The song “Love in the Age of Corona” came out in March 2020, at the start of all *gestures around* this. I remember my roommate was giving me a haircut in our claustrophobic bathroom when she insisted on playing it for me. The song is silly and lighthearted, a byproduct of sarcasm and humor in the beginning stages of what would end up being close to a year in a pandemic. As the song played, I laughed a laugh that meant it — that was sure of itself — because I thought, surely this can’t last that long.
But it’s been 7 months and many haircuts in my bathroom later, and we’re still here but in a place so much worse. Laughing often feels stale and forced, a thing we so desperately want but can’t produce in an age of disconnectedness, death, an election, civil unrest, and a pandemic that seems to have an unrelenting vendetta. Of course, there’s been undeniable beauty, especially in the rallying cries of people coming together for justice, equality, and in some places, an all-out revolution. There’s been a large period of introspection, one where we’ve been able (forced) to take deeper looks at ourselves and the people around us. Our lovers have become roommates, our roommates have become family or our enemies, our partners have become our safeguards or people we no longer recognize. Things have changed — some in permanent ways and others temporarily.
Oddly, I have to admit, in considering how loving one another has changed in such a tumultuous time, “Love in the Age of Corona” plays in the back of my head. Sure, I’m reluctant to admit that, but it can be a marker for a larger conversation. As a person in a monogamous relationship, I’d happily grown used to coming home to my partner and fostering and nurturing our singular relationship long before Covid began. But as a queer person, I’m not ignorant to the fact that my network includes polyamorous individuals and couples who are not all having the same quarantine experience as their monogamous counterparts. So the question is, how are polyamorous folks loving in the age of corona?
Polyamory is rooted in the exploration and appreciation of multiple loves, or at least the capacity in which to do so. But we’ve entered a time when exploration in a physical sense has become taboo, a safety hazard.
“I’ve spent my whole life trying to be in healthy non-hierarchical polyamorous relationships, and now that I am, the pandemic has me too scared to act on it,” says Eve Polich, a polyamorous person living in New Orleans. Xem and xeir partner were both dating people to varying degrees before Covid began, but the pandemic put their dating lives on hold. In a time when every interaction is a risk, it can be difficult to navigate safe and healthy ways to foster new romantic relationships.
“I’ve had to add new boundaries,” says Gab Alexa, a polyamorous writer living in New York. “I’m not interested in dating someone who is pretending a pandemic isn’t going on or someone who isn’t getting tested actively or wearing a mask.” The personal risks associated with dating at all during a pandemic are staggering, but they increase tenfold when you have the health and wellbeing of multiple partners to consider. While some of the pillars of polyamory are safety, communication, and wellness of all parties, a pandemic makes it so that no matter how much you communicate about boundaries and safety, the risk is too amorphous to reason with.
With any web of contact, it goes beyond just you and your immediate circle to the circles of the people you associate with. So for polyamorous individuals and their partners, the risk — especially with engaging with multiple people sexually — is difficult to navigate. Considering the various points of potential Covid exposure is nerve-wracking to say the least.
“[The woman I was dating] had a boyfriend, her boyfriend had a wife, and his wife had a boyfriend. Normally this wouldn’t bother me at all, but with COVID it was too much of a risk,” says Eve. Trust is imperative in all relationships, but it goes beyond trust when you’re simply unable to keep tabs on the cautions taken by everyone who could be putting you or your partners at risk.
But there are positives to distance dating in polyamorous relationships, according to sex educator Rachel Wright. “Ethical non-monogamous people are far more used to having Covid-type conversations than monogamous people,” Wright says. Communication is at the forefront in order to build trust and guarantee physical and emotional safety, so while the pandemic changed things, the foundations for how to adapt were already in place. Wright and her husband were both distance dating at the start of Covid, and while it was no easy feat, “It created such a unique bond and forced us to have nuanced and sometimes challenging conversations very early on,” she says. Those conversations and bonds laid the groundwork for beautiful and loving relationships now that they have all figured out ways to safely see each other and be physically intimate.
Alise Williams, a queer polyamorous person living in Las Vegas, has a similar story. “My now-girlfriend and I were definitely just a sex thing, but we spent a few months in early quarantine only talking on the phone and not seeing each other in person or sharing physical intimacy, and we really just fell in love. We made things ‘official’ in August,” she says. For some people, being forced to focus solely on the emotional connection through spending time together virtually has been an eye-opening experience into the hearts and souls of potential and current partners. Alise says Covid has also opened her up to “radical honesty and thoughtful actions” as she continues to navigate communication surrounding sex with her partners. It can feel out of sorts to engage with sex virtually, but it can also allow folks to not take themselves too seriously and explore kinks and playfulness alike, creating a new and unique excitement for when the relationship becomes face-to-face.
As we continue to navigate through whatever a “new normal” might look like, it seems the rule book is changing daily. And while some positives have come out of distance dating, like the increased importance of emotional nurturing and exploration or the newfound appreciation for focusing on one partner, there seems to remain the aching for what once was, for the close proximity we were allowed pre-Covid. But the act of navigating this new era is laced with hope, even in the uncertainty. Still, we never know who we’ll meet, even if, for now, it has to be on a screen.