a mutual attraction and a commitment to seeing each other on a regular basis.
“The guy I was seeing kind of regularly for a couple months, we dubbed our relationship ‘The Feel Good Zone.’ We were not allowed to talk about the pandemic, we’re not allowed to talk about work or the lack of, we’re not allowed to talk about any of our fears for the future,” she said. “We’re only allowed to talk about things that feel good, taste good, look good, smell good, sound good. The Feel Good Zone is a really, really good place to live, even if it’s for a few hours once a week.”
Hardy was afraid to tell the New York story for fear of being judged or scorned. She says people who aren’t single and living alone simply don’t understand what it’s been like living in isolation for over a year.
Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!
- Tune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
- Rachel Belle hosts the James Beard Award nominated podcast Your Last Meal and she's an Edward R Murrow award winning feature reporter. Follow Rachel on Instagram.