What Being Single During The Pandemic Taught Me About Friendship

Drew Gregory
·6-min read

Since childhood, I projected my trans womanhood onto crushes. I didn’t understand my gender, so I assumed my affinity for women was solely romantic. I thought that if I could just find my soulmate my gender confusion would disappear. Until I did — and it didn’t. Then I came out.

Two years later, in February 2019, I broke up with that soulmate and moved to LA in order to experience my true identity as an individual, separate from the relationship that I’d looked so hard to find. The decision kicked off a year of queer single chaos. I went on dates, I had one night stands, I fell hard for the wrong people, I tried new drugs and new spaces and a new persona. I felt like myself for the first time and I relished sharing that with the world.

The best date I went on during that year was with Gaby. We didn’t hook up or catch feelings or go on some adventure; it was just coffee. But it began one of the most important relationships of my life.

After the date, Gaby texted me to tell me that they had a partner, Mal, and that they were polyamorous. This shifted my expectations, but only slightly. I wasn’t looking for another relationship yet, and I was starting to accept my own polyamory. Gaby and I continued getting to know each other, and at some point we both confessed that we were better at finding hookups than platonic friendships. We clearly had an attraction. We clearly had a connection. But maybe dating wasn’t what was needed to best serve that connection. What if instead of hooking up, we asked each other, we did something far more vulnerable for both of us? What if we became friends? And so we made a pact not to have sex. Yes, that sounds like the first act of a romcom, but this one had a surprise ending: We kept our agreement.

I thought being single was going to be about hookups and flings, but my 2019 was defined by friendship. I met so many people being out in queer community, and I began to realise that friends — true friends, like Gaby and Mal — could provide the support I’d always looked for from a partner.

Before then, I had never allowed myself to be vulnerable, to open up emotionally, or to express my needs and wants in friendships — only in my romantic relationships. I struggled to make friends as a child, so as an adolescent and adult I tried to just be agreeable. I showed up for others and asked nothing for myself. But with my new friends, I could be vulnerable. It became okay to cry, to talk about money, to make mistakes, to say no, to say yes, to say maybe. These friends taught me what it means to trust in a friendship. And through this discovery of queer family, I achieved a newfound independence. I wasn’t reliant on one “significant other,” because I was part of several symbiotic relationships, in which we all took care of each other. It wasn’t that I lost interest in romance or sex or eventually finding future partners — it just no longer felt like a necessity.

And then the pandemic happened.

In spring 2020, Gaby and I lived within walking distance of each other, but we might as well have been in different states. They lived alone, but I lived with four roommates, all of whom continued to see their partners. I didn’t begrudge them this — if I was in a relationship, I would’ve wanted to see that person too — but it meant we weren’t totally quarantined, so I couldn’t safely see Gaby or anyone else. Meanwhile, Gaby was making plans to move in with Mal.

Suddenly, cracks began to form in my newfound revelation around community. Sure, it’s nice to think that as queer people we can prioritise our friends over traditional relationship structures. But with the pandemic limiting the number of people we could safely see, people were choosing their partners. And I was alone.

I spent months scrolling through dating apps, texting with strangers, going on FaceTime dates, getting reckless with DM slides — most of it fizzling out under the weight of just how many more months (maybe even years?) we had ahead of us. I’ve never been one to fulfil the lesbian U-Haul stereotype, but part of me wondered if I should try. Maybe if I met the right person, I could have someone too.

It didn’t work. But I did manage to properly quarantine, so in July I could visit Gaby and Mal in the house they rented for the summer. We went swimming and stargazed and cuddled in bed watching Drag Race. For a brief moment, the solitude of the year gave way to the community I’d missed so deeply. Texting and FaceTime are nice, but they aren’t substitutes for physical touch or feeling a person’s energy right there next to you. As Gaby and Mal began looking for a more permanent home, my heart ached with my own impermanence in their lives.

Towards the end of this trip, my roommates let me know there was an option to get out of my lease early. I shared this news with Gaby and Mal. “Why don’t you just move in with us?” Mal casually suggested. I told them not to joke about that, and they said they weren’t.

At first, the same old walls went up, the ones that told me not to express my own needs out of a fear that I was asking for too much. But they reassured me again and again that they wanted me to be with them as much as I wanted to be with them. So when Gaby and Mal moved a month later, I moved too. They rented a place with a backhouse, and that’s where I now live. Every night I come into the main house and make dinner or we make dinner together and then we watch TV or listen to music or just talk. We support each other and love each other each in our own separate ways.

I’m still dating, and I still want to find a partner of my own. But when I do, it won’t come from a place of lack — it will come from a place of surplus. I’m not searching for The One, because I don’t believe in that anymore. I believe in connections and community and love and sex and friendship. I believe in both the flexibility and the security of those words. I believe that someone can slide into your DMs and then a year and a half later they can become your family.

I started the pandemic wishing my friends could care for me like my partners used to. Turns out? They can.

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