Theoretically, I love the idea of finding love amid a pandemic. I love the idea of the story and the scripted drama of it all. And the media stories about love amid the pandemic made relationships feel like the triumph of hope in a world of tragedy.
I began the pandemic in a relationship. And I was so grateful for it at first. It gave shape to the long weekends without my children — as did the Netflix series “Love Is Blind,” which premiered just before the world shut down. The premise of the show, hosted by married celebrities Nick and Vanessa Lachey, is whether couples can fall in love sight unseen. The show's 30 heterosexual contestants can only go on dates in small rooms, where they are separated by a wall and allowed to talk with but not see their companions. They only way to meet in real life is to propose (after which they have 38 days to plan a wedding).
Most of the relationships failed.
I binged the show, like so many other people in the early days of lockdown, watching with glee as couples who couldn't see each other fell into their own versions of love. I remember telling my boyfriend that I would be good at this. I could woo someone sight unseen, I was a great talker, a good conversationalist ideally suited for love in isolation.
I was wrong.
If love and pandemic has meant we often cannot see each other, it has also given us a second sight akin to Chaucer's blind man.
In our times of separation because of the pandemic, I tried to get my boyfriend to write me letters. That failed. We tried Zoom dates. That also failed. Eventually, like so many women this year, I cracked under the burden of the emotional labor of trying to maintain our connection. I broke up with him one July night, shouting into my phone that he had his head stuck so far up his a-- that he couldn't see through the s--- forest. There was no coming back from that.
And then I was single again. Like flies drawn to a rotting corpse, men began to slide into my DMs and my text messages; I got the phone calls and Zoom invites. I met each one with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
I don't have much emotional energy left this year.
I do not think Nick Lachey — a former member of the boy band 98 Degrees perhaps more famously known for his failed marriage to Jessica Simpson — was truly a prophet of our lives in pandemic. But rewatching the show almost a year later, it feels like he was.
The show so clearly maps out how relationships unfold in quarantine: the desperation of isolation, the search for connection, the performance of earnestness, the grift to fulfill some deeper purpose, even if that deeper purpose is just ending loneliness.
And, of course, here we all are — those of us who are single — seemingly speaking to each other through walls.
Even the phrase "love is blind," a popular aphorism used by both Shakespeare and Chaucer, has come to mean that lovers overlook one another’s faults in the name of romantic attachment. In "The Canterbury Tales," though, Chaucer's blind man suddenly gained sight the moment his wife was cheating on him.
But if love and pandemic has meant we often cannot see each other, it has also given us a second sight more akin to Chaucer's blind man, providing disappointing insights into the fundamental inequality of heterosexual romantic partnership.
The pandemic is pulling us apart, rather than bringing us together. In China, after the quarantine was lifted, there was a spike in divorce filings.Other countries have seen similar spikes, and experts tell us this won’t end anytime soon.
This isn't surprising. Locked inside our homes together, it's harder to ignore not just the personal faults and failings of our partners, but the systemic ones that make heterosexual relationships fundamentally unequal. Even in a pandemic with both couples home, women still bear the brunt of domestic and emotional labor — and the economic costs of the loss of jobs.
The reality is that American heterosexual relationships are nothing but a tritely scripted reality show based upon extreme gender performance, and that performance is breaking down.
Never has there been a time where love is more important and necessary for our survival: With rampant governmental incompetence and a seeming unwillingness to protect its citizens, we've had to rely on each other. Yet, never has there been a time when love has failed us more. During loneliness in quarantine, in our desperate attempts to survive the callous indifference of our neighbors and our government, in the scream for equality, we see little evidence of love for community and for others.
What we are being forced to consume is a scripted narrative about love that has proven to be false and exploitative.
bell hooks wrote that there can be no love without justice. And there can be no justice without a societal reckoning of inequality in our own intimate relationships.
Feb. 14 is the first Valentine's Day in the United States' pandemic shutdown that has been going on for almost a year. Valentine's Day is also a holiday of dubious religious origin, which has become a mass-marketed attempt at getting people to consumerize their relationships by going out to eat en masse and buying gifts.
Pushing back against the romantic idealization of the holiday, others have simply come up with variations on the theme: Galentine's Day, featured on "Parks and Recreation," was a celebration of female friendships; there are valentines for parents and children. The consumerism of all of them is not the inherent problem; consumption is one of the few enjoyable human activities that we have left in a time of isolation.
The problem is what we are being forced to consume is a scripted narrative about love that has proven to be false and exploitative.
If Valentine's Day were all about celebrating relationships in a time when relationships are few and far between, that would be good enough. But as this time of pandemic has shown us, love is not blind to gender politics. And it’s failing all of us.