April 17, 2020

Sexy times these are not. With the coronavirus blazing through the world, divorce rates are surging, weddings are being postponed, couples are being torn apart by border closures, and for some, loved ones are taken away suddenly without a goodbye.

Stay-at-home mandates and imposed social distancing have not only made dating even harder but also put a strain on our existing relationships (including with God). In Spain, churchgoers were completely aghast to discover that they were no longer permitted to kiss statues of the Virgin Mary, and in Italy, people have been forbidden to greet each other by kissing or shaking hands to contain the spread of Covid-19. The lack of physical contact has forced us to get creative with the ways we traditionally express affection: kisses have given way to newfangled forms of greeting like elbow bumps or foot taps. Gifting-wise, flowers are no longer a way to a girl’s heart. Instead, bouquets of masks and alcohol wipes are the dernier cri in Hong Kong. Similarly, Mary Jane Villegas, a florist in the Philippines, sells ‘anti-nCoV’ bouquets that are packed with flowers, gloves, soap, sanitiser, toothpaste and a mask.

What does one do if they have needs to be met? Recently, a friend was espousing the benefits of having a “corona boyfriend” to help her ride out the storm. Or there’s such a thing as ‘a Covid sex buddy’, a mutual sexual partner who socially distances from everyone apart from you. It’s no surprise, then, that people are turning to dating apps to ease their lonely hearts and to escape the ennui of quarantine life. To help millions around the world interact with one another, Tinder has made its Passport feature free for all users till the end of April, so they can virtually chat with anyone, anywhere in the world. For some, physical distancing isn’t a deterrent to romance. In Brooklyn, a man noticed a girl dancing on the roof of a building next to his apartment. Shortly after he waved to her, he sent her a drone containing a note with his number written on it like a modern-day pigeon messenger. A few hours later, they dressed up and went on a dinner date in their separate homes while FaceTiming each other.  

Couples don’t have it easy, too. It’s a test of their compatibility. Living under the same roof for 24 hours a day is akin to being in a pressure cooker, as the lack of personal space and privacy can cause the slightest irritation to escalate into an argument of epic proportions. Reports have shown that divorce rates are now dramatically increasing across China, ever since couples have been spending an inordinate amount of time together during home quarantine. In Sichuan and Shanxi, bitter altercations between couples have led to a surge in “codivorces,” due to intensified feelings and heightened interactions. On the flip side, those in unhappy relationships but lack the willpower to leave, may finally have an epiphany that they are with the wrong person and learn to walk away.

People are even turning to animals for companionship. Since the virus outbreak, animal shelters across the US have seen an increase in pet adoption numbers, as pets are known to provide emotional support. If you can’t get a pet, plants are the next best thing. Whether it’s a human being, a dog, or a giant fern, the best source of love still ultimately comes from within. And it starts with ourselves. I used to hate being alone, but now I am learning slowly to live with myself and to enjoy the sacred silence of a solitary meal. 

Just like how Gabriel García Márquez compares lovesickness to a disease (cholera), hankering after love for the sake of filling a quarantine-induced void may cause more suffering in the long run. Love isn’t simply about romanticism; it’s about being compassionate, showing kindness, having empathy, learning forgiveness and displaying generosity to those less fortunate. The world is experiencing a shake-up, and we need love more than ever to get us through these dark and exigent times.