Subscriber OnlyHealth

I’ve been single during Covid and feel like everyone has forgotten about me

Ask Roe: I have housemates who are perfectly nice people but we are not friends

Dear Roe,

I have been reading your column over the past year and have appreciated your empathy towards single people trying to date or missing dating right now. But what about single people who aren’t concerned about dating, but are feeling completely isolated and alone? I’m single and most of my friends are married or living with their significant others, and I feel like I have been completely forgotten about. Everyone seems to have adjusted to only seeing their spouses or immediate families and so my friends are doing fewer Zoom calls and phone calls than at the start of Covid.

I have housemates who are perfectly nice people but we are not friends, and all have very different schedules and ways of spending our time. Apart from Christmas I can’t remember the last time I had a hug or a prolonged conversation with someone in person. But because I live with someone, I’m not allowed extend my social bubble like people who live alone. I feel like I’m disappearing and nobody cares.

I was going to begin this column by writing “I’m so sorry you feel this way”, but that’s not right. I’m so sorry this is happening. Because you are right – so many single people have been ignored and erased from the experience of Covid-19, on personal and systemic levels.


The governmental speeches about Covid, the assumed support systems that people casually reference all rely on a societal model that revolves around nuclear families and cohabiting couples. This societal system existed before Covid, and it was a problem then, but as with so many things, Covid has highlighted the ways in which our society fails so many people – including single people.

In Belgium and Denmark, governments have addressed single people who want to have a casual sex partner

Think of the most basic example: housing. It is incredibly difficult to buy a house in an Irish city that is affordable on a one-person income, has access to amenities, and yet has literal space.

Single people are so often presented with studio apartments or tiny living spaces that do not have living space, or an extra room for guests or to be used as an office. This is in spite of years of research into mental health saying we need separate areas for working, relaxing and sleeping. It is assumed that if you are single, you don’t need or deserve space.

The silence around single people and adult loneliness makes it very difficult for many people to admit that they need friends, that they are explicitly looking to make new friends, that they’re lonely. We treat this desire like it’s shameful, like it’s embarrassing, like an adult with no friends has failed. But people who are single and lonely have not failed. Our society has failed them. And we need to do better. Starting now.

This erasure of single people has been heightened during Covid, and your letter is a perfect example of that. Forty per cent of people – and 71 per cent of 16- to 29-year-olds – do not live in a couple. This means that for nearly a year, it has been illegal or against restrictions for single people to meet up with someone else and have sex.

And yet the Irish Government has not addressed this, when other countries have. In Belgium and Denmark, governments have addressed single people who want to have a casual sex partner. Denmark and Sweden let people travel to see their long-distance partners if they had been in a relationship for three months.

There has been a basic acknowledgment that single people exist, that they deserve emotional support and physical intimacy, and that people sometimes need to travel for that – and this acknowledgment has not happened in Ireland.

As you mention, there are allowances for people living on their own to visit one other household, but like yourself, so many single people live with people in houseshares or flatshares, excluding them from these allowances.

You are not alone, I promise you. Keep reaching out to people, and know there are so many people waiting to reach back

But physical proximity is not synonymous with emotional support. Many people live with housemates they are not friends with, which is hugely uncomfortable at the best of times, let alone when we’ve been confined to our houses for a year. Even for people who do live alone and are allowed to visit another household, what happens if they have limited transportation, or the people they need don’t live close?

We have erased single people from the ways in which we structure society – and aren’t offering them support to deal with the loneliness and isolation that comes with that. Eliminating loneliness requires a robust social infrastructure. There should be national and local campaigns that address loneliness, erase the stigma of it, and establish ways of combating it by offering ways of community building. This is a societal issue and needs to be treated as such.

So my main piece of advice? Do not blame yourself for this, do not be ashamed of feeling isolated, do not feel like you have to suffer in silence. This is not your fault. Please talk to your GP and a therapist about this – loneliness and isolation are huge societal issues right now, you will not face any stigma, and they can offer you support.

Please also reach out to your friends and be very clear that you are struggling and need some interaction and support. People can be thoughtless and struggling themselves, but that doesn’t mean they won’t support you when asked.

And I completely understand if you aren’t close with your housemates – but don’t be afraid to try disrupt the dynamic, to ask if they’d like to have a dinner together, to try.

If your friends don’t step up and offer a lot of support, do not internalise this as being your fault. Loneliness can be very self-perpetuating, in that perceived rejection hits harder and can make people withdraw, heightening their loneliness and anxiety. But I guarantee there are people in your life who are also struggling, who would love a friend right now. There are online communities, single people looking for friends, family members who would love to hear from you.

You are not alone, I promise you. Keep reaching out to people, and know there are so many people waiting to reach back.