A Perfect Pandemic Love

The safest approach to dating during a pandemic is to go solo. There’s a faintly depressing paradox here. But I may have inadvertently found the perfect way to love despite distancing.

At a time when pretty much anything and everything can be acknowledged and debated in the public sphere, there’s a part of myself that’s very hard to write about.

I have a love that’s very unfashionable. My paramour and I cannot meet or speak with each other at present and for an indefinite period into the future. There’s no digital or physical evidence of this romance that I can point to, no tagged photos or corny gifts or grand gestures recountable by mutual friends.

I love them deeply and I am as certain of this as I am of my own name. They do not love me — not yet, anyway, or maybe not ever. But the trust and respect I have felt from them for me — the regard with which they held me — was unlike anything I have experienced before or since. Thus this particular asymmetry, which many would consider fundamentally flawed and unstable, actually doesn’t bother me.

This is not a new kind of romantic situation. It’s like having a lover who is off at war in some remote place in the 19th century, or courting someone with the patience born of watching them come to their own conclusions in their own time, except both at once. Every hour that passes is an hour closer to that beautiful day when we’ll meet again in joy and freedom, whenever that may be. But I try not to rely on this future memory too heavily, since it may well not happen. The point of this love, like Life, is the journey and not the destination.

This love used to press into my heart with razor sharp edges that wracked me with hurt, guilt, betrayal, blame, and confusion. With the benefit of time, reason, and understanding, these shards have smoothed into a gentle kaleidoscope, like sea glass in a tumbler. I tamed these feelings out of necessity, since they have nowhere else to go and no one else to harm, but in doing so I’ve also created something beautiful and sustaining. This is the pearl my oyster heart has cultivated, is cultivating now.

The fullness of this love accompanies my steps and soothes my soul. It keeps me from seeking new entanglements — not because of any promises or constraints, but because I don’t feel the thirst and desperation of extended solitude as keenly. The more opulently romantic I feel inside, the more ascetic I become externally. Love is not just in the declarations and the presents and loud togetherness; it’s also in the spaces between, where I think and gather myself in preparation for a new era.

The main guidance I’m left with during this purgatory is to be true to myself. It’s my half of the only thing I have that resembles a pact: they will keep being the person they are and I should keep being the person I am, and when the time is right something magical might happen again like it did for two honest and curious individuals before. There is nothing I could purchase or consume to hasten this process or increase my chances of getting another chance. It’s a capitalist’s nightmare (as is the pandemic).

And so I march on, rendered oddly self-sufficient by wistfulness. I take solace in green landscapes and sunshine because most man-made things pale in comparison to the strange and pure love maturing inside me. Founded as it is on the tenderness of hope mixed with truth, its many layers soften reflected light and make me luminous. Loving this person is nearly indistinguishable now from loving myself. Pandemic or not, I think this is how it should be.