Now that we might soon be able to talk about the Corona virus in the past tense, it is time to reflect on how this global pandemic affected our love lives.
If ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ had its challenges, I can assure you that ‘Love in the time of Corona’ did likewise. While people still fell in love during Covid-19, one may ask how deep was their love? Can one really be sure that the person one meets at a 1.5-meter Covid-safe distance will be one’s great love mate for life? If the tender words of affection uttered through three layers of a surgical mask really have the same affect? And can the pheromones that our bodies omit to potential lovers get past the smell of our hand sanitizers? How can interpersonal attraction develop with all these security measures around? I am merely asking the questions here…
The Corona pandemic has had a profound impact on national demographics. Spain where we live saw record highs for deaths and new lows for marriages last year. Not since the Civil War in the 1930s or the so-called Spanish Flu in the 1920s (which really wasn’t very Spanish), did we see similar profound effects on population statistics. And as expected, the birth rates took a nose-dive as well.
While deaths increased by almost 20%, which is remarkable it itself, the real mindboggling statistics were the weddings, which fell by over 60% in 2020. We are talking about the most common public manifestation of love, which by and large were cancelled. Why might one ask? Was it because people couldn’t have the usual grand wedding fiestas, or maybe because the time of Corona was not a time for new love?
But what about people who were already married and shacked up? How did Corona affect their love life?
On the plus side, people had more time for ‘hanky panky’. This was clearly noted in the sex-toy industry. While most businesses suffered during the pandemic, the sales of sex toys grew exponentially. As people couldn’t have fun outside their homes, they had to become more innovative inside their homes – and bedrooms. Denmark’s online sex toys sales doubled during the first few months of the pandemic, while ‘kinky’ UK lingerie producers saw similar hikes in sales.
But all was not fun and games. Confinement can also have many negative effects on couples.
In the first lockdown when we all watched or shared stories on social media, a UK actress recorded her ‘secret’, yet very public, Facebook video-diary. She mostly shared her frustration about her husband who just sat in front of the telly all day. She shared this with her hordes of online closet friends rather than with the person she had the issue with. Every day she taped herself inside different closets and under stairs in a state of increasing fury, whispering her disgust to her online followers, who could not have included her spouse. I finally lost interest in following her love-turned-to-hate drama, but hope they survived the pandemic. If not, she was not alone.
The still primarily Catholic Spain has one of EUs highest divorce rates, with close to 60% of marriages ending in separation or divorce. Not surprisingly, the pandemic only accentuated this trend, as couples were forced to be cooped up together during extended lockdowns. Involuntary confinement can generally do one of two things – it brings out old wounds and highlights problems, or it makes your love stronger. In many cases it led to divorces. According to the Italian National Divorce Association, the country’s divorce rates grew by 60% in 2020. Too much pasta and not enough patience?
Now for the real serious facts. The pandemic saw increasing rates of domestic violence all across EU. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), women usually face most danger from people they know. Though every country in the EU introduced special measures to protect women from intimate partner violence during the pandemic, shelters and domestic violence hotlines did not always have the funding to provide the support needed.
The added stress of being confined can make abusers more volatile, while the increased privacy of a lockdown will allow them to continue with less chance of being detected. On the other hand, the victims feel a double threat during a pandemic, fearing the aggressor indoors and the virus outside.
France saw a 30% increase of abuse cases in 2020, and even more in urban centres. What is called ‘silent requests’ for help (usually email or SMS) by abused women went up by 286% in the first 2 weeks of lockdown in Spain. In the Canary Islands a secret code was developed where women who were victims of family violence could go to any pharmacy and ask for a ‘Mask 19’, and the pharmacy would contact the emergency services on their behalf. Mask 19 has now been adopted across Spain, as well as in other countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Norway.
I think we can introduce a new expression into the English language:
Trial by Covid:
My son moved in with his girlfriend for the first time just before the pandemic. They not only survived a quarantine together, but also months of being laid off, a landlord from hell, contagion, tests, and an involuntary move while both of them were suffering with Covid. If all of this didn’t split them up, what will? I do not have a crystal ball, but now believe their prospects are fairly good.
Personally, I am pretty much the worst example when it comes to longevity of love and marriage, right behind the American author Erica Young, who in her book Fear of Fifty spoke of her numerous failed marriages. However, my third marriage (though technically I suppose I married four times, but ‘what happens in Venice stays in Venice’) has lasted a surprisingly long time, even through the pandemic. I am not saying we are like turtledoves all the time, and there are times during lockdown that my husband was lucky that I didn’t have a mallet handy, but we are still together. And after having survived nearly three 7-year itches and a global pandemic where we had to spend the first 2 months enclosed 24/7 in our 100 m2 house without tearing each other apart, I’d say that there is hope for us as well.
So, for God’s sake, or for Love’s sake, let us hope we soon can speak of this whole phenomenon in the past, and of the distant days when our love survived the Corona!
El Páis, EU, European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), BBC news, Cision PR Newswire.
Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquez