The Myth of Quarantine Loneliness


Content Warning: Bleak world views

It seems to me you lived your life like a can that certain points of view in life are underrepresented – usually thoughts on the darker tip.  While these can take a dim view of humanity, I won’t call them misanthropic.  True misanthropes are not functioning within reality or reason, or from a position of true understanding.  I believe you can look at people with a realistic, sometimes grim view, and not be one of those “people are scum / normies die” type of bastids.

To take a look at the less romantic side of human nature, I turn to the darkness itself – The Beast from Seattle.  This is less interview than discussion, as I have similar views.  Today we’ll be talking about the Quarantine Loneliness – the idea that people will be in social need, reach out to each other, have heartfelt if remote connections through electronic means.  Allow us to call bullshit on that.  Proceeding thus…

 

 

GAS:  Welcome back to the soundstage at Big Satan Studios.  How’s life been treating you?

drawing of the Beast from Seattle, a blue devil

 

 

BfS:  Not bad, though I’ve had to take a break from social interactions, for reasons I’m sure we’re about to discuss.

GAS:  Haha, that we are.  So.  There are a million articles about how people are going to be lonely in quarantine, how we should reach out to isolated friends, offer each other support.  How’s that been going for you?

BfS:  I totally bought into that hype, was all psyched up to be supportive to my friends but…  Where are they now?  I kept having to check in on them to make sure they weren’t dead every couple weeks, and they seemed annoyed with even that much interaction.

GAS:  Annoyed?  Give us an example of one of these interactions.  It’s so far from what we’ve expected, it might not be believable.  As close to verbatim as you can get without doxxing a friend.

BfS:  Well, I said hi to a friend a couple times on Discord, and they didn’t respond, so after several days I said “Are you okay?” and they said “Yeah, I’m busy and feel crappy.”  Or something to that effect.  I said “Oh, sorry” and they never wrote back…

GAS:  So lonely!  Such need, crying out to be fulfilled.  As we’ve discussed previously, I have much lower social needs than you, so there are not many places where I’m social.  But in those places?  Activity has been comparable to usual – or considerably reduced.  People aren’t talking, aren’t reaching out to each other.  Or is it just us getting whiffed on?

BfS:  Not sure, a lot of our social interactions are through hobbies/creative pursuits and seems like people aren’t engaging much in those either.  It’s strange to me though that the main mood that seems to be prevalent in people these days is surliness.  We’re mostly not friends with people with children so it’s not them just being annoyed with kids being in their hair all day either.

GAS:  I do believe it is possible that this increased social need among the quarantined is real, but that it is restricted wholly to the very closest friends and family.  That said, I have family that are not reaching out to me any more than usual – if at all.  And I have people who have personally told me I’m their best friend or one of their top two, and not any especial contact from them.

BfS:  Well, if they seem annoyed with people reaching out to them, it makes sense they wouldn’t do it either.  The strange part is, some of these people have explicitly said they were lonely or complained about their friends ignoring them.

GAS:  I remember these people.  You have to admit, they are a bit odd as people go, and may be outliers.  Like guy number one, you know exactly why he’s like that.

BfS:  Yeah he was always that way, even twenty years ago.  Complain that no one cares about him, and ignore people saying ‘I care about you!’ because they aren’t glamorous enough.

GAS:  He is so incredibly twisted.  Narcissistic or histrionic?  If we’re allowing ourselves that ableist armchair funtime.  I say histrionic, because it’s more associated with dramatic self pity, right?

BfS:  Heh, I don’t quite remember the difference.

GAS:  Yeah, it’s been since high school for me, so better to leave that to the experts he’ll never see.  As for guy number two, he’s harder to peg but I think he’s got a low key resentment about a situation that’s been going on, oh, about a half year now, and feels like passive aggression might get him what he wants?  And that he can somehow play it both ways and act like we’re his best friends while doing that?  People are vexing.

BfS:  Yes they are.

GAS:  But assuming this is more than just a couple of goofballs being goofy, that this is a thing a regular person might do, what does it mean to complain about being lonely, and subsequently be a mind-melting slughead when socially engaged by somebody?

BfS:  Yeah, leaves me wondering what they would even want out of someone.  You’d think– someone’s lonely, they want someone to talk to and someone to check in on them.  But no.  Why not?  All the articles predicted it, and it made sense at the time…  Being isolated would make people lonely.  So why do I hear less from people now than I did before?

GAS:  It’s counterintuitive.  But I’m better than you at imagining how others feel, my perspective not constrained by depression-colored lenses.  Jim Everyman is stressed, a little depressed, so he turns to TV, video games, etc. Maybe he’s one of the people who feel compelled to look at the news, or the social media version, even knowing it will bum him out – contributing to the feeling he must recover his okayness with deeper dives into passive media.  Vegging out.  So when someone makes a social move at them, they don’t have the energy, phone it in.

BfS:  Wild that as much as people bitch about how busy they are at their jobs, it actually gives them more mental space to be capable of holding a conversation compared to being home all day.

GAS:  We’re not just talking about active rebuffs here.  We’re talking about zombie conversations.  People shuffling through with a token “uh-huh” regardless of what you say or do.

BfS:  I did eventually get five words in with the rebuffer above, and complained about how everyone’s so absent, and he actually agreed with me.  Although that might have been the token ‘uh-huh’ as you say.  Mostly it’s just complete absence, though you can occasionally roust someone for a feeble exchange that feels like talking to a poorly calibrated chat-bot.

GAS:  There was that NPC meme some internet nightmare people tried to boost for a while, suggesting their political opposites were mindlessly parroting their party line and unable to have genuine interaction with their thoughts, akin to NPCs in video games with limited AI and scripts.  More right wing projection, but the idea that people often phone in their conversations?  Spot on.

BfS:  I think most video game NPCs would be more lively and vibrant.  Everyone seems more like people woken from a deep sleep, mumbling into their drool-soaked pillows.

GAS:  Sleeping, dreaming.  You’ve mentioned to me before that conversations in dreams – especially those on phones – have a weird quality because you speak and expect a response, but your brain doesn’t realize it has to create that response, and what comes back is deflections and nonsense.  Let’s roleplay that for a moment, by way of example.  *your phone rings*

BfS:  Haha, we’re doing this?  Okay.  “Hello?”

GAS:  “…”

BfS:  “….Hello?”

GAS:  “Whut.”

BfS:  “Hello, who is this?”

GAS:  “…It’s Christopher.”

BfS:  “Hey, Chris. What’s up?”

GAS:  “… … … …”

BfS:  “Are you still there?”

GAS:  “Yeah.”

BfS:  Haha, so realistic.

GAS:  So when people are responding to social interaction with non-committal grunts, or the banal pleasantry equivalent, you tend to call them “dream people.”  Sounds more flattering than NPC.

BfS:  Yeah, not quite ‘Dream Lovers’ or ‘Dream Babies’ though.

GAS:  So what does this look like in real life?  You had that example before, “are you OK?” three weeks later “Nuh.”  “wanna talk about it?”  “…”  That one was kind of extreme.  What’s another way this goes down?

BfS:  Besides just giant gaps in conversations that feel like “… … …” when you’re waiting on a response…  Sometimes it’s just drastic subject changes, talking over people, ignoring questions, on and on.  I’d chalk that up to bad reading comprehension for internet communications but it happens in real life too.

GAS:  Real life?  I’ve spoken to my brother and father in brief recently.  Didn’t notice that happening.  What happened with you?

BfS:  Maybe that’s just the usual for me!  I get talked over a lot in verbal conversations.

GAS:  My brother is a good case in point.  On the internet he doesn’t say much, what he says is thoughtless or jokey and always brief, and he has horrible reading comprehension and empathy.  On the phone he was more like one might expect for a normal human being – not so impaired.  This suggests maybe the real culprit here is internet communication.  I’ve long felt that people treat it differently from in-person interaction, more of a light touch, like it’s all disposable and meaningless.

BfS:  But now it’s all a lot of us have, so why be even more light with it now?

GAS:  Good question.  To that all I can say – either quarantine loneliness is a total myth, or 99% of the people we know regard somebody else as their social all.  They have somebody else in their life, maybe in meatspace, that they rely on utterly for all social needs.

BfS:  But why would that social need be more diverse when they’re busy with their usual routines?

GAS:  To my original theory – the stress and isolation actually makes them less sociable in the broad sense, with most of the people they know.  If they do have a social need, they feel it’s easier to focus it on whatever person happens to be their number one.

BfS:  So the need for Netflix/TV/Video games is actually greater than social need?

GAS:  Pretty much.  As we’ve previously discussed, I – the cat privileged with self esteem and the ability to tolerate TV and passive media – have less need for social interaction than you.  Passive media is my go-to way of relieving stress and setting my mind free.  We can be in the same room doing nothing, not talking with each other, and I will feel socially fulfilled by being physically around you.  Easy for me to imagine quarantine pushing that a little farther.

BfS:  If that’s the case for so many people, wonder why none of these people writing articles predicted it?  TOP TEN WAYS YOUR FRIENDS WILL BE SURLY DICKS AND ONE WEIRD TRICK TO IGNORE THEM

GAS:  People writing the articles and thinkpieces are in concern mode – looking for problems to solve, people to help.  They imagined a need that perhaps is vastly bigger in imagination than in reality.  Because they were looking for problems – not because they actually observed reality.

BfS:  Well, it made sense.  Why would being more alone not make people lonelier?  It’s hella weird, man.  Is there anything that would make people actually be lonely?

GAS:  I think even under normal circumstances, popular culture from books to TV have created a very distorted view of how humans behave, what they need to feel fulfilled, how they should or would interact with each other.

Reality is that we have our instincts, we have our acculturation and our psychological influences, and we act on that.  Result: Most people are more self-interested, shallow, thoughtless, and banal than any story or film ever created would lead you to believe.

We’re zombie-walking through life.  The people with the most dramatically interesting lives are usually hell people contriving conflict for its own sake.  The rest of us are up our own asses and only interested in each other’s feelings insofar as it props up our lives as the centers of our respective universes.

BfS:  Heh, that’s bleak.  Reminds me of how I’ve had to – in writing fiction – change characters based on real life people to be more kind and thoughtful because they seemed too cruel and one-dimensional to be believable.

GAS:  In narrative art, all people need is love and friendship.  In real life, once we’ve achieved a bare level of feeling like we have the right to continue existing, we check out.  The reason I have lower social needs than you – I have self esteem, so I don’t need to improve it by checking in with others to verify that I am, in fact, tolerable.

What do we need then, if not actual friendships with any depth or meaning?  We need a small stable of regulars to say, “sup” now and then, when we are checking to see if we are OK.  Friends as dipsticks to gauge your need for an oil change, not friends as people we genuinely care about and who care about us.  If somebody says they care in even the phoniest way, that’s enough of an illusion to make us feel socially adequate and keep rollin’.

BfS:  It’s weird, man.

GAS:  Now for the promised non-misanthropy.  As I said, I have more ability to intuit how other people are feeling and relate.  It’s easy to see this and think, man, people are meaningless cardboard cutouts, nobody cares about nobody so what’s the point?  Kill em all and let gawd sort em out.  That is a mistake.

We’re all the center of our own lives because telepathy doesn’t fucking exist.  The level of intuition and empathy that happens in stories is also a myth.  Some people might be sharper than others in this respect, but for most of us all we can do is build on instincts and illusions.

Nobody is doing this out of malice.  We just genuinely imagine that our zombie-talking ‘friendships’ are deeper and more emotionally connected than they are.  We believe we care about each other, and that kind of makes it true?  We just don’t do that in the heartfelt or meaningful ways depicted in media and fiction.

Everybody is the center of a universe, in which their own thoughts and feelings are more important and profound than anything around them.  Self esteem is, in a way, the construction of imaginary friends to say we’re acceptable.  We then transfer the voice of our self esteem onto others ventriloquism style, and imagine we’re as loved as we feel we should be.

And if you don’t feel love for yourself, you’re assed out buddy.

BfS:  Oye hoye what a dialogue…

Guess it’s all a bit disappointing, because that was going to be the bright side of an incredibly bleak situation.  Hey, at least your pals will be around to hang out with.

GAS:  The crux of the issue.  This was a big disappointment for you, specifically.  I’m sorry, man.  At least you have GREAT AMERICAN SATAN.

BfS:  Thanks, man.  Guess my friends weren’t reading the same articles I was.  That whole time I was getting psyched up to help people, and I was the one who needed help all along…

GAS:  And with that, another uncommon viewpoint has been published, hopefully to find purchase in the dark soil of the internet, to be found by those wondering – why does nobody feel the way I feel?  Guess what, ye miserable of the earth?  You are not alone.  Except insofar as we all are.  You know TF I’m talkin’ about.

Comments

  1. Katydid says

    Alone? Lonely? I wish! I live in a suburban neighborhood and at all hours of the day, hordes of children roam by screaming and bouncing basketballs. The neighbors have repair people, lawn people, pool-cleaning people, etc. etc. In one hour, I counted 8 different Amazon Prime, UPS, and rental vans whizzing up and down the street taking branches off trees as they ride up the curb. One of my neighbors blasts really putrid kuntry muzik at 200 decibels off the back deck for hours every day.

    Inside my house, I’m working from home and have many Zoom meetings. The ones on Youtube and the car insurance commercial pretty much capture that experience.

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