Looking for some podcasts to keep you company while traveling over the holidays? Or to listen to as an escape from your family? We’ve got you.
The intimacy of listening to a podcast — having someone’s voice being piped in to your ear — is the perfect medium for exploring dating, relationships, the magic of human connection and the loneliness of disconnection. Here are some of my favorites on those subjects. While these recommendations are made with the single listener in mind, you can enjoy any of these regardless of relationship status.
“Why Oh Why,” hosted by Andrea Silenzi
Andrea Silenzi is a single 30-something in New York who’s trying to figure out her dating life. Along the way, she has lots of conversations with experts and singles that can also help listeners make sense of this weird world of dating.
Recent episodes include a couple who got to know each other through their Spotify playlists and Instagram; a conversation with a comedian about how he tells women he dates that he isn’t looking for anything serious; and a look at how sex has changed since Donald Trump was elected president. Every episode ends with a snippet taken straight from a Skype blind date that the podcast brokers.
“Love Me,” hosted by Lu Olkowski
“Love Me” describes itself as a podcast about “the messiness of human connection.” Its first season kicked off with the story of a couple who spoke different languages but were able to communicate, and become close, through the help of Google Translate. But the podcast isn’t just about romance; there are peeks into the lives of best friends who’ve never met in person and a young girl’s desire to meet someone who loves puns even more than she does: “My ideal reaction is somebody firing them back at me, and firing them so fast that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. That would be the perfect person,” she says.
“Dear Sugars,” hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond
“Dear Sugars” is fascinating in its capacity for empathy and in the way its hosts are able to astutely unpack other strangers’ dilemmas. (Most episodes are about relationship problems, but not all.) The podcast’s name is an homage to the Dear Sugar advice column that Cheryl Strayed, the best-selling author of “Wild,” used to write for the Rumpus. Each episode starts with a letter asking Strayed and Almond for advice, and they sometimes call guests in to consult. On a recent episode, for example, the Sugars had Hillary Clinton on talk about female ambition and how her experience might be relevant for other women. “Dear Sugars” is addictive, but it isn’t for everyone; it leans heavy on the emotion, so if you have an aversion to the “Oh honey, I’ve been there” style of Delilah‘s radio show, for example, you might skip this one.
“Where Should We Begin?,” hosted by Esther Perel
This podcast from couples therapist and author Esther Perel is built for voyeurs. Each episode is a couples’ one-time counseling session in which Perel is frank and disarming in how she questions each person about the root of their problems.
Why would singles want to listen to couples digging into their troubles? There’s some schadenfreude, yes, but the podcast can also serve as indirect training for how to be a better communicator in any kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise. It’s a perfect companion to Perel’s new book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity.” Recent episodes include how a couple deals with one partner’s history of sexual trauma and follows a couple’s quest to have a child when the woman is beyond her fertile years.
“The Lonely Hour,” hosted by Julia Bainbridge
Let’s get this disclaimer out of the way: No, not all singles are lonely. And yes, it’s possible to be lonely in a relationship, too. Julia Bainbridge does happen to be single; she moved from New York to Atlanta in her mid-30s and is grappling with a new sense of self: “I’ve turned a kind of corner where I’ve left an old identity — the identity of a very social girl who talks a lot and drinks a lot and flirts a lot with everyone,” Bainbridge says in the first episode of the second season, describing her former life as a social butterfly. Now, she’s “someone who spends much of her time alone … someone who’s become sober — at least for a little while — and who feels frankly a little disconnected and numb.”
What I like about “The Lonely Hour” is that it approaches loneliness not as some weird, awful thing that only hermits feel, but rather as a normal part of adult life. Thankfully “The Lonely Hour” is not an hour long; it’s dispersed in more digestible episodes hovering around 20 minutes, with snippets from Bainbridge’s own life accompanying her conversations with others — writers and artists, a personal chef, a Christian musician who’s lost his faith — who’ve dealt with different kinds of loneliness. I recommend it for anyone who needs a reminder that you’re not the only one feeling a little isolated or like they don’t quite fit in.
What else should we add to this list? Leave a note in the comments or tweet at me.