Y.O.L.O. or Hide: The Loneliness Epidemic

Courtesy of Cigna Group

By Aniya Washington


   This all started after finishing “One Day” on Netflix at 3 a.m. on Valentine’s Day. It follows couple Dexter and Emma for twenty years as they grapple with different relationships with themselves, and other people. I looked like a zombie all day, grappling with the ideas of mortality, relationships, love, and loss. The show made me confront my feelings about loneliness and the infinite amount of choices we can make throughout our lives. Spanning conversations with my peers, specifically those around my age, this seems to be a very common concern: why is Gen-Z so lonely?

   The Cigna Group, a global health company committed to improving health and vitality, conducted a survey about the loneliness epidemic among young adults and their findings were not surprising. 79% of adults aged 18 to 24 report feeling lonely compared to 41% of seniors aged 66 and older. 

   There are many factors to blame for this. One contributing factor may be our experiences during a global pandemic. Whenever I reminisce on that time, the memories come flooding in. The days blended together and I constantly woke up with a pit in my stomach. I didn’t realize how lonely I felt until after the world was told to stay in their house. 

   In came social media. I made a lot of friends on the interweb, but social media is great at giving an illusion of intimacy. The endless scroll on TikTok gives a ten-second dopamine rush, and then you’re looking for your next hit. It’s a constant cycle when it comes to social media, and that recovery period hurts. You realize you were on TikTok for three hours and have no idea what kind of media you just consumed, but you beat yourself up about it and then do it all over again. 

   I was looking forward to the college experience that was promised to me by my family members and the college brochure. Unfortunately, that day still hasn’t come. Going to a CUNY is a unique experience, one we all (if not most) can attest to. It is different when you aren’t dorming and instead spending chunks of time commuting to school. 

   It is easy to create a community if you don’t mind expending time and effort. It takes waking up early, spending the money to get to a club meeting on campus, finding a day during which you don’t have class, and then traveling an hour or two to return home. It is even harder to go up to someone and say, “Let’s be friends!” because of so many years of face-to-face conversation lost. I too am guilty of ruminating about the dialogue between me and the person at the cashier before ordering my meal. 

   After the show, however, I was confronted with two roads: Y.O.L.O. (you only live once) or hide. Tomorrow is not promised. Knowing that, what are you going to do today to make the day feel earned? My “Y.O.L.O.” would be telling the girl in my science class that she’s really pretty and I’d love to be friends with her. But to be confronted with that responsibility of choice and the possibility of rejection hinders me from saying anything, which is where the “hide” comes into play. When you hide, there is no possibility of rejection, there is no inevitable doom at the end of a relationship because there won’t be a relationship at all. But is that what makes life worth living?

   We’re sociable creatures and we enjoy being around others. The mysterious act and the “nobody understands me” mentality gets old real fast. I’m not any better. I know my therapist internally rolls her eyes every time I mention the same situation that could be rectified if I just go up to someone and say, “Hi, I really like your bag.” But it is also too much to make sure you jam-pack everything off your wishlist in one day. You can’t jump off a building, go to Spain, then the Eiffel Tower in one day. There has to be a middle ground. 

   Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. I’m still trying to figure it out too. The book that “One Day” is based on is by David Nicholls and it has a quote that gave me some solace.

   “Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”

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