I Live Alone, and I Miss Touch More Than Anything

Self-isolation brings on bouts of touch hunger

A photo of two hands touching each other.

TThe other week, one of my favorite writers, Fariha Róisín, tweeted at midnight an encouragement to check up on unpartnered people in quarantine, then concluded with an admission of how much she missed intimacy. I was immediately struck by the honesty, my finger pressed to my cellphone screen so that it wouldn’t fall asleep on me. Then, I began to think about my time in social isolation. I hadn’t seen anyone in weeks, of course, but I was still texting, talking on the phone, and video conferencing whenever I could. But then I pressed further into my thinking and asked myself: When’s the last time you had a hug? I looked at my Google calendar and counted back three weeks. I may have hugged that person. We did go out for drinks, but I don’t hug everyone that I meet up with for happy hour. Then I lied flat on my back and caressed the hairs on my arms attempting to stitch together a history of intimacy in the immediate past that may or may not have been true. I didn’t just miss intimacy. I missed being touched.

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been as harsh to me as it has been for my other colleagues in both art and academia. I still have a job where I can comfortably work from home, I don’t have children distracting me every minute, on the minute, and most of all, I do not have a fever or cough (though I could be an asymptomatic carrier). I thought I was doing well at first because I was a freelancer not too long ago. I’m skilled in being by myself, my personal and professional lives blurring from one room to the next in my personal space. And for perhaps two weeks, I thought I was fine. I was working out almost every day to keep the endorphins flowing, and I was burying myself in work as best as I could—until I realized that all that submerging was a coping mechanism. I thought that as long as I kept my mind running as my body was being neglected, I’d be okay. Now, I’m not so sure.

Before the pandemic, I knew what my love languages were: Words of affirmation — an unsurprising revelation because I’m a writer — and quality time — because I value when people show up for me. But that was a different time, a different world. That was a time when I lived in a bustling metropolis where I could be sandwiched between two commuters on the morning express train, hugging a friend at a cocktail party, or shaking hands with a potential new business partner at a mixer. But now, the streets are much quieter. I hear more sirens than human voices outside my apartment, I masturbate way more than usual, and I want a hug more than anything in the world.

I was working out almost every day to keep the endorphins flowing, and I was burying myself in work as best as I could — until I realized that all that submerging was a coping mechanism.

What has compounded this grief for interaction is heartbreak. I was broken up with last summer by someone I thought was my person, and I haven’t been the same since. It temporarily knocked the wind out of me, and I was just finding my breath’s natural rhythm when Covid exploded. Now, I’m afraid that the prolonged social isolation will unravel all of the healing and growth that I’ve done so far.

Sometimes at night, there’s a phantom-like presence in my bedroom. I imagine what it would be like to feel the mattress weighed down by another body, to feel someone’s hot breath on my neck. I wake up, and I play music in other rooms to give the semblance of someone else being in the apartment. I look at the dishes that pile up every day and wish I had someone to help me. I feel rawer than I ever have before. Every time I wash my hands, I think about what life will be like on the outside again. Will I be afraid to touch anyone again? Will I be afraid that even when we return to society the virus will remain dormant, and if I so much as kiss someone, I’ll kill them?

All of these uncertainties keep me up at night because this global health crisis has made me realize how much I don’t control in this world. When I was a freelancer, I had to control every facet of my work life in order to build my portfolio and pay my bills. It was also in this time that I deprioritized touch because there was no one else around. Ironically, now that I feel like I can control all my work from where I am, I want touch more than anything else. The desire is like an electric current throughout my body. It’s so thick that I can feel it on my tongue.

I’m afraid of the person I will be if and when we flatten the curve. But what I do hope is that I will love harder than I ever have before. I do hope that I’ll accept the fact that I want all of the things: words of affirmation, quality time, and yes, physical touch. I want to have the full experience of someone else. Because I miss people. I miss what it feels to be acknowledged and seen and to know that I’m human just like everyone else.

Morgan Jerkins is the Senior Editor at ZORA and a New York Times bestselling author. Her debut novel, “Caul Baby,” will be published by Harper in April 2021.

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