What does a pandemic and the resulting social isolation do to human relationships?
People’s experiences of life with their partners, children, parents — and themselves — are being documented online as populations around the world self-isolate or keep their distance from others to reduce the impact of the coronavirus. And it’s proving a big hit as it taps into people’s curiosity about what happens in the lives of others.
“I’m having to quarantine with my ex-husband,” “As I read through his letters, there was the young man I fell in love with,” and “I wonder if he’s quarantining with the other woman,” are three snippets from anonymous posts on the website The Social Distance Project, which was launched on a whim by writer Meg Zukin last month.
On Saturday, one woman wrote that she had moved back in with her parents to quarantine after a break-up but felt “stressed about the intersection of mundane tragedy and vital mortality.” “The coronavirus has ruined my carefully constructed life of being so busy that I don’t have time to dwell on a lifetime of pain,” she stated.
Another post, titled “A tale in two parts,” was written by a woman reminiscing about how she met her husband-to-be in the 1970s and the letters they sent to each other while he was on a Naval posting in 1972 during the Vietnam War. As he came across a box of letters in their garage, she describes how he would run into the house saying “Honey, I can’t believe what I wrote you when I was young.”
“As I read through his letters, there was the young man I fell in love with telling me over and over again how much he loved me, missed me, complimented me, and that we would be together for the rest of our lives. This hour of togetherness, caused by the COVID-19 shutdown, was one of the best we’d had in a long time,” the woman wrote.
One family told of their daily morning dance parties. “My five year-old has a particular fondness for (Kenny Loggins’) ‘Danger Zone’ and we’ve listened to it at least 15 times a day … There’s something really endearing about hearing a five year old with zero concept of the lyrics sincerely sing nonsensical words in the verse before belting out the show stopping chorus,” the poster wrote.
Some posts are less heart-warming, detailing the impact of being locked in with an ex. One wrote about living with her former husband in quarantine until their house sells and communicating via texting each other rather than speaking.
“Yesterday he noticed I didn’t have any pasta sauce and without a word, handed me a jar full. We really dislike each other but I’m hoping that this forced time together will remind us that we don’t have to,” the writer concluded.
Another wrote about staying with her in-laws on their idyllic farm. “I am living a beautiful, quarantine dream in the alps including babysitting, loving husband and fresh mountain air,” the poster stated. But her inner life told another story. “I want my apartment, smog and salads back. I’m a horrible millennial and hope this is all over soon,” she added.
Others welcomed the new help provided by partners. “For the last week my husband has seen what an 11-hour solo caring day looks like with a 7 month-old. Before COVID he used to leave at 8am and come in at 7pm and wonder why dinner wasn’t completely ready — he never said it, but I knew he was thinking it, now he offers to cook. There is a silver lining to all this!”
Zukin, who works for Variety, tweeted a request for stories of the “drama” of co-habitation last month and has been overwhelmed by the response, she wrote on Twitter.
People can submit stories anonymously and readers were initially asked to donate $1 to see posts that were originally collated on a Google document. After raising more than $6,000, Zukin created the website, which is now free to access, and is distributing the money to nonprofits in the U.S. including food banks, hospitals and mental health charities. Posts can also be seen on Instagram.