In 2016, Marklyn Louis made what seemed like good election night plans. She’d worked with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and helped plan a big watch party at a bar in Virginia Beach. She brought a hot date; everyone was buoyed by Virginia going blue. But once battleground states like Ohio and Florida were called for Donald Trump, the tequila came out and the energy in the room took a nosedive. “It was a really bad way to spend the night,” she recalled. “It was a whole spectacle.” She remembers leaving around midnight, feeling stunned and numb.
When considering how to spend Tuesday’s final hours, Louis thought about how she might feel if Joe Biden doesn’t emerge victorious by bedtime. “My activism is a really raw part of me, and only people who are truly invested in me will understand,” says Louis, 29, who lives in Mount Rainier, Md., and still works in liberal politics.
So she and her three closest friends, who are also politically active, are taking tests for the coronavirus. If everyone is healthy, they’ll gather at one woman’s home to work, play drinking games (Louis is bringing the tequila) and find out who wins. Or fall apart if there isn’t an answer. Louis is confident her besties will bolster her through her tears, no matter what kind — something she wouldn’t expect of any of the men she’s casually dating.
Ask a Democrat where they were on Election Day 2016, and the memories still sting: Pacing their apartment. Going to bed and hoping for brighter results in the morning. Sobbing in front of their co-workers. Driving across state lines to hug their parents.
Four years, countless news alerts and one pandemic later, many hoping for a Biden victory are determined to prepare themselves. Once they’ve voted, they have contingency plans for how they’ll handle the devastation, joy or chaos that could follow Nov. 3. They need something to do and someone to be with. Or they need to escape from it all.
Along with weddings and birthday bashes, election celebrations (or commiserations) are another American tradition that’s being downsized this year. But with social distancing entering its eighth month, those who live alone — representing 28 percent of U.S. households, according to 2019 census data — have already endured so much solitude.
Rachael Narins, a cookbook writer in her 40s who lives alone in Los Angeles, isn’t looking forward to yet another night of isolation. “This is a particularly challenging night,” she says, adding that she’s still upset from 2016. She’ll cope by logging on to Zoom with some girlfriends, trying to stay off Twitter and making Jill Biden’s chicken Parmesan and Marty Ginsburg’s lime souffle.
October to February is already known as “cuffing season,” when a regular Netflix and chill buddy seems more desirable than keeping your options open. It’s more complicated to secure such a connection in the middle of a pandemic plus election season, when any two people must enjoy each other’s company, be attracted to one another — and align on covid-19 caution and political preferences.
Brent Parker, 26, who runs social media for an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, went through a breakup in May. While he’s active on dating apps, none of his connections are election-night serious.
This year, for singles like him, finding a companion for Nov. 3 might be a bigger deal than having someone to kiss on New Year’s Eve. It’s less about showy trappings of romance and more about having someone who can pull you out of exit poll purgatory. “When you combine the last four years and covid on top of that, it’s a profoundly lonely and stressful time,” he says.
He wishes he had someone who could help him keep his nerves in check — ideally a deep connection, he says, “not just someone to sleep with, because that’s not going to numb the political pain” of a Trump reelection or the lack of a decision on Nov. 3. “I’m the kind of guy who paces back and forth. At the very least, it’d be nice to date someone who’d be like: ‘Brent, please stop pacing back and forth. You’re making my anxiety worse.’ ” He has to work on election night, so maybe that will help keep him grounded.
“Having a good relationship helps us cope with every problem in life, and right now a big problem a lot of us have is anxiety due to uncertainty,” says Duana Welch, author of “Love, Factually” and expert for Paired, an app to help couples strengthen their bond.
In normal times, Welch notes, humans would ideally get four to six hugs a day. Meanwhile, many of us are living through zero-hug days, weeks or months — and that lack of touch can make it even harder to cope with a tense situation.
Dating apps have seen upticks in traffic during the pandemic, and OkCupid has especially seen a surge in users seeking long-term relationships, says Melissa Hobley, the site’s global chief marketing officer. Most daters want someone who agrees with them on core beliefs, Hobley says, noting that the site’s political questions have become their most popular category. “Trump is polarizing and that’s extending to dating,” she says. A Pew Research study from April found that 7 in 10 Democrats wouldn’t be in a relationship with a Trump voter.
For some, having an Election Day plan is about keeping themselves distracted from the hot takes and constant speculation over the outcome. Early on in the pandemic, Peter McGraw, 50, a behavioral economist who hosts the podcast “Solo: the Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life,” drove two hours east from his home in Los Angeles and spent two months in an Airbnb in the Yucca Valley. Calmed by the quiet of the desert, and guided by a stranger’s record collection and some consciousness-altering psychedelics, the time away “ended up being really restorative,” McGraw says. He would check Google News headlines once a day but wasn’t obsessing over every news update. (Also the WiFi was slow.) “I went on walks every night, cooked my own food. I was as quarantined and isolated as you can be.”
Concerned that Los Angeles could “explode” after a Trump or Biden victory, McGraw has decided to return to the desert to ride out Election Week. (Don’t worry — he mailed in his ballot before he skipped town.) “I’m not sure I can re-create the magic again, but I’m hopeful.”
Jason, a 26-year-old man in New York City who, for professional privacy, spoke on condition of first name only, is dodging potential chaos by renting a cabin in western Massachusetts for a few days, with a friend from the BDSM community. They’ll “play,” he says, and they won’t be watching cable news or checking their phones. “I wanted to avoid the stress of watching each side gain an advantage over the other and just wake up to the answer,” he says. “We’ve been in this state of not knowing forever, and I want to be able to just turn that off for a second.”
Others are “getting away” from the media onslaught by immersing themselves in the minutiae of democracy. Teresa Preston, 48-year-old editor at a small nonprofit association in Alexandria, Va., signed up to be a poll worker. She remembers not being able to get any work done on Election Day in 2016 because she was so excited about the prospect of a Clinton victory. Later that evening, she was home alone, on Twitter all night following the results. “I knew this time would be worse, because I would be nervous and worried. If I can’t get any work done for my regular job, I may as well get work done for the country,” she says.
“I thought to myself: I’m primed to do this. I don’t have immune-compromised dependents. I should sacrifice myself,” Preston adds. She’s not that concerned about contracting covid-19 while volunteering, as everyone will be required to wear a mask. But it’s a long day — at least 14 hours. “My hope is it will tire me out.”
While Louis trusts only her besties to care for her in the immediate aftermath, if the result is not to her liking, she’ll need a larger team of support. Will she lean on the guy she sometimes sees who likes to talk politics? Or the one she calls to watch “Lovecraft Country”? Regardless, she says, “I’m gonna need somebody to snuggle with in January.”