(Cindy Proaño / Daily Titan)

Last week, an attractive person responded to my Instagram story with one emoji. It was the 100 symbol with two red underlines. 

The Instagram story was just a blank page of text describing my excitement about winning a grant that would fund my full-time job at a nonprofit this year. We are actually acquaintances, but in the 30 seconds that followed their simple response, I imagined an entire relationship with them, all the way from its hopeful beginning down to its thunderous, tearful end.

Like everyone else, I’ve had a lot of time to myself lately. As of Monday, there were more than 1.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. More than 452,000 people have recovered, and more than 119,000 have died. Even the world’s best-prepared public health infrastructures are groaning under unmet hospital resource demands, overflowing patient capacities, depleted stockpiles of crucial medical gear and personal protective equipment and exhausted doctors and nurses.

Right now, people who are self-isolating to help slow the spread of the virus are likely grappling with their own emotions — feelings of love, loss and heartbreak.

The moral decision of staying home to help save lives comes at the cost of undercutting efforts to get out into the world for one’s own well-being, to seek a new connection or to get over someone.

The advent of hookup culture through dating apps like Tinder and Hinge has imbued many of us with a gut reaction of despair when the privilege of nailing people at first sight is taken away.

As someone who identifies with the aforementioned heartbreak population, it’s an outstanding time for dissociation and manic-depressive episodes onset by social distancing. The slightest interactions over the phone or on social media catapult me into trances of either euphoria or hysteria, and there are very few outlets for it. I keep getting emails that start off with “Hope you’re doing well,” and I’m not, but I can’t respond saying that because those are work emails.

This gives me at least some authority to give advice to my fellow hopeless romantics on how to grapple with feelings of loss, attraction, love or any yearning for human connection in a time where the only outlet is the internet, and the only people you can bang are yourself or your roommates.

The following questions were gathered by me on social media.

How do you stop yourself from overthinking during a time in which you have all the time to overthink?

A near primal instinct for the broken-hearted is to sensory overload on any and all subjects that don’t include the person on their mind.

Distractions like binge-watching, gaming and listening to music may be go-to responses, though during times like these — when production on almost all entertainment content has come to a halt — distractions will likely be limited in supply. You can only take so much of one thing, so allow me to show you another.

To deal with my own thoughts, I started drawing them out on a piece of paper — not with words, but with illustrations. Nothing too artsy or serious –– more playful, if anything. 

Draw your thoughts out like a continuous doodle. Make them a Shel Silverstein book or an alphabet. Take liberties with whatever thoughts you have trouble expressing. And it doesn’t have to be a distraction. You can doodle the person on your mind, or what you imagine saying to them.

Personally, my tendency to overthink about someone is benchmarked by my own self-image — feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. To get over that, it helps to try and understand me better. Eventually, it becomes something else. 

I started drawing myself in cartoon panels. One time, I had a dream that I went to therapy and my shrink was Toad in Mario Kart, and we were speeding through Royal Raceway talking about some of my most embarrassing hookups. So, I drew what I remembered, and for what I couldn’t recall, I took liberties. I inserted dialogue or character choices that would’ve made sense coming from me.

It’s a good message to send yourself: that instead of wondering about someone else, you could spend that time wondering about you.

Are there other places besides dating apps to meet people online?

Reddit is a good place to meet people who take interest in the same topics as you, like musicians, movies or TV shows. It’s become a central internet hub for discussion, which becomes especially electric when an artist or TV show drops new content for fans. Immediately, reaction posts with opinions or hot takes will pop up, and those posts subsequently garner their own reactions. 

As a member of many subreddits over the years, I’ve seen patterns of Reddit users selectively interacting with other specific users. It’s easy to form bonds with people on a platform largely designed around discussion, and even more so when that discussion is specifically tailored to something you’re enthusiastic about. 

While it’s certainly possible to ignite a flame with someone on otherwise platonic mediums like Reddit, Nextdoor and Facebook, if you’re looking to meet new people for a romantic connection, you’ll have an easier time pinpointing the intentions of people on apps like Tinder, Bumble and Grindr. Those apps are widely viewed as platforms for both hookups and dates, whereas the dating app Hinge leans specifically into the dating scene. 

But right now, chatting with someone should be your only intention, which leads me to the next question:

How do I deal with the desire for physical intimacy?

There’s no real way to replace physical closeness. You can ramp up the Facetime calls, texts and Zoom parties, but there’s just no true equal. Right now, you can’t spend time in the physical presence of anyone who doesn’t already live with you.

Making nonessential trips out in public to hook up or spend time with someone you don’t live with demonstrates a clear disregard for everyone’s responsibility during the pandemic.

So, where’s the silver lining?

“Intimacy is best when it happens without the slightest touch, when it is a meeting of minds, a deep and meaningful magical link between you and your partner,” Valerie Tudose, a relationships expert, told the South China Morning Post back in February. “We often forget how important this is before we jump straight into the physical expression of our affection. So take time to connect intellectually and emotionally with your partner before you worry about whether it is safe to kiss them or not.”

In line with Tudose’s thinking, for those who could use a change of pace and focus on more profound and emotional connections, this public health crisis could prove a moment of clarity. Who knows — when the dust settles, we could all come out of this assigning more value to the luxury of physical touch than we did before.

Play drinking games over video chat. Mail each other letters. Connect with new people. But for God’s sake, do it from a distance.

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