By Manik Sharma Mar. 25, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak will have unpredictable social outcomes, but the strain this epidemic will put on couples is all too real. Already, the divorce rate in China has spiked. Irrespective of what we learn about this novel virus, we’ll learn a whole lot about the people we live with. And not all of it will be good.
As my partner and I prepare for the long haul of self isolation, there is a shared sense that we are setting about on a little journey within the walls of our house. “We are going to make each other mad,” we’ve been jokingly telling each other. There have already been disagreements over what an “essential” supply is, or just how many onions are justified for a dal. Inside, we know, temperaments will be tested, thresholds breached, and a point reached where we discover something new about each other.
There is no universal joke, but the closest we have come to identifying an infinite source of comedy is the nature of marital relationships. The landscape of marriage continues to serve as an oasis of limitless humour, even in times as concerning as today. Just yesterday, a friend shared with me, accompanied by smileys, the news that the divorce rate in China has spiked after couples are being made to spend time together in isolation. “Young people are spending a lot of time at home. They tend to get into heated arguments because of something petty and rush into getting a divorce,” the report quotes Lu, manager of a marriage registry office in Dazhou, China.
It is obviously hilarious, the implied unpredictable social outcomes of the coronavirus outbreak, but the strain this epidemic will put, not only on couples, but everyone we share our personal space with, is all too real. Irrespective of what we learn about this novel virus in the coming months, rest assured we’ll learn a whole lot about the people we share a roof with. And not all of it will be good.
No two people are the same, we know and understand that. But our differences are born out of differing capacities and approaches to handling the kind of unpredictability we are faced with today. This is not just the case with marriages, as much as they’d be the likely focus, but with every relationship from roommates to between children and their parents. A homosexual colleague at work recently told me she occasionally books hotel rooms for herself over the weekend, just to get away from her family because it continues to struggle with her having come out. Her mental health has deteriorated to the point where balancing the pressures of work with her personal life became impossible. She leaves the job tomorrow, for what she has been prescribed is time for herself. I can only wonder what this period ahead has in store for her and her family, when the shutters firmly close on the option to “look away”. No amount of psychiatric counselling could have prepared the lot of them for what’s coming.
We keep ourselves busy because we would otherwise overthink each emotional exchange.
Medical historians around the world are claiming the upcoming weeks will be trying for mutually dependent relationships around the world. According to multiple reports, mental counsellors in the UK, for example, are demanding frictional couples to “call some sort of truce during this period”. In India, the risks are tenfold with joint families, arranged marriages, and whatnot. It’s a potpourri of social awkwardness waiting to be kicked in the 21-day lockdown we are looking at.
Beneath the battlefield of global financial catastrophes like the recession of 2009 or what is likely to be a multi-fold tragedy of even bigger proportions, there are always strands of partnership that learn something about their brittleness and their strength. Our routines, our everyday lives are largely sequestered from this learning, because they are lived away from the spirit, and thus fear, of the unknown. We know when to wake up, what largely to expect, what we want, and what we most likely must avoid. Each task, each chore, while boring or repetitive also gives us a sense of order, the idea that things will eventually settle on a surface agreeable to those involved. Each selfish privation we employ, each commitment we undertake is just another addition to this routine which is both our prison and our escape.
We keep ourselves busy because we would otherwise overthink each emotional exchange. Humans can’t help but be that self-centered and calculative, even when it comes to those dear to us. We guard ourselves at each stage of our relationships by identifying our own personal structural exits, via films, hobbies, obsessions, cravings, affairs, or vice. But when all that social inertia is withdrawn, and replaced by a box you must now sit in with the ones you might or might not want for company, in a life and death scenario no less, things will radically unravel.
The strain this epidemic will put, not only on couples, but everyone we share our personal space with, is all too real.
This pandemic will certainly be a trial for relationships that were in some way or the other, secretively or apparently, vulnerable. Add to that the incurred responsibility of accounting for each other’s health and you have a situation where carrying on as usual, or sidestepping certain realities will become impossible.
Simply put, the coronavirus is also a severe personal reckoning, that will clarify the vagaries of emotional rigmarole. We may come out the other side hurt or we may come out feeling stronger. Either way, some amount of truth is about to present itself in a significantly unprecedented way.
For India, the majority of the “social distancing” measures medical experts recommend are actually going to prove impossible to execute beyond a certain point. Naturally, people will run back to families, even risking carrying or catching something on the way, as evidenced by the scenes at India’s railway stations before the railways shut shop. We will be housed in, together, fearful, stressed and paranoid. In this battle between fear and care, individuals will end up trading in both, hoping to find that elusive balance.