Everything about COVID-19 sucks (except for this). The latest demonstration of this fact came when an unprecedented number of rising juniors — my class —  found out they would participate in a forced mass exodus from on-campus housing next year. The administration took this measure to ensure that the first-year and sophomore class could live on-campus. Traditionally, this is a requirement for students during their first two years at Yale. The notable exception? My class, of course. 

     We were the ones who experienced our first year of college online, and most of us were off-campus for at least a semester while we navigated this entirely uncharted territory. I’m not so sure I can say I tapped into my inner Magellan, but I made it through. In retrospect, I think we as a class should be proud of the resilience we demonstrated. But it’s hard to take such a triumphant stance when COVID seems to afflict us even on an institutional level. Yale is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and here we are, getting knocked around right along with it. And, in the latest episode of this pandemic tragedy, some of us are getting knocked off campus. 

      Oddly enough, this is probably the least COVID-specific experience we’ve endured. This strikes me as strange because this is a point that few people our age consider: namely, that the increased isolation we’ve experienced during our college years is only a preface to the loneliest chapter of our lives — a chapter which, for most of us, begins right after graduation.

      Studies show that loneliness tends to peak prior to your 30s. Furthermore, the average young adult’s social nadir seemed to be plummeting lower and lower over time even before the pandemic. I’m sympathetic to the claim which Robert Putnam defends in his article “Bowling Alone”: that life in modern America is particularly alienating because the structure of our society is no longer conducive to the flourishing of small-scale institutions. People attend church less often. Membership in parent-teacher organizations is dwindling. Technology makes us more connected to one another on a global scale, but the concurrent trend of urbanization makes it less likely we’ve ever had an actual conversation with our next-door neighbor.

     I have a hunch, and if I’m right, then we’re all screwed. I suspect that researchers would find these trends exacerbated among Ivy League graduates. I think that, first of all, there is a high probability we will find ourselves in a high pressure job environment (think 100-hour workweeks at Goldman, for example) filled with Zoom meetings in our office buildings and Manhattan high-rises. Consequently, we will be one of the most urbanized and technology-addled subgroups of the American population — with very little free time to boot. If these really are ingredients found in the recipe for a lonely young adult life, we’re set to have several servings on our hands by the time we have our degrees.

      What makes Yale so great, by contrast, is that our schedules are structured around small institutions. We have our suitemates, our classmates, our fellow members of our favorite extracurriculars. You get to know people. Sure, we may be pretty busy most of the time, but the trope about you being closer with your college friends than anyone else before, for many people, I’d surmise, holds true. We make such long-lasting memories because the organizations of which we are a part allow for deep personal connections. Our schedules are not just filled, but — on our better days here, at least — our lives are full. 

      COVID-19 has threatened to forcibly remove this hallmark of the college experience for us. This should remind us, however, that this stamp of authenticity only belongs in these bright college years nowadays. After those are gone, anything else that holds a comparable sheen proves to be a kind of fool’s gold that loses its luster all too quickly.

      It goes without saying that this is a pretty grim prognosis. However, this ailment is not untreatable, as far as I see it. It also goes without saying that I haven’t lived a lot, but I do have at least one nugget of wisdom to show for my brief stint of mining. There comes a point in every relationship where effort is required to maintain it. You know this is true whenever your parents hound you for not calling home enough, or whenever your romantic partner thousands of miles away complains about how long it’s been since they’ve seen you last. 

      My first hope for Yale students that have felt isolated by COVID-19 (not just in McClellan) is that you don’t give up on the relationships you form here. I, for one, have some great friends (I suspect you know who you are, but I should tell you more often nonetheless) that I think will be well worth the effort it takes to stay in touch. If this isn’t true for you, I hope you find some people that you can connect with beyond the small talk about majors and residential colleges. Don’t lose hope; you’re never the only one who feels alone.

     My second hope is that you find ways to connect to the new communities that you join after graduation. Find local organizations that want volunteers. Get involved with the city council. Do something that makes you feel more like you’re tethered to the ground you walk on day to day, and less like you’re some free-floating particle zipping through the air with no end in sight.

     Perhaps everything we’ve endured during COVID-19 has made us realize the psychological cost of keeping our distance. Maybe our experiences have confirmed the paramount importance of seeking out meaningful connection, even when it means actively fighting to maintain it in the face of a hostile, alienating environment. If these unprecedented times have equipped us with unprecedented skills for accomplishing that end, perhaps we will see this trend of increasing loneliness reverse. That’s a lot of optimism for just one sentence, but I like to think it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Maybe you like to think so too.

Elijah Boles is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles college. His column runs every other Tuesday. Contact him at elijah.boles@yale.edu.