LoveHandlin: Connections

It’s 2024 and, collectively, we continue to reference the debacles brought about by the pandemic that blindsided us while everyone was singing and dancing to Shakira and JLo during the iconic and fiery Super Bowl half-time show. So much so that here I am starting my first Viewpoint column of this year talking about it. What a traumatic time that was and it continues to flash back to us today like a shadowy specter. Relationships were torn apart, many jobs disappeared, friendships stumbled and our light of connectedness started blinking like a faulty WiFi modem. As Jenny from the Block was singing “Let’s Get Loud,” the world became silent.

Many, including myself, saw this as a time for reflection. A break from the swirling vortex the world tangled us in, taking a breather and reimagining what opportunities could lie ahead. We started to explore our crafting talents — sewing masks, knitting sweaters and learning about, I don’t know, data analytics and coding.

Others decided to spin their health journeys and begin to exercise, eat better and find a healthier path since the pandemic gave us back the precious and oftentimes scarce gift of time. As we delved into our own journeys and doubled down on sanitizing our social knots, many people disappeared from our lives, or to put it lightly, people we actively decided to shun for good, like a necessary antibiotic for pesky bugs that never seem to go away throughout our lives.

It felt good. We felt light and supple. For extroverts, it felt like an opportunity to laser-focus their attention on what really matters, and for introverts, the world became a paradise — at least for some. The problem with “sanitizing” relationships and human interactions is that it can get rid of the good stuff as well, and during the pandemic era we ended up disconnecting from our true human sense of support and care that we ultimately yearn for.

I have personally witnessed so many around me continue to fantasize and pride themselves on the “disconnections” they created during this time, and I have seen many others romanticize the idea of complete isolation by pushing people away entirely or even moving to somewhere in the middle of nowhere. This, to me, sounds and feels like a lingering symptom of the pandemic era that makes us believe that this is the ideal state when, in fact, we must be careful about that individualistic ideal that can only ostracize us even further and hinder our health in very real ways.

A few years ago, in 2017, a revealing study from the Harvard Study of Adult Development shed light on most humans’ happiness and longevity markers today. The study started collecting data in 1938 about genetics, relationships and longevity among adults, and today, it is one of the longest-running studies on adult life. According to Robert Waldinger, director of the study as well as a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

The study also proved that close relationships, more than money or fame, is what keeps people happy throughout their lives. “Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes,” he wrote.

Like with everything in life, it is all about balance. I want you to take the time to evoke a moment in your life where being alone for an extended period was helpful. Maybe there are instances where that time was necessary but as I have alluded to in some of my previous columns, our health and our wellbeing are the direct result of a collective effort to keep us nurtured, engaged and intrinsically connected. It was what drove our ancestors to abandon isolated villages and create urban nests in which to thrive and prosper together because that is where we are most successful.

The idea that people out there are terrible and, therefore, we must seclude ourselves from them in order to “not be drawn into their drama” is, in some cases, true, but in most cases, is a misguided and lazy approach to lasting relationships. As Dr. Waldinger also pointed out: “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

There exists endless circumstances that push people to become more selective in their interactions. Even some ritualistic idiosyncrasies help people to attain higher states of consciousness by being in complete solitude — and it has worked. I confess that, as a gregarious individual, I have recently felt the need to extract myself from many spaces where my energy no longer flows effortlessly, or better put, the energetic wavelengths between individuals in that space and mine are not in alignment, and that is okay as well. Does that mean that I cut ties with all human existence just because there’s a “shift in the force”? Absolutely not. History reminds us that it is by staying in touch and connected that our strengths really lie, our health improves and our happiness becomes absolute.

The same way we strive to get out of a cold as soon as possible and feel healthy and whole, we must push ourselves to seek those connections that add to our wellbeing and make us a better version of ourselves. We are biologically, psychologically and socially the product of intricate ties that make us who we are. It has worked and it continues to work for us all.

Make that call, go have a coffee with that friend, wave hello to people on the trail or at the mall. It’s a cheesy line but still very true: We are all in this together.

Jerick Mediavilla is a former journalist from Mexico City, an educator in Central Florida and a human rights activist for the LGBTQ+ community.

More in Opinion

See More