How the Pandemic Can Improve Our Love Lives for Good
I remember the 80s, when AIDS came out. After the initial shock that this disease can hit any sexually active person, things went back to pretty much normal. Yes, using condoms had become more or less the norm for a first sexual encounter, not everybody used them, but people didn’t necessarily change their behaviour. The sexual revolution from the 60s, and the freedom of sexual choice that came with it, was still in full swing.
And it still is. The question whether the new flame is compatible or not, gets solved in the bedroom. The sooner the better.
In today’s world, nobody raises an eyebrow when “dating someone” is used synonymously with “sleeping together”.
And now we have this virus that can potentially kill us by breathing the same air as the attractive stranger we’re meeting for drinks.
We were collectively in lockdown, many of us in solitude, craving human interaction. It was a time of social separation, but it was also a time of deep reflection. A lot of us did not want to go back to our old patterns of behaviour once the restrictions eased. There was some form of wisdom that we wanted the system to reveal to us.
Then the restrictions eased. And cautiously, we tried out our new freedom. Meeting new people was possible again.
Why I Wrote This Article
Three things happened in my life in the last couple of weeks that prompted me to write this article.
Dumped by SMS
The first was a call from a lady who was unceremoniously dumped via SMS after sleeping with a man very early on in the dating phase. She was heartbroken. She thought he was “the one” (he wasn’t) and was now beating herself up for following her heart, instead of her head.
The second was a girl’s talk, over coffee, where a friend told me that a date had asked her for a sexual favour (she declined). Yes, they had kissed, but taking it to *that* level immediately was not what she had in mind.
An exercise in patience
The third was a phone conversation with another friend (male this time) who told me how he courted his now wife. This man, who was very much in demand after his divorce, fell in love with a woman whose culture forbade her to sleep with a man before marriage. Yes, there was kissing and cuddling, but no sex (and for all you smart people out there – no prelude to sex either. And yes, the episode takes place in the 2010, not 1910.). One weekend, they were invited to her parents’ home, sleeping in separate rooms. Frustrated, he called his mother. Her answer was: “Son, that’s how it should be”. And he agreed. And waited. And is happily married with three beautiful children. He wasn’t joking when he told me: “All your clients should meet virtually for the first four weeks. Then for the next four weeks, they are only allowed to meet when they wear masks and keep the social distance.” This is how the pandemic can improve our love lives for good.
Does that sound ludicrous?
What is dating, really?
Let’s have a look at what “dating” really means, and what happens during sex.
The dating period in a couple’s lifecycle is really meant to be the test period. It’s the phase where two people get to know one another on a deeper, and more complex, level. It’s the time where they practice the first steps of the dance that will become the couple’s continuous balance of self vs. unity, of me vs. us, of intimacy vs. distance. It’s the “how are we when we are together” phase. It’s also the phase of self-discovery: “who am I when I am with you”?
Let’s talk about…
Sex is a ritual of bonding a couple. And I am not talking about any ethereal spiritual connection (also not about bondage!), I am talking about biology and the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, the “bonding hormone”, gets released into the woman’s bloodstream when she gives birth to a baby. It helps with birth, bonding with the baby, and milk production.
Oxytocin and more
Oxytocin is also released during intimate touch, sex, and especially an orgasm: this is true for women AND men.
It’s responsible for that wonderful feeling of closeness and connection we experience during and after sex. It’s also responsible for the man’s desire to protect the woman.
Oxytocin is simply a wonder drug. Unfortunately, it comes with side effects. One major side effect is that we lose our ability for critical thinking. Oxytocin is our in-built version of rose-coloured glasses.
So, sex early on in the dating period makes us feel bonded to the other person, while at the same time diminishes our ability to think clearly. It’s the reason why so many people overlook obvious flaws in the other person. The rude awakening comes sooner or later.
And this is where the pandemic is coming in.
During lockdown, we have only allowed people from our innermost circle into our homes. If we think of the architecture of trust as a dartboard with concentric rings, only the people in the bull’s eye of that dartboard were allowed to be near us. Everyone else had to keep their distance.
On the other end of the pandemic pendulum, we could observe “the-devil-may-care” and “caution-to-the-wind” behaviour, especially after the restrictions were eased. No masks, no social distancing, intimacy here and now.
The good path is probably in the middle. Distance and masks during the first in-person date. Discovering the other person. Who are they? What are their opinions? Do I like their sense of humour? Their views? Do they listen to me or are they talking non-stop? What are they like in different situations, different environments? How do I like who I am when I am with them? Do they pressure me into something I don’t want or do they give me space? Do they treat me with respect? Do I respect myself when I am with them?
A Pandemic That Brought Us Even Closer
My friends Jill Saville, David Holland, Stephane Compain, and I were in agreement that we were both lucky to live through lockdown with our chosen partners. It was the pandemic that brought us even closer. And we wouldn’t want to spend this period with anybody else.
Not everybody was so lucky.
In an age where erotic attraction has become confused with love, the pandemic offers us a chance to take it a bit slower. It offers us the opportunity to extend the testing phase, to simply date longer, before we make a decision. Some constellations end when the dating phase is over – and that’s a good thing, as they were not meant to blossom into relationships. It’s better than being bonded to someone we’re not compatible with and having to spend the next lockdown with them.