The title of this column was inspired by the novel “Love in the Time of Cholera,” written by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, first published in Spanish in 1985 and in English in 1988. From my research, I discovered that seven cholera pandemics have occurred in the past 200 years, with the first pandemic originating in India in 1817 and more recent cholera pandemics in South America and Yemen.
Let’s talk about “Love in the Time of COVID-19.” During traumatic times like pandemics, we temporarily regress to levels of more primitive functioning. This, of course, makes life more difficult and stressful. We are — rightfully — worried about our present and future and our attitudes and behavior reflect that worry in a variety of ways. I notice that I crave sweets more than I did before the pandemic. Why? Because they feel comforting to me and, yes, I too have regressed. Therapists are not immune to human emotions! But perhaps the difference is that I am aware that I have regressed and I am working with it consciously, not allowing it to play out unconsciously and mess up my life (and waistline).
I notice that my clients who are living with their partners are, in many ways, having the hardest time with the pandemic. Being quarantined together, during a time of global crisis and uncertainty, is hard on any person, but when you’re doing it with your partner, it can be really rough on the relationship.
When we are coupled and we regress, we have someone right beside us, often 24/7, who is also regressed. When two people are both functioning at more primitive levels, who can “help” the other when both need to be helped? For example: with most couples, when one person has the flu but the other doesn’t, the healthy one can take care of the sick one. But when both people have the flu? Uh oh! Who’s the loving caretaker now? This is where we are with the pandemic: who’s that kind, compassionate caretaker now, when both of us are scared, worried about health and finances, and likely working from home (or not working at all).
How can you work with this mutual regression? Find ways to love your partner more during the time of COVID-19. Asking each other, “Right now, today, how can I love you more?” is a direct, loving way to find out. And when it’s your turn to answer the question, keep it reasonable (e.g., something your partner is actually capable of doing). Making impossible requests like “You need to stop being so needy” or those that require major personality changes aren’t helpful.
And if you are alone and regressing, how can you love yourself more during the time of COVID-19?
Do things that make your body happy: find movement it enjoys, treat it kindly, touch it gently, masturbate, get out in the sun, wear fabrics and textures that make your body feel safe and comfortable, eat things that your body likes — find a combination of food that makes your body happy (healthy) and food that your mind wants (comforting junk food). This will keep you from developing the “COVID-15” (pounds) while still enjoying some pleasantly junky food.
Do things that make your mind happy: watch movies/videos that lift your spirits, limit your exposure to news/social media, talk with friends, take some Zoom classes (there are so many to choose from) and read books that stimulate/intrigue/comfort you. Go for walks and say hello to everyone you meet (socially distanced, of course) — it’s one of the few real-life types of social connections we can have right now. I find people are much friendlier now because we spend so much time at home, away from other people. In my neighborhood, I see so many people walking their dogs, and I often tell them, “What a great dog” (because I’m a dog lover, I don’t have to lie) and — boom — there’s an instant, human connection of sorts, made through a nice word about someone’s dog.
Whether you’re coupled or not, during the pandemic, you don’t have to be a victim of your own (or another’s) regression. Instead, you can — consciously — work with it and use it to actually make your life better. Try it and see for yourself.