Love in the Time of Corona

In the last few weeks, the screens have taken over…

They have become our family gatherings, happy hours, playdates, birthday parties, and conference rooms. Even more than before, they are our windows to what is going on, both in the world at large and right outside our doors. If you feel like you’re trapped in an ad for a tech company — saccharine yet strangely poignant — you are not alone.

On such screens, I have been the recipient of messages ranging from friends reporting how their illness is progressing to texts like, “You would NOT believe the volume of the chewing coming from the next room. Why does my husband ONLY eat crunchy foods??”

If one thing is for certain, it is that during this curious and trying time, love is being both challenged and affirmed.

While some relationships have taken a step forward as newer couples choose to isolate together, others have taken a different route. If you find yourself in an inflammatory situation, it’s not just you. Since the lockdown was initiated, divorce rates in China have soared. In the city of Xi’an alone, the number of requests was so high, they maxed out the number of appointments at government offices. Interestingly, since both marriages and divorces there are relatively easy transactions (requiring a minimal amount of paperwork), soon after the quarantine was lifted, a number of the couples who sought divorces chose to immediately re-marry.

Over the past few weeks, I have often reflected on how not that long ago, I was concerned about things like wagon wheel coffee tables. This seems both hilariously naïve and also quite prescient considering the amount of time I now spend in proximity of the coffee table.

If you had told me that in a matter of months, my boyfriend and I would spend all 24 hours together in our doorless one-bedroom apartment, I would have questioned what planet you were from. Yet, here we are, one of us always on video conference and the other not always managing to write. We have joked that as two introverts who enjoy being home, we are oddly suited to this, and it really isn’t so bad. Plus, the dog is thrilled.

As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We had plans! We had so many plans. Then life happened. And continues to happen, albeit in a virtually unrecognizable way.

One friend, who is holed up alone, has been relishing both the quiet time and the phone calls she is having with friends and family. “All this isolation has made for very deep and interesting conversations,” she says. “It’s like we’ve moved past small talk and right into real talk.”

“Somehow, this has forced me to connect with people more than I did previously,” said another, typically introverted friend. “Before, people would say ‘let’s catch up’ but be too busy to do it. Now, I’ve found myself having Zoom happy hours and Houseparty game nights with people I haven’t spoken to in ages.”

Of course, connection is happening off screens, as well. One friend’s very sweet partner set up a “restaurant” complete with menus and candles, so they could have an at-home date night. Another’s husband takes her temperature every morning. We are learning, with tenderness and trepidation, to cut each other’s hair.

For me, perhaps the biggest show of love has been the sound of rousing cheers and applause that echoes through the air every evening at 7 PM. As many healthcare workers change shifts, the city throws open its windows and bands together to show its support.

There is nothing quite like a crisis to make you feel connected — and nothing like invisible cells, transferred from person to person, to prove just how interconnected we truly are. As the world changes rapidly inside and out, this much has become clear: in many ways, large and small, love is all around.

And for those moments when you are stuck cleaning up dishes from your millionth at-home meal, or listening to your roommate crack open pistachio after pistachio on the other side of the wall, or wondering when you will be able to hug your loved ones again, there is always a shift in perspective. As the memes say, we aren’t stuck inside, we are safe inside. And that isn’t so bad, after all.

How have you been staying connected these last few weeks? What have you found to be helpful?

P.S. 12 relationship tips from a wedding reporter and what drives you crazy about your partner?

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)