This COVID-19 crisis in many ways feels like reading a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel: re-reading pages to try and grasp what’s going on and losing track of what is reality and what is totally surreal. On top of this, this COVID-19 crisis, for many people, is either lived like love in the time of cholera – love or separation, drama (minus the cheating, because social distancing) – or 100 years of solitude.
The social distancing, quarantine and lockdown measures implemented to help fight the global pandemic have brought about a new normal across the globe. This global pandemic has caused a tragic loss of life, and a general health but also mental health epidemic. Speaking virtually with more people than ever before (I never thought I would become the monster that calls people impromptu rather carefully planning a call time, but here we are), I wanted to share some people’s experiences  of what love is like in a global pandemic, to remind us that, while this is hard, we can try to find solace in funny moments, and that this is not forever and we are not alone.
Love in the time of coronavirus: to be locked down together
“and the two of them loved each other for a long time in silence without making love again.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
Whilst for some couples the lockdown has been a wonderful opportunity to spend more time together away from the distractions of our busy lives, for many this seems to have put on extra strains and pressures. This applies not just to couples, but to friends and family also stuck in lockdown. This calls for a massive redrawing of boundaries with relationships that are forced to take on a different nature. People are forced to try to develop new routines and cope with this new reality, and try to understand where their loved ones fit in this new picture. In my case, however, this has also provided the wonderful opportunity to bring people together, providing new opportunities to do things with loved ones that I was too busy to do before – like watching movies (rather than separate Netflix sessions), doing crosswords, and cooking elaborate meals together.
This lockdown has presented new opportunities, not only to sample those 700 yoga classes you always said you’d try out, develop a unhinged passion for baking sub-par sourdough or Bob Ross painting tutorials, but also to remember that in a time of crisis, fear and uncertainty, human connection, empathy and affection are what really matters. In times like these, it becomes increasingly apparent that a deadline does not matter more than an honest conversation or simple embrace with loved ones. But this has also created new pressures like, why are my partner and I not taking part in virtual candle-making workshops and falling in love all over again?
Spending the whole day everyday with your loved one(s) also forces you to witness multiple things you were not previously part of – sometimes for good reasons. It may be that you’ve been introduced to some weird or annoying personal habits, have discovered that your partner is one of those people who shout on the phone, or found out that you would absolutely hate them as a colleague. Whatever it is, living, sleeping and working together in a confined space can bring out some ugly truths.
Such confined spaces can also bring up unaired business that you previously had the distance to gain perspective on. A backlog of disagreements that were fended off by distracting yourself with other activities have found fertile ground to spring up and blossom into vicious fights you just have nowhere to run away from. Quite literally in the case of a man in Catania who ripped off his house arrest ankle bracelet because he just could not stand his wife anymore (fitting into some troubling tropes of nagging wives, but also a hilarious example of exasperation of lockdown exacerbating marital squabbles).
The truth is, the present reality is weird, and figuring out how to redefine your relationships with loved ones in close quarters is complex and difficult. Everyone will have a different experience of it – so you do you.
What feels like ten thousand years of solitude: loneliness and separation during Covid-19
“There is always something left to love.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
“Cease, cows, life is short.”
― Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
These two quotes perfectly represent my current lockdown mood: the first regarding my blossoming love for inanimate objects (primarily my few struggling plants) and the second my indomitable rage regarding people disregarding social distancing.
Whilst I am lucky to be experiencing this lockdown with my sister and her husband, I feel the loneliness of the lockdown is all-penetrating. In particular, I am Italian and my separation from my country for whom this COVID-19 crisis has been a tragedy of unimaginable heights and my family who are locked down, afraid and all separated has been a source of much anguish. I imagine many young people for whom family members and friends fit into the vulnerable range that are forced into self-isolation, the difficult distance is also peppered with worry for your family’s well-being. This has also pushed us to redefine how we can connect with each other from afar, whether through online scrabble matches (words with friends I’m looking at you) or houseparty/zoom and other apps that are probably exhilarated at their sudden popularity and relevance. Sharing film recommendations, coping strategies, recipes, yoga and exercise videos, curating playlists – the new ways in which we are able to show care for each other despite the distance are truly heartwarming. However, the strains and pressures on relationships when locked in together are also experienced through separation, like any long distance love (if you’re not howling love long distance by gossip when reading this, listen to it and join me) – connecting virtually is hard. In addition to this, the fact that we are not really doing all that much means you’ll be in a lot of calls grasping at straws for what to even talk about. What did we talk about before COVID-19 was an all-consuming conversation topic?
My favourites are also the new connections with random strangers, with the rise and dominion of the new email sign offs ‘take care’ ‘stay safe’ ‘stay healthy’. A new army of worried emailers is caring for the well-being of absolutely everyone who comes their way. My personal favourite is someone wishing me a ‘happy lockdown’ a grand total of three times in consecutive emails. Somehow a feeling of crisis has strengthened the virtual bonds that tie us together, reminding us of the power of showing kindness and empathy to total strangers (even if it is probably driven by our lockdown-fuelled desperate plea for human connection).
We however mustn’t forget the not-so-rosy side – that not all of us have the luxury of these support networks, virtual or not. For some, this has only exacerbated a feeling of isolation that we previously chased away with constant activity. For some of us already struggling with mental health, whether because of complex family relationships, or because you are already separated from your family due to conflict, persecution or poverty, whether you are undergoing abusive relationships and domestic violence (cases of domestic violence have been rising globally since the COVID-19 outbreak and self-isolation/lockdown measures were put in place) – loving in the lockdown takes on a totally different shape. If you’re an LGBTQ+ folk exploring your identity stuck with your homophbic/transphobic family, or a trans man struggling with the COVID-19 instructions to avoid chest-binding as it exacerbates symptoms – loving support networks are harder to reach and love becomes an evermore nebulous and complex concept.
Ever more reason to be there for each other online and for people you know are going through a more difficult time than ever. (How online support networks and much emotional labour have emerged as an extra burden for women in COVID-19’s ability to chip away at feminist anti-patriarchy work is covered in this issue’s Female Rage.)
The past few weeks/months (what day/month/time is it again?), the situation in many European countries has escalated so quickly I barely remember how we got here. Richard Parks, a man who has literally been in the Guinness World Book of Records for his ability to be in self-isolation when crossing Antarctica unsupported, has shone light on how whenever he has undergone such expeditions he always underwent serious training to develop an ability to be alone. We were utterly unprepared.
Why and how we should have been prepared (for example by avoiding incessant cuts to public health services, more EU solidarity and if we had listened to people who had predicted a pandemic and underlined the world’s lack of preparation for it) is beyond the scope of this article. The situation is dramatic, and with everyone suddenly being a self-approved epidemiologist and expert on viral diseases, we are being bombarded with information with vastly differing levels of authenticity – which only amplify the feeling of uncertainty.
To keep dragging Marquez into this, much like his novels, I don’t ever quite understand what’s going on, I’ve totally lost the concept of time and feel I am on a never-ending rollercoaster of love, sadness and loneliness – but I know that like every novel, it will eventually end.
 Disclaimer: I understand the multitude of experiences COVID-19 social distancing and lockdown measures have created – these have only been neatly packaged in this binary simply to satisfy my extended Marquez metaphor.  ANOTHER disclaimer: I know my limited range of experiences are not all-encompassing of some lesser privileged people for whom the COVID-19 pandemic has a totally different impact so I am aware that this is reflective of a smaller range of experiences, rather than a global picture.