Absence makes the heart talk... (For Quaranzine)
Updated: May 19, 2020
In these unprecedented times of Covid-19, the Government enforced lock-down has pushed many couples into having to make the decision of whether to bunk down together for the foreseeable future, or to isolate apart.
I fell into this category myself. Being in a long distance relationship (Birmingham to London), and due to work-related deadlines at the time we took a quite brazen attitude towards the situation and almost just fell into locking down separately.
As time has gone on (almost at the seven week apart mark now) I have had lots of time to reflect on my relationship, relationships in general and also to turn my thoughts to all of the other couples who are experiencing the same thing. I wonder how this will affect people’s relationships, could it make or break them? Will it improve them? And what are we talking about now? With the usual prompts of day to day life taken out of the equation, have our conversations changed at all?
A well known phrase often used in the discussion of separated lovers is ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. The phrase can be dated back to Roman times; Sextus (aptly named when talking about lovers) a roman poet is credited with speaking it first. But how much truth is in that sentiment and what is absence doing to the heart for couples right now?
Studies that have been carried out in the area often focus on conversations as a measurement of volume of fondness, and the results gathered have suggested that the heart does grow fonder. Results have shown longer phone communication in relation to distance, and time between calls. However, I would argue that this isn’t necessarily to say you care about the person anymore – but maybe you just have more to catch up on having not spoken for a lengthier period of time.
During the first few weeks of isolation, followed by a stricter lock down there was an almost honey-moon-periodesque feel to the situation. A whole knew challenge and experience to face together with date nights becoming zoom calls, where you could chat for ages about what the hell was going on and how incredibly bizarre this situation we are finding ourselves in is. As the honey-moon fades are conversations drying up or are we still chatting away?
Apply this theory to the unique circumstance we find ourselves in now where there is not so much to ‘catch up on’ anymore, and the results gathered may be able to offer further evidence for this ancient proverb. I know that nothing much is happening in my house, and my hour of exercise provides light relief for me, but as of yet no particularly interesting content for me to discuss with my boyfriend has come from my hour outside. Yet we still have long daily phone calls. We have discussed topics ranging from politics and life on other planets, to hairstyles and what the actual ingredients of a carbonara are (no mutual conclusion so far).
This could suggest that my argument against the study results could be negated by how couples are still finding plenty to talk about now, even if they are doing very little.
I put the question to some of my friends about what stimulating conversation content they were coming up with and the main topic to come up again and again: food glorious food! Why are we talking about food so much?
Meal times have always held significance around the world, with different cultures having varying traditions when it comes to eating. No matter what place, the saying ‘the kitchen is the heart of the home’ is true. It comes from the idea that it is where the mind, body and soul get nourished. Perhaps this is why food is such a hot topic now, our hearts feeling the loss of being close to our lovers are finding comfort in the heart of the home instead.
Whilst the kitchen is providing nourishment for our minds and souls, some responses also noted more conversations about mental health in general. “We seem to be opening up and talking more freely and honestly about our mental health” one friend told me, and I agree.
Spending so much time alone, separated from society and distraction, gives time for a lot of self reflection which could partly explain this. I know I am learning things about myself from being in my own company and I am also learning more about my boyfriend.
The lockdown has also given rise to potential new pressures to be put on us. The pressure to be productive, to learn new things and to come out of isolation with a new athletic physique. So in turn, we are discussing our responses to these pressures.
But why could it be that couples are opening up about this more so now than before, when widely mental health has been something recognised as notoriously difficult to open up about? Some studies have suggested that it’s easier to talk about personal issues from side-to-side, rather than face-to-face. So perhaps being in the safety of our own homes has provided that side-to-side scenario for us, where we feel much abler to open up to our partners.
Also, talking through issues which may be having an effect on our mental health takes time. In our usual busy lives where we are rushing from place to place, and have a myriad of distractions, we may not see our problems as significant or want to burden our partners with them. But now, the breaks are on and the pace is slower. Our days are less full and we have much more time to speak at length, to open up and to listen.
The gift of time and a safe space to share our deepest or even just most ridiculous of interests, is creating stimulating conversations and in return we are getting to know our partners a lot better.
A friend of mine who is in the first year of dating her boyfriend said that the distance has made her realise how very similar they really are. Through the sharing and discussing of articles and documentaries they have been engaging with alone, they have realised how aligned their interests are and so even though they have faced separation in the early stages of their relationship, they have still been able to grow closer as a couple.
Another friend said this had given her the opportunity to reflect on whether she was ready to live with her boyfriend, and the answer was yes. Had they not had this time apart they may not have realised this yet. The delay wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing, but it’s a positive for their relationship to acknowledge that they are mutual in wanting to take their next step as a couple. It is always good to know you are on the same page.
At the end of all of this, I think undoubtedly everyone isolating separately from their respective ‘other halves’ will have learnt something about their other halves and their relationships in general. It could be that people love their independence and so leave a relationship that wasn’t adding anything of significance to their lives. Maybe some are doubtful of whether they have really missed each other, but will be surprised by how happy they are to see each other when they reunite.
Or perhaps, and I think personally this is the ideal scenario, you realise you have thrived on your own in one way or another. In whatever way you have got through being separated, you have been brave and found strength in being independent. You realise you don’t need your partner, but you love them and want them and with great fondness of heart that has in fact grown during their absence, you can’t wait to see them.
When we move on from this, I think that we will look back on the time we spoke solely over the phone or through our phone screens, and find the things we spent ages talking about humorous. In all the sadness and travesty this pandemic is bringing, the human connection and communication that it is bringing out in people is beautiful to behold and that is what is keeping us going. We will have fond memories of how we managed to stay connected to our loved ones.
When we can finally hang out again, we will appreciate socialising in a way like never before. On re-uniting with our partners we will at best have an even deeper connection with them, knowing them on a much more emotional level, and at least, know what their favourite recipe is and how they cook up a storm in the kitchen.