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Quarantined and Separated, Or Love in the Time of COVID

by Keith Gatling | 10 months ago

As we sit here for our sixth week in quarantine, many of us are going stir crazy sitting around with family members that we can't get away from, in houses or apartments that would be too small for all of us to get away from each other in, even if they were castles. And yes, while it's true that many of us miss our friends from work, a recent article pointed out that many introverts are having the time of their lives not having to go out and deal with people. On the other hand, I've heard from some of those introverts that the reality of being stuck at home with all their family members 24/7, with no escape, is worse the normal life, where they at least had a little alone time.

But there's one group of people that no one seems to have given much thought to...people in relationships, who don't live together, but are quarantined from each other.

Now, not everyone has it that bad. I heard a friend say something that you wouldn't have heard from a parent 30 years ago. She said that she was glad that her two daughters were at least quarantined with their boyfriends that they lived with, and didn't have to go through this alone. Wow...even the thought of my sharing an apartment with one of my girlfriends back in the 80s would not have gone over well with their parents. But times have changed, and as Cole Porter said of the Pilgrims in his song Anything Goes, nowadays, instead of landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock would land on them.

But I'm not talking about those who are fortunate enough to be living with their significant other during this time of quarantine, so that they don't have to go it alone. I'm talking about those whodo have to go it alone for the time being. What can they do?

Well yes, thanks to the miracle of the internet, there are any number of high tech solutions to this loneliness. You can Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype each other (and I still have to say that that last one sounds painful); but there are other creative ways of dealing with this that are rather low-tech, rather quaint, and might seem rather romantic to look back on, when we get to the other side of this. I'm going to talk about two of them that are family friendly.

Car dates

Wait. What's this? Can I possibly be saying that you go out in your car somewhere to meet your significant other? Yes, but no. I have a friend who, once a week, drives out somewhere where she meets her boyfriend, and they talk to each other through rolled down windows a good six feet or more away. Or maybe it's through rolled up windows parked right next to each other. I didn't want to pry. Imagine going out to look at the lake together...in separate cars. It's better than nothing at all.

Writing Letters

Not email, but actual letters that you write on paper, put in an envelope, address, stamp, and put in the mailbox. A lot have people have suggested treating this time as if you were in a long-distance relationship back in the "old days."

Frankly, I remember the "old days", and how much I looked forward to getting letters from my girlfriend downstate or in the midwest. True, with email you can write each other every day and get almost instant gratification, but with a regular letter, there's that feeling of anticipation, that wondering "am I going to get a letter today?", and that sitting down to read it anywhere, without having to worry about what your battery level is.

Now I'm not saying that you have to hand write the letters. Goodness no...if you've ever seen my handwriting you'll know that word processing has been a blessing to me and anyone who's ever had to read anything I've written. You can write the letter on your computer, and then print it out to send, or...if your handwriting is legible...you can do it by hand, on nice stationery that you've ordered online.

And there's something about the slowness of postal correspondence that makes it special. We're so used to the idea of email being instantaneous that if we don't get a response within an hour, we start to worry. But postal mail has a built-in delay factor into it that teaches us to learn to wait. Back in the old days I figured it would take two days for the letter to get from me to my girlfriend downstate, two days for her to write an answer, and then two days for the reply to arrive. That's a six-day turnaround time...and if you got a letter back in only five you were thrilled.

And, of course, you can write about the things you intend to do when you're able to be together again (but I did say I'd keep this family friendly).

The other thing that an actual postal letter gives you is something to hold onto. Yes, I know, you can keep your email forever too, and search for it by the name of the person who sent it to you. As a librarian, I understand how much easier it is to search for a certain conversation through old emails, but there's something extremely sentimental about having a box of letters to go back and read through later on.

Which brings me to the next important thing about these letters...years from now they'll be historical documents about your life during this time. For those of you who don't keep journals or diaries, these letters will serve this purpose for your descendants.

OK...now let's talk about something that's not pretty. Suppose you do this letter-writing thing, and suppose weeks, months, or years from now, you and your significant other split up. What do you do then? I'll tell you what you don't do...don't throw them away. Don't ceremonially burn them. Even if your eventual new significant other wishes you would, resist the temptation to do this. Why? Because they're historical documents about your life at that particular time. They're a window into what you were thinking and why you were thinking it. This is the librarian in me talking here.

I've thrown away boxes of letters from three old girlfriends I've had over the course of the years from 18 to 30, and now I really wish I hadn't...mainly because this means that I no longer get to fully understand what I was thinking at the time. I understand that breakups can be painful, and that you may want to get rid of everything having to do with that person as soon as possible, but rather than toss or burn them, put them in a box marked to keep sealed for 10 or so years, when you might be able to look at them a little differently, and with a little perspective. I know I wish I had done that...but maybe that's just because I'm a librarian.

But really, in this time of social distancing that we're all getting a little tired of, if you find yourself unable to be with the one you love, let the Postal Service help you "reach out and touch someone."