The Love Club: Relearning intimacy with your quarantine romances

preen covid intimacy

preen covid intimacy

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it’s safe to admit that the rest of us who aren’t isolating with a romantic partner are yearning big time. We’re not all living out a romantic trope like the guy on Reddit who wanted to shoot his shot during the quarantine and asked his husband of nine months to be in an actual romantic relationship with him.

Well, assuming the story is true. Jury’s still out on that one. But even if it isn’t true, there are so many other COVID-19 era love stories that are just as unlikely.

Love in the time of COVID-19 is a display of human tenacity. Take New York photographer Jeremy Cohen’s “How to date a Quarantined Cutie” series of posts on Instagram. But we don’t all have drones and plastic bubbles at our disposal for our déclaration d’amours. So what do real-life Filipino romances look like right now?

I’m one of the many people who reinstalled a dating app during the first week of quarantine so I could do a bit of low-risk flirting. Like Jo March and Mitski, I’m so lonely but I’m not exactly the dating type. I haven’t even opened Tinder again since I downloaded it. Unlike scared old me, though, 23-year-old service desk analyst Gernan is making the most out of a Bumble match. After first swiping right at each other during the lockdown, him and his match agreed to meet up and fool around after the quarantine. In the meantime, they’ve been chatting and exchanging memes at odd hours in the night. For him, their arrangement is not just about the desire and anticipation. He says it’s about having someone who can give you strength and acknowledge your faults despite the distance.

There are those like this anonymous 25-year-old radio station producer who find that their romance was only made possible because of present circumstances. Him and his friend have grown intimate since they started staying in their office during the quarantine. They had gone on a date at a restaurant across their office but it was their new constant that played a bigger part in pouring honey on their dynamic. “We see each other day in and day out. While she was here, we spent mornings and evenings on our building’s roof deck, sunning ourselves or staring at the cityscape,” he says.

Couples who are going through the quarantine apart are getting more inventive as the days go by. Musician and writer Elgene Zalamea, 24, says, “It’s a bit hard when you’re used to being together all the time but it’s always nice to know that my partner is one press of a button away.” To make up for the distance, him and his partner go on drinking video calls and watch movies together through Netflix Party. Even though apart, they still manage to treat each other to a meal with surprise food deliveries. “For now we’d just have to stay home until this is all over and find comfort in knowing that we’ll see each other after this safe and healthy,” he adds.

Speaking of treats, 23-year-old education programs officer Dani gushed about how one of her partner’s love language is through music. Raph, a music production major, has been a great support to her and has helped quell her anxieties by playing music for her, with Raph playing songs that Dani requests. “Hinarana niya ako this ECQ,” she says. Sometimes, they even do virtual duets. Since they both enjoy games, they also play board games and online games together.

Software engineer Joana, 23, and her boyfriend Arlan, 24, celebrated their anniversary through video chat. They dressed up for the date and pretended they were going out to some place nice. Joanna shares that while they found it pretty funny to be all glammed up at home, they really enjoyed their makeshift dinner together and movie date (also through Netflix Party).

Similarly, 24-year-old nutritionist Elli and her partner have a date planned for the long weekend. They’re going to have a planning workshop for their after-pandemic trips and preparing for the online excursions they’re about to go on much sooner. She shares some of the things they have their eyes on are museum trips and the Intramuros virtual tour. Elli also says that they still maintain their usual after-work hour dates.

Maya is also learning to become a bit of an expert in going on virtual dates. The 41-year-old researcher met her beau, who lives in Australia, online. They were able to spend time together in person this January and decided that they wanted to go into a relationship. They’ve been talking and sending photos to each other every day without fail. They both felt that they were strengthening their bond so they could reach the point where they’re ready to move in together. Maya divulges that they’re both video-averse so pictures were the only way they got a glimpse of each other during their first few weeks dating. Before the pandemic, she was supposed to visit him again and so the couple was devastated when the borders first closed. “It is truly like a movie for us. Perhaps for new couples, things like new interests or personal troubles would be impediments but who would have thought a pandemic would be a reason for lovers not to be seeing other in this day and age?” They were hoping that the community quarantine would be over in two weeks. The conversations they’ve been having about it however are giving them insight on how well they’d get along once they’re finally reunited.

Forced to accept that they won’t be seeing each other for a couple of months, they’re trying their best to be pragmatic. When they first heard about the indefinite closing of borders, Maya says, “My immediate response was, ‘Well, honey, we just have to be creative for the mean time.’ He agreed that we cannot be morose when many don’t even have food to eat. ‘The universe does not decide based on us,’ he said.” They had to adjust and try video conferencing. On their first virtual date, she shares that they were both dressed formally while laughing over COVID-19 memes. They have a lot of other things planned like visiting places on Google Earth.

Homer, a 22-year-old student, is dating a fellow artist. He says that while people have this notion of dates being place-bound, the act of expressing how and what you feel for each other is dating in itself. When the internet is the only way to reach out to your partner, you tend to send each other a lot of things. Asking and discussing things with each other online right now is equivalent to “seeing” each other.

Considering how love, or something like it, must now conquer distance, what is intimacy without touch? For Elli, the conditions right now had them communicating better with each other to compensate for the lack of physical intimacy. “The constant checking-up, communicating our plans for the future, and knowing each other’s daily routine helped ease the everyday dread of not being together. In fact, I don’t miss him actually, because we’re communicating ALL the time,” she admits.

Maya agrees that intimacy is something you can grow into even if you’re not under the bedsheets. It can be cultivated by making plans together. She shares, “Right now, we’re thinking that the situation can be a way for us to know each other’s interest, to better communicate our needs and insecurities (yes, I tell him directly but nicely when I get jealous), fulfill our partner’s need in ways possible and know how they are spending their days and how they see the future with you.”

In Joanna’s experience, you can only be truly intimate with someone when you’ve determined you’re in an environment that safely allows you to be. She says, “To me, intimacy is vulnerability (regardless of your proximity with your partner). It can only be achieved once you’ve established a mutual trust. When I’m feeling inspired, I like to write, and I send him short snippets of whatever I’ve come up with. He, on the other hand, likes to draw, so he would sometimes sketch something for me. We’ve also fallen into the habit of writing each other letters.”

Dani has the same idea about how intimacy is about trusting each other and having trust in your relationship. “I consider it intimate whenever he simply asks me how I’ve been or if I’ve been feeling stressed or anxious lately. I guess, intimacy depends on your love language as a couple. And for couples to find that intimacy, you must know what makes each other smile ganyan – and work your way through it,” she imparts.

Homer shares that it’s about having a deeper understanding of your partner. “The funny thing is that we had a conversation where we would take the streets to protest if ever the quarantine has been lifted. Intimacy in the time of COVID is having conversations that aren’t focused on the individual but rather on a greater scheme of things; political, socio-cultural views and alike. By knowing these, surely you would know your partner more and be more close to each other,” he reveals.

It’s a trying time to be in a relationship. Whether going through this crisis together has couples grow closer or apart is relative. Intimacy has always been a lot of work but during the quarantine, that’s even more apparent. After hearing about these stories, I’m convinced it’s well worth it to put in the effort and be part of the love club. Anybody looking for a ka-quaranthing?


Art by Neal Alday

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