slow-dancing in a burning room

Feeling love and loneliness in the time of Trump

Elena Scotti/FUSION

Those of us working on Election Night were stuffed into Fusion’s conference room, huddled around one TV. We channel-surfed from CNN to Fox in the beginning of the night when we were feeling confident. But once 11 PM hit and the path for Hillary Clinton narrowed, we went to MSNBC for comfort. Steve Kornacki energetically poked at a map of the United States explaining the increasingly unlikely ways that Hillary Clinton could still eke out a win. It gave many of us hope.

It was around 10:30 PM when I started to get text messages and phone calls from friends. “This isn’t happening,” said one. “Tell us how she is going to win,” demanded another. I regurgitated what I’d heard and read, trying to quell their worst fears, and mine, too.

By 1:30 AM, when I was in an Uber going home and it’d been all but called, a deep and impending loneliness overtook me. It was unlike any loneliness I’ve ever felt, somewhere between just having lost a loved one and the anxiety of waiting for a loved one to die.

I wanted my mother to call and say something matter-of-fact like “Honey, we been through worse, our black asses gon’ be just fine.” But she didn’t have any words for me that night. I wanted to be uplifted by the geeky and excitable voice of my father, an eternal optimist. Instead he texted: “I’m really really sad for your future and that of your friends.”

But most of all, what I wanted on Election Night, and all the nights that have followed, was to be touched, held, and sometimes to be fucked. And it isn’t just me. Sex, love, intimacy, and romance have always been a respite during unrelenting times: war, famine, economic depression. The anticipation of a Trump presidency brings with it a lot of uncertainty and doom. It’s the plane going down, the tsunami overtaking us, the best friend dying unexpectedly. And we’ve done what anyone does in crisis: seek love and comfort. As Zora Neale Hurston said, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”

What I wanted on Election Night, and all the nights that have followed, was to be touched, held, and sometimes to be fucked.

When I stepped into my apartment last Tuesday, I pulled my phone out of the pocket of my denim jacket and texted the guy I dated most recently. But after a brief exchange I put my phone on airplane mode, afraid I’d ask him to come over and reignite something we’d decided to end.

In bed that night, I wanted to call another ex, one I’d recently decided not to talk to anymore so we could both move on. I wanted to fall asleep to his voice, to flip between old jokes and new disaster scenarios. But I threw my phone across the bed instead; the idea of falling back into our pseudo-romantic dynamic scared me more than my loneliness did.

My willpower held fast, but other friends’ didn’t. In the days following the election, I realized my acute loneliness and intense desire for physical affection had driven friends into unexpected arms.

“The results felt like a physical slap in the face to women and minorities and I think it felt really personal for a lot of us,” said a friend, “Anjali,” who is Indian-Australian. “And I think it was the impulse to have the reassurance that there was affection and warmth in the world for us, which obviously then gets channeled into your lovers, present or past.”

Anjali said she reached out to the guy on Election Night with whom she had just ended things. She saw him Sunday night, five days after the election. “We laid it out as ‘Let’s just check in with each other, it’s been a horrible week.’ But pretty much as soon as we saw each other there was a real physical need for comfort and that was really obvious from the get-go.” They had dinner and went back to his place and had sex. “And honestly it was super comforting.”

“With lovers you can really get physical comfort in this way that you can’t usually get from friends.”

Another friend of mine, who I’ll call Samantha, had a similar reaction. When the results were rolling in last Tuesday, she “had a very strong urge to be with someone in a romantic way,” she said. She’d been texting all night with someone she had just broken it off with a week prior. She went to his house at the end of the night, which led to cuddling and then cuddly sex. “With lovers you can really get physical comfort in this way that you can’t usually get from friends,” she said. “It was in the back of our minds that we wished we were together at that moment.”

Like me, Samantha didn’t just hear from that guy. She heard from a boyfriend of many years who she’d recently broken up with, from another guy she’d gone on a few dates with, from a Tinder guy she hadn’t even met up with yet but who suggested “end of the world sex.” I too heard from old lovers, old almost-lovers, and two rando Tinder dates that never went anywhere.

But for another friend, Lucille, loneliness was a welcome catharsis. Even though she was in a crowded bar on Election Night, “I was very much alone with my thoughts and internal process about what a Trump win was going to mean for me and my loved ones,” she said. “I was deep inside of myself.” Lucille eventually headed home alone. The plan, if Hillary Clinton had declared victory, would have been “to drink, be merry and possibly get laid, but the mere thought of someone touching me intimately felt violating. I crawled into bed with my cat and remember waking at 6:30 [AM] feeling just depleted.”

The feeling for physical love hasn’t ceased. Right now Trump is building his cabinet, an assemblage of white men with records and opinions that will undo us.

“For a few minutes on Election Night, I was able to be in this love cocoon and not talk about the election,” Samantha said. But the need for affection in the days and weeks after Trump was elected might not be so fleeting.