When I pictured my adult life in New York, I was always walking—from brunch with the girls to my gorgeous one-bedroom that I could totally afford; from my glamorous office job to the C train (which, in my fantasy, was always empty and never smelled like hot garbage); from my paramour of the week’s brownstone to a solo museum jaunt. Then I actually moved here, and found that I spent most of my time sitting—on packed subway cars; in overpriced restaurants; and in crowded bars with my friends, downing beer-and-shot combos and complaining about our love lives.
When COVID-19 hit last spring, my friends and I were forced to complain on Zoom instead of in person. Between virtual wine dates, we were making endless loaves of weirdly half-risen bread and frantically Googling “Should I wipe down my groceries,” too afraid to meet up outside even for a brief park hang. I spent most of the winter alone in my bedroom, lighting fancy incense and watching old rom-coms. But I recently became one of the millions of Americans who got their COVID-19 vaccine, and the unseen forces that govern New York weather decided to stop hurling down buckets of snow, and throw us a bone. All that adds up to one thing: Silly Little Walk season.
If you’re wondering what, exactly, a Silly Little Walk is, let me explain: While Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking notes that many of history’s greatest thinkers, from Henry David Thoreau to William Wordsworth, were avid walkers, the Silly Little Walk is significant precisely because it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to great art or introspection (although, of course, it could).
The 2021-era Silly Little Walk is a solo outdoor stroll taken with no real purpose, no direction or tacked-on errand; just a vague desire to be out among the living again after a year of isolation (or, more accurately, an understanding of just how crazy you’ll go if you spend one more second in your apartment). The phenomenon is perhaps best encapsulated in a January tweet from comedian and writer Ruby Keane, though it also has roots in a popular meme.
While Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw presented a version of walking alone in New York that was fashionable, footloose, and fancy-free, the eagle in Keane’s tweet looks more like I do on any given walk: hunched over and quietly furious, resenting the depths to which I’ve fallen in order to obtain some small crumb of serotonin. I don’t take my Silly Little Walk because I like it—I’m more in the “go running or stay home and watch TV” school. I complain in my head like a two-year-old the whole time, although I know that I’ll ultimately be glad I went. Working from home, I could easily stay inside for weeks on end if it weren’t for my Silly Little Walk; it’s a habit, sure, but it’s also a life raft. (Yes, exercise has been shown to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative moods, but I don’t really think of my Silly Little Walks as exercise, mostly because I typically take them in high-heeled clogs. It still counts, though, I suppose.)
I’m not the only one welcoming the advent of Silly Little Walk season. Justine Goode, 27, a creative assistant, says her walks started mid-pandemic, before the weather turned wintry: “It was the only thing that kept me sane last spring! I would go during the day and then for longer walks on weekends. The winter was extra-miserable because I really felt the loss of that coping mechanism.” Sophie Helf, 29, a writer and computer programmer, also relies on the mood-lifting power of the Silly Little Walk, but—crucially—she’s learned to see her daily excursion as an opportunity to clear her mind. “I will definitely head out for a walk if I’m upset and it’ll calm me down, but at the same time there’s something to be said for a lazy ramble during which I can just think about things,” says Helf. Tiffanie Woods, 28, a social media manager, says she was never a big walker before the pandemic, but she’s come to see the Silly Little Walk as a “a quieter act of joy” that helps her reset and deal with the stress of taking COVID-19 “extremely seriously.”
It’s possible that as life slowly stumbles back to something approximating “normal,” the Silly Little Walk phenomenon will become less widespread; but I hope it doesn’t. If you need to be seen (or, in internet parlance, “perceived”) by the world, but don’t quite feel ready to hit the bars or visit friends indoors, the Silly Little Walk is here for you. It’s good exercise, and its mental health benefits are myriad, but mostly, it’s the perfect way to be alone, together.