08 Feb LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
Love, for myself and many others, can take infinite shapes and sizes. It’s the way I feel about my morning tea on a cold Kingston winter day, but also the way I feel about my housemates when they come bursting through the door after weeks spent apart. It’s the way I feel when I see my parents dancing to Motown music in the kitchen, or when my sister FaceTimes me with her new kitten.
For most people, love goes hand-in-hand with the relationships we have with people around us: family members, romantic partners, close friends, online pen pals, etc. I’m not making a ground-breaking statement when I say that our relationships have taken a massive revamp in the past year. We find ourselves closer than ever with some, and miles apart from others we never thought we would lose. With the additional hours we spend at home in the quiet, we have time to observe all of our relationships through a magnifying lens. For some, this has resulted in a newfound dedication towards being a better friend, partner, and family member. For others, it has shined a light on the fact that it may be time to cut some ties and say some goodbyes. The increased isolation experienced by everyone this year has made some favour additional space and room for themselves but has also made others cling to their loved ones more than ever.
I sent out a survey in early January to friends of mine and my parents, housemates, and classmates (some even kindly shared the survey to their own circles), asking people to tell their stories and recount their experiences of love in the time of COVID-19. I was trying to answer the ‘big’ questions like: Have relationships changed forever? Have we lost the old-fashioned approach to love? Is this all irreversible? Or is it for the best? The results made me feel warm inside, but also slightly nostalgic. For the purpose of anonymity, I will be using pseudonyms as I share people’s stories throughout this article.
The graph below shows how the survey respondents are generally feeling about Love in the Time of COVID-19. This year has been challenging, rewarding, testing, and, dare I say, enjoyable. From stories and feelings of romantic love to the ups and downs of friendships, I was overwhelmed with the responses and pleasantly surprised about how hopeful people are about love.
A Romantic Kind of Love
Rebecca, 30, was in a new romantic relationship before going into a 12-week lockdown. Things were going well, but deep down she had a feeling that it wasn’t going to last forever. They stayed together throughout the lockdown and broke up shortly after. For her, the lockdown was a “catalyst in [the relationship’s] ending”. She says that the pandemic has allowed her to gain an appreciation for the relationships she has and has made her treasure them more. For Rebecca, it was this realization — which came to her in the many hours of quiet self-reflection — that illuminated the existing incompatibilities with her romantic partner and allowed her to take action to set her partner free and be her truest self.
Sarah, 45, describes her relationship with her husband as “More relaxed; less rushed; friendlier. Confirmation my husband and I are on the same page.” This was something I resonated with strongly with my own boyfriend. With the restrictions on social engagement, we see our partners as friends more than ever, a sort of 2-in-1 package of friend and lover. When the 2-in-1 style relationship works, it works and it’s special. But there is no doubt that romantic relationships have suffered as much as they’ve thrived. Charlotte, 19, says “Too much time with one person and doing nothing all day starts a lot of fights”. The extra time together has also exposed couples to playing too many roles in each other’s lives. My own boyfriend and I lived together for five weeks at one point during the pandemic, and I think we can both agree we began to drive each other a little crazy. We would tease like friends, bicker like siblings, support each other like parents, and advise each other as co-workers, all within a 2,000 square foot house. Most people under age 20 in the survey agreed that we are still growing as people and need the room to do so. We need exposure to different people, different energies, different environments. Too much of one person can create the opposite effect, and this was a unanimous thought from people in my age group.
For the respondents who identified as single, there were very mixed opinions about love in the time of COVID-19. One person stated, “My romantic relationships are non-existent, and I love it.” The same person stated that her close friendships were closer than ever, and she’s thriving on their support. Contrarily, people said, “it has been really hard to be single and trying to actually have a relationship with people romantically” and “I don’t even know what romanticism is any more”. When seeing these quotes, I think about the generation of teenagers who are first learning to love romantically; what will happen to them? If people have been exposed to love for the first time during the pandemic and let’s say, it wasn’t successful or authentic, is that going to shape an entire generation’s expectations of what love has to offer? Some members of the over-25 group have faith that love is out there and waiting for them as the pandemic draws to a close, but there is a large group of people under 25 who grow tired at the thought of relationships. A response that made me smile was, “People have definitely switched from hanging out/hooking up with people you ‘sort of know’ to people you are friends with. It’s easier, safer, and more convenient.” The idea of casual sex and hookups isn’t as easy anymore, and maybe this is for the best. Turning to people you’re closer to has made sex more comfortable and consistent for many people who hadn’t experienced it that way in the past.
Love Between Families
Let’s talk about another kind of love: family love. I, for one, absolutely loved seeing 21-year-old boys doing puzzles with their little sisters during the lockdown, whole families out on long walks around the neighborhood, and I loved my own Wednesday evening cocktail hours with my grandparents on Zoom. Catherine, 40, says she’s already nostalgic for the lockdown period where her family was going on walks and bike rides together. Smaller children have spent more time with their parents than they ever have, and familial values are being strengthened for families who are together at home. James, 20, says, “I had been away at university and not living at home. We started having family dinners every night which allowed us to talk openly and discuss things.” He pointed out that it’s so easy to become out of touch when we aren’t all together under the same roof, and I do believe that the pandemic elongated the parent-child relationship that might have otherwise ended at 18 or when the children left home. This quote illustrates it perfectly: “Being home for the holidays reminded me of being a little kid. Drawing, reading, doing puzzles with my mom and sister. Some no-phone, face-to-face, wholesome sh*t!”. I couldn’t relate more. We all know that lockdowns with family were not all sunshine and rainbows. The endless talk about COVID-19, disagreements on who is in who’s bubble, and sharing a bathroom with people who have different hygienic standards got hard for everyone. Coming back to a place of gratitude for the families we have is so heart-warming to see, and I hope we can continue to come back to this feeling, even after the pandemic is over.
Friendships, in my opinion, have been hard during COVID. I am someone who is extremely tactile; I want to touch and hug my friends. I find myself dreading FaceTime calls because the pandemic has made me so impatient, too impatient to sit on the phone for hours on end. That being said, this kind of aversion to long-distance friendships could leave me friend-less. I feel closer than ever to some, and lifetimes apart from others, and the survey respondents feel the same. Someone said, “I definitely drifted from some people but became much closer to the people I hung around with every weekend and the people in my ‘bubble’. I almost feel like I belong in a group a little more now.” Another person shared, “I have become much closer with a smaller group of friends, compared to the pre-pandemic when I had more friends but was not as close with them all.” There were many more responses like this. Is there a trend here? And what does it mean? Call me old fashioned, but isn’t this the way friendships used to be? People are feeling more connected, and more willing to be their true selves in trusting spaces. We are more supported, and more fulfilled as a result. Quality has prevailed over quantity during this time, and the majority feels quite good about it. Certain young men I’ve talked to have said the same in that watching sports and having potlucks together has brought them closer and formed more of a brotherhood. Perhaps this will allow us to open up more and delve deeper into the friendship-kind of love.
Some Positive Confessions
One of the questions I asked in the survey was “Can you describe an overall POSITIVE change that has occurred in your relationships since the start of the pandemic?” The responses made me smile, and I’d like to share some of them:
- “No one is afraid to talk about how things really are or how they really feel. The pretence of the ‘gloss’ of life has fallen away a bit, I think.”
- “I was able to try out a career ambition I have always longed for: teaching remotely. Teaching online is something I enjoy and excel at.”
- “I feel really good about my friendships, and I also love having alone time. I love that I can cancel plans so easily because there’s an excuse.” (relatable.)
- “I am my own best friend now.”
- “When I had to do long distance with my partner, his replies made me feel so great about myself because they showed that he genuinely missed being with me. My increased physical confidence was so healthy for our relationship.”
Love Moving Forward
The survey respondents in no way represent every story and relationship during the pandemic, but I feel as though they give insight into what it’s been like for many. We’re being more honest than ever in our relationships, whether that means ending them, working on them, or thriving in them. We’re going back to the basics with our families and tightening our circles with friends. To whoever is reading this, I challenge you to reflect on what elements you want to take forward with you when you engage in whatever form of love in the future. Vaccines are rolling out and I’m positive this will be over in the coming months. But as we sprint forward, leaving COVID-19 behind, let’s bring love forward in the best ways we can.
Header Image Source: https://www.handsomefrank.com/illustrators/anna-kovecses