Sometimes a blog post comes easily. Other times, it’s a slog. And then there are the rare posts that sit in your drafts folder for YEARS and slowly but surely, you add to the narrative and hope it turns out better than if you had just written the damn thing in one go. Here is one of those posts…
…And with almost-global shutdown due to coronavirus permeating every facet of our lives, a blog-post on intimacy couldn’t be more timely.
‘I think modern-day intimacy is interesting…’ said a friend, a trend forecaster, three years ago. ‘Intimacy comes in so many guises…’ and we spiralled into a discussion about how we quench our thirst for intimacy and where we go for top-ups. And it was during a spat of singledom-related depression, I sought out articles and advice from others who felt disillusioned by finding ‘true love’. I wondered if others, too, no longer relied on romantic relationships to fill intimacy quotients – my friend and I couldn’t be the only ones!
I discovered new ways to seek intimacy, such as through friends. A few years ago, Dolly Alderton interviewed Vanessa Kirby on her podcast, Love Stories, and they discussed friendships and romance, saying we should ‘put more friendship into our romances and more romance into our friendships’. Since then, this is something I have tried to action every day.
And yet, we are now having to adapt to find ways of feeling connected. We’re self-isolating, social-distancing and feeling worried and lonely. Amidst the reports of panic-buying, stock-piling and tales of greed, thankfully, there are tales of altruism.
Everywhere, people are reaching out. Longing for loved-ones during isolation, offering helping-hands to those most affected (and sadly, reaching out to empty-shelves).
In 2017, this was becoming a reality:
Physical intimacy is being replaced by online connections. Our phones can sense our fingertips, they’re heat-sensitive and some can even recognise our eyes and faces (how outdated does this feel only three years later?!) So many of us have our phones glued to our hands, and some say losing a phone feels like losing a limb. Have we replaced physical, interpersonal touch with screen-time? For many of us, this will certainly be the reality over the coming months. I used to be opposed to this; ever claiming that touch was superior to digital connection. And whilst I’m not sure if my opinion has totally altered, it’s definitely shifted.
In her book, The Lonely City, Olivia Laing reflects upon speech as the closest thing to intimacy when we’re not being touched. Lots of us have had to make decisions about which household we socially-isolate with. Some have chosen family; craving the touch of a romantic partner, others have chosen lovers and they need the comforting caress of a parent.
We’re ‘creating our own digital space,’ as my friend (the same one who said intimacy in 2017 would be interesting) said to me today. ‘This experience is challenging our thoughts on intimacy.’
With our phones allowing us to speak with others and video call as if they were in the room, long-distance relationships are better-equiped to last (and social distancing deemed less isolating). But what if we didn’t have this connection? Would lovers separated by oceans ride the currents, or would they be lost at sea, only to seek other lovers closer to home? How would the world react to Coronavirus if we didn’t have such advanced levels of connectedness? One of my favourite quotes from The Lonely City is ‘My heart opens to your voice’; isn’t this apt? This pandemic would surely look very different if we weren’t as digitally connected.
In 2017, my friend and I reckoned the picture of intimacy in 2020 would be interesting. How right we were, but for very different reasons. We considered how many of our peers were getting married later. We mused over being able to get anything online (girlfriend experiences, social interactions, cardboard cut-outs of friends). And the zeitgeist was awash with breaking boundaries of gender and sexuality.
But it’s March 2020 and we’re more online than ever because of this pandemic.
Relationships are being tested; are you stuck indoors with a spouse you find irritating or are you miles apart pining after a lover? Daily, I’m hearing of friends having ‘wine-dates’ over Zoom, FaceTiming family over the dinner table and chatting with more friends via social media than before. Far from being non-existent, dating habits are shifting. We’re returning to a time when we might have to talk to someone for weeks before meeting up with them. My friend likened Bumble profiles to our bedroom windows; with nearly everyone inside 24/7, our windows act as screens to our lives. Yet there’s no filter. I heard a story earlier today about a man and a woman who were flirting across courtyards. At first, it was a wave and a mouthed ‘hello’, then it developed into a phone number sent over via drone, now it’s apparently texting. We can’t seek out potential partners in a bar; so we’re looking closer to home.
Country-shutdown aside, I know that some people are nervous to meet other people for fear of catching the virus. Some people have always been so fearful of rejection that they also feel apprehensive of getting close to someone. And intimacy is scary; there are high stakes and we can come out of an encounter worse-off than we went it. But with everyone required to stay at home, have the stakes of dating lessened?
The fabric of intimacy will undoubtedly change during this crisis, but what will it look like when we emerge? Will we be cautious of meeting with strangers for dates, not knowing who they’ve socialised with? Will we continue to speak with potential partners for weeks before we meet them? Will we be more caring, stop ghosting one another and treat each other with respect again?
[Some brilliant books that explore ‘intimacy’. Think of this as further reading to reduce isolation-boredom:
Touch by Courtney Maum.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan.]