I sort of knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to visit my boyfriend a little over a week ago.
It’s not like I was unaware of the fact that COVID-19 was a public health emergency. But when you’re in a long-distance relationship, and the opportunity to crash at a cute cottage in Santa Cruz comes up, even impending doom comes out a little… rose-tinted.
I figured we’d hole ourselves up and subsist off of microwave meals and takeout while staring longingly into one another’s eyes. Except the Airbnb did not have a microwave and it also had exactly two rolls of toilet paper.
When a subsequent trip to Trader Joe’s — in which it was clear no one but us had heard of the concept of “social distancing” — and a statewide lockdown made the dire reality more apparent, we realized I would not, in fact, be going home as planned.
Nothing says new relationship test quite like “quarantined in a tiny cottage during a viral outbreak.”
“What do you think will happen to our parents?” “I’m so glad I’m not alone right now.” “If you got sick—” “Everything feels like it’s ending and beginning at the same time.” “What happens when we run out of clean clothes?” “I love you so.”
These aren’t your typical New Relationship™ conversations. At least, they weren’t before.
All of the daily rituals and cues that maintain an illusion of normalcy had suddenly come undone, and we were all stripped down to something more essential. Somewhere in this in-between, fear and love constantly exists side by side. It’s a liminal space where nothing is like before, yet we don’t know what it will be like after — whatever “after” even means.
Fear and love both fill me when I climb into bed every night to hold their hand and whisper about what keeps us awake.
Before the shelter-in-place, my boyfriend brought home Gatorade and Ben & Jerry’s when they went shopping. Gatorade and ice cream. That really struck me. And then just this morning, we ran out of milk. This was once such a small thing — today, it’s not.
Because now, when we talk about going to the store, even breathing becomes dangerous. It’s not the milk — it’s the unseen threat, and how terrified we are of opening any doors to invite it in, including our own mouths.
It’s our friend that was taken by ambulance because their roommates didn’t self-quarantine; it’s all the accounts of nurses sobbing in supply closets. It’s seeing the words “exponential” and “at-capacity” in yet another news story, with stock photos of masked doctors with empty eyes staring on.
We don’t “see” this turmoil in the cottage in Santa Cruz. But we catch glimpses in the shadow and we know it’s there.
I’ve never been so protective over sweetness before. That sweetness is now my lifeline. There are dance parties in our underwear. There’s the creative, weird sex you can only really have when you’re bored, terrified, and in love. There’s blanket forts and Spotify karaoke and laughing until your sides split.
And there’s constant discovery: the endearing confessions my boyfriend makes while sleep-talking, figuring out how to do laundry in a bathroom sink, meeting one another’s friends over Marco Polo (can we talk about how weird this app is?).
Being reminded, a thousand times over, that the things that matter most are what we find in each other — and nothing else, really.
So many of us are learning and relearning how to connect with one another. Where there is scarcity and fear, there is also a sudden emergence of kindness and grace.
Just the other day, a stranger on Twitter offered to send me toilet paper. Grassroots relief efforts are helping vulnerable people get their groceries and prescriptions. Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato rekindled their friendship over Instagram Live (and hinted at a past hookup; as a raging bisexual, this sparked joy for me).
Rent strikes are being organized across the country and Britney Spears is apparently down for the revolution. A medical fetish store donated all of their scrubs to hospitals. Neighbors are singing together on their balconies in Italy. Mental health providers are going live every two hours to offer meal support to people with eating disorders during COVID-19.
That says nothing of the everyday miracles: the fences we thought we could never mend, the apologies we never imagined ourselves receiving, and the gentle reminders that even in isolation, we still matter to each other.
I’m in awe of the fact that when we are most distant from one another, we’ve still managed to stay tethered to one another.
To push each other to the center of the lifeboat, to keep one another from tumbling off.
This “extended stay” is kind of remarkable as someone who has historically avoided intimacy.
I’m really not used to being so seen, especially during a time of (literal) global vulnerability. I’m not used to conversations starting with, “Are you okay?” I’m not used to someone being there when I cry in the middle of the night (and honestly, I’m not used to crying in the middle of the night, either).
But I’ve sort of leaned into it.
When “nothing is the same” is subtext for every interaction, it suddenly doesn’t seem so silly to ask my boyfriend to make me grilled cheese, or to wake them up because I’ve had the same nightmare as the one I had the night before.
It finally feels okay to need someone. And in giving myself that permission, it’s like I’ve found the heartbeat of daily life again — small intimacies, small gestures, all stitched together.
My boyfriend, quoting Adrienne Maree Brown, likes to remind me, “Small is good, small is all.” Rihanna, pop prophet, was probably right when she sang of “finding love in a hopeless place.” These things make more sense to me now, how the world can be on fire and yet sweetness can prevail. We’ll see what we’re left with when this is all over.
While the world outside is a scary place, inside these four walls, there is a little light, enough. The light that we hold for one another, which feels very important, even more than before.
Sam Dylan Finch is a writer, editor, cat dad, and Professional Internet Gay living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Say hello on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and, if you can find it, a really old Ello account that he still doesn’t know how to delete.