Experience

FEAR AND LOATHING IN ISOLATION

It’s a testing time for all, not least those who can’t see, or worse, stand their partners

08.04.2020 | Phoebe McDowell
 

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Not all isolations were created equal. It's easier for some than others. For those with lots of space at their disposal, with rolling hills and empty beaches for back gardens. For nuclear families, where the distinction is clear, and the logistics are navigable. But what about those cooped up in council flats, whose relationships don’t adhere to societal convention? Or those whose staunch adherence to the rules is at odds with their friends who flout them? We spoke to three people whose romantic and platonic relationships are suffering. 

BREAKING UP WHILE SHACKED UP

Anneka from Camberwell 

Things had been off for a while. We’d been bickering over stupid stuff - the stuff you see in films, like not putting the lid on the milk properly and laying it down, instead of standing it up, which causes it to drip all over the fridge shelf. The sex - what little there was left of it - had stopped almost completely. We were living separate lives, both capitalising on the work drinks we used to complain about, and the reunion dinners we used to swerve in order to spend more time with each other.

We agreed to break up. “We can’t stay together because we’re over invested,” he said, “yep, let’s start thinking about where we go from here, logistically”, I agreed. It was Sunday evening, mid-March. We live in a one bed council flat. It could charitably be described as cosy. The living room is in the kitchen, and the toilet is in the shower. Little did we know we’d soon be spending our every waking minute here. Home wasn’t an option for either of us: His dad is frontline NHS, and my parents are vulnerable. I toyed with the idea that this may be our way of calling an unspoken truce. A ‘let’s see how it goes’. A ‘we’re better that this’. And momentarily, ‘there were glimmers of tenderness, physically and emotionally, but the bitterness has now hit fever pitch.’

I don’t recognise me, him or us. We point score. We go purposefully out of our way to disrupt the routine we created and cultivated together. I found out from a friend that he’s texting someone I know. Texting texting. Yes, really. He doesn’t know I know that, or am writing this. The pain is unbearable. I am mad. So mad. I cry silently with my back to him, on the odd occasion he decides to head to bed at the same time as me. Then we get up, and do it all over again.

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POLYAMORY IN A PANDEMIC

Kim from Oxford

When the government advised social distancing, I knew that it would change my life. I live with Thomas, my partner, who is at higher risk from coronavirus. We’ve been together for eight years and I would do anything to protect him. However, I’m polyamorous and also in another relationship. This lockdown means that I don’t get to see my other partner, Pete.

Pete was devastated to hear that we wouldn’t get to see each other, possibly for months. We’ve met up once or twice a week during the nine months that we’ve been dating. These dates are now remote, using WhatsApp video-calls to spend an evening together each week and talking on the phone while both playing a game or watching the same thing on TV. We also message each other nearly every day, including pictures of what’s happening in our respective houses.

Thomas is also distancing from his other three partners, who he’s been dating for between four months and two years. We’ve been polyamorous for five years so are well-practiced in the amount of communication that is needed to make it work. Under normal circumstances, we discuss our plans in advance to try and avoid dating at the same place, but that’s not possible at the moment. We tend to arrange our dates at the same time, each going into a separate room of our house until both dates are over (I usually take the living room and Thomas goes into the home office).

Because I live with Thomas, I see him much more often than other partners, particularly at the moment. I never aim to share my time equally, but negotiate a schedule to ensure everyone is comfortable with the amount of time we’re spending together. Balancing my relationships is now more difficult because Pete and I are currently unable to have any physical contact. I’m sad that we’re both missing out on this and guilty that I’m still able to touch, kiss and have sex with Thomas.

The pandemic is stressful for everyone and it’s hard to watch my partner struggling from afar. Normally if Pete’s had a difficult day, I would pop around and cook for him, or we’d just spend some time together cuddling, but I don’t know the best way to lend this kind of support from a distance. All I can do is be there through a phone screen and hope that that’s enough.

Spending an extended period of quality time with Thomas is lovely but also bittersweet as this is a time when neither of us can see our other partners. Pete and I cancelled a weekend away together at the end of March so, when social distancing is lifted, I’m looking forward to rearranging that and getting to make up some of the time that we’re missing out on now.

FRIENDS FLOUTING THE RULES

Yasmin from Hampstead

The doorbell rings, my dad opens it. It’s an Amazon delivery. The man holding a package hands it to him. He closes the door. I see all of this in slow-motion and want to scream. Pre-corona this transaction would have been totally normal. Now, it is careless. “Why did you not wait for him to leave the package at the door?” “He wasn’t wearing a mask” “Ugh, that was so stupid!” I cry. I don’t care if people think this is an overreaction: we are being told to stay two meters apart, so damnit, please listen.

Arguably, messaging around what is and is not acceptable could definitely have been made clearer to all over the last few weeks, but there are ones that really do stick. Stay at home. Flatten the curve. Save lives. So I was horrified and hurt when one of my closest friends, Jack, had decided that now, during a global pandemic (!), was the best time to travel half-way across the globe. Twice.

Let’s go back a bit. In mid-March, me and three friends (including Jack) were due to go away to Wales together for the weekend (this was just before the FCO advised British citizens against all non-essential travel worldwide). A couple of days before this trip, Jack tells us he can’t come because he has to visit his girlfriend in the US. He was worried Trump’s EU ban would soon extend to the UK. “I hope you understand,” he said. I did not.

A couple of weeks later he and his girlfriend flew out to Korea, to visit his father and grandparents. Yes - grandparents. Just writing that down and seeing the words glare back at me on the screen makes me sad and angry. He’s still out there now.

Bizarrely I found out about the Korea trip through a friend. Save for a “hope you’re keeping safe!” reply to an Instagram story I posted, he has not engaged in any meaningful conversation; no calls, WhatsApp messages; Houseparty invites.

Maybe on some level he knows what he has done is wrong? That he could risk the lives of others if he (or his girlfriend) were to be carriers of coronavirus? Surely, he must? Perhaps he knows my dad and sister are health professionals and this would upset me? Feigning ignorance, or saying “I’ll be fine,” (yes, you might be, being a healthy 20-something, but others will not) whilst blatantly ignoring government advice is unquestionably selfish. I’m not sure I’ll be able to properly get over that.

IMAGES | SHUTTERSTOCK

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