Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
When the UK was plunged into lockdown two months ago we were forced to alter our relationships; with those we live with and those we do not. Whilst for some couples, quarantine seems to have led to the creation of a ‘lockdown love-nest’, for the majority the call to ‘stay at home’ bears no semblance of a lovers’ paradise.
As we have seen from the alarming figures stating a 49% increase in calls to domestic abuse helplines: the call to shut ourselves in our homes has provoked a flurry of discord and aggression in households worldwide. Forecasts predict that for every three months of lockdown, the world will experience an increase of 15 million cases of domestic abuse.
For all of us, life cooped up with partners, family and flatmates falls short of a domestic idyll. But the many people living apart from loved ones have been left starved of affection and craving one thing that cannot be communicated through a Zoom call: physical contact.
Growing up, reading books and watching films we ingest a romanticised image that love can form and persist through barriers. Calling out to a lover through Rapunzel’s high window or from Juliet’s balcony has connotations of a powerful love that perseveres through physical obstacles and the absence of natural intimacy. The implacable distance wedged between a couple’s craving for affection is in itself often what is eroticised. It is romanticised as a hurdle that only ‘true love’ can overcome. However, as lockdown persists, with the familiarity of physical contact long faded away, the fairy-tale image of love conquering all obstacles has shattered.
Lockdown initially brought an exciting novelty for couples living apart, the possibility for a literary kind of romance where adorations are poured out to one another through a window or the 21st century equivalent: a video call. Estranged from one another in some ways whilst nevertheless persevering through unprecedented times, it evoked images of relationships from a bygone era where a walk with a ‘suitor’ was steeped in scandal. At first there was a sort of giddy anticipation, something charming and pure about window ledge conversations. However, months down the line it becomes harder to continually conceive of these distanced interactions as anything like the contents of a fairy-tale romance.
While healthy and safe, we must continue count our blessings during these turbulent times but that we are allowed to mourn the absence of human contact. We are allowed to crave affection and the sensation of human touch.
The lockdown we are living under is a necessary measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the associated fatalities. But that does not mean that living a life of isolation and social distancing, ought to be easy or natural for us. A warm embrace from a friend, a family member or a partner produces hormones such serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine which produce positive emotions.
The feelings of loneliness and sadness that “touch deprivation” induces are natural, they are part of our biology and our psyche. There may be no substitute, no means of fulfilling our human craving for contact, but when the day arrives a big hug will never have felt so precious.