Love in the Time of Covid: Quarantining Alone, Quarantining Together


Dr. Kimberly Pendleton. Photo courtesy of subject.

Whether you’ve spent the past nine months living alone, sequestered with a partner or trying to choose what shirt to wear on a date over Zoom, love in the time of Covid has uncovered unfamiliar elements in each of us. Yet, this is the time we are in, and this is the time of which we are being asked to make sense. 

What does love and intimacy look like when we are deeply lonely, yet longing for a minute to ourselves? What does connection look like when some of us are keenly aware of our last hug, or when we’ve been trapped in a house with our families feeling a little too connected?

As an intimacy coach, it is always my job to listen to people process and move through their feelings on dating, connection, marriage, divorce, and all of the other ways we connect and disconnect. However, my sessions with clients throughout 2020 have covered a wider range of emotions and trauma than any previous year. We’ve covered everything from feeling stir-crazy and incredibly lonely to the excitement of a newly committed connection to exasperated despair that this is the person with whom I’m facing this disaster.

What is it actually like to date during a pandemic?

On the one hand, my clients find it’s harder to detect the chemistry and spark that dates can sometimes offer. Marriage or even rushed cohabitation has a captivity air about it when so few outside options are available, even for just a few hours. But on the other hand, a new version of my clients has surfaced: one that is ready for a more honest look at what they need and who they are when they are up against their edges.

Sarah, who is single, had just decided that she was finally ready to meet the man of her next phase of life. In a coaching session, I guided her through a visualization where she saw him walking toward her deliberately, calmly, sweetly. His smile was kind and his face familiar, though she had never seen him before. She felt at home. When she finished the visualization and we began talking about it, we both had tears in our eyes.

Like many of my clients, Sarah first found me because she wanted to finally allow herself to fully heal from decades of sexual trauma that she knew was still haunting her dating choices, even after years of therapy. She uncovered the version of herself she most wanted to be, and the man she most wanted to meet. And then, Covid hit. Just as she was ready to download dating apps again, she was forced inside, alone. The past nine months have been up and down as she has attempted to connect across Covid lines. The few dates she has gone on – a socially distant picnic, and a patio drink or two across wide tables – were tinged with extra pressure. 

Are you worth breaking the rules? Are you worth the risk?

Sarah is feeling the loneliness at home, and even occasionally on the dates themselves as the invisible wall between human contact remains intact. Yet, at the same time, she is finding the increased texts, jokes back and forth, and talking (with no interrupting kissing available) is also giving her more time to feel and reveal what she wants. As the world undergoes a collective trauma, she is actually allowing hers to heal by slowing the dating process way down and allowing for lots of space in-between all of the feelings. It’s not exactly a silver lining, but a layer within a multilayered moment in which so many things are true at once.

Meanwhile, Amy is in a very different position. As the mom of three children, one of whom is special needs, she hasn’t had a moment alone since quarantine. She has always toyed with the idea of homeschooling but never pulled the trigger. When schools closed, she realized this was her chance. 

With her husband Adam working from home and three children to manage and teach, Amy’s meager time for herself pre-Covid flew out the window. On top of that, she had been hoping to start a business as a coach and tarot reader in January, but she was waiting for life to settle down a bit. Little did she expect what the year would bring, and how her schedule would bear the brunt of the lockdown.

So many mothers I work with are in positions similar to Amy’s. Intimacy with Adam feels like an afterthought at best, and an exasperating additional request at the end of a day of meeting others’ needs at worst. Carving out even 30 minutes each day to drink coffee in the dark and gather her thoughts before the house wakes up is a small miracle. As much as she loves her family, loneliness sounds like something of a dream.

For Sarah and Amy, and all of my clients in-between – wherever they are on the spectrum of love and dating, marriage and divorce, parenthood and single life – this is a moment in which getting to know ourselves and what we truly want is more important, and more elusive, than ever.

Who are we when we are dating as a global pandemic rages, our democracy crumbles and the globe burns under the magnifying glass of global warming? 

You suddenly have permission to say exactly what you’re feeling. After all, it might be the end of the world. When I was married to my ex-husband, I lived in a studio apartment and was obsessed with preparing for the apocalypse. I filled an orange bag with water, food, flashlights and candles. I waited for the alarm to sound. My panic correlated less with a real sense of cataclysmic danger from the outside and more to an internal knowing that there was a part of me – maybe many parts – that could only be revealed if everything about our lives were blown to smithereens.

And now all of us, without meaning to be or wanting it, are here. We’re in the space of finding out who we are when the world changes abruptly – when jobs we thought were secure are suddenly precarious, when school is virtual, when touch is dangerous, when whatever we are able to call home is a new border by which we are bound.

Looking back, I think I knew that end times would force me to see a side of myself that was different from the placating partner trying to fit the pieces together. I knew that a version of me would come out who was braver and stranger – and said more of what she needed to say. This is exactly what I’m seeing in my clients, whether they are asking for mornings alone or for deeper connection over Zoom. The façades have faded, and the formalities have been revealed to be little more than a distraction.

Who are we in these moments? What do we truly, really want? Who is it that can be with us and our questions, and face the answers alongside us?

The pandemic and all that it has brought with it are an invitation for dating honestly or reaching into ourselves and using the voice we find that lives all the way down inside of us. You are packing your orange emergency bag of what you’ll need next to light the way. 

Kimberly Rose Pendleton, PhD is a high-performance intimacy and leadership coach for entrepreneurs. Learn more about her here and follow her on Instagram @drkimberlyrosependleton.

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