I was on my balcony, a homemade iced latte in hand and the intention of studying in mind, holding a virtual study date with a friend. In between recorded lectures and problem set questions, we talked about our families, how much we miss each other and the state of our romantic lives. The conversation was light and airy. Our focus primarily rested on understanding the academic tasks at hand. That was until she asked, “But how do you know if you love someone?”
I found myself without an answer. I threw the same question back at her, and she was equally at a loss for what felt like an adequate response. People generally like definitive answers to the things they wonder. Yale students seem to have a particular affinity for these types of conclusions; who wants to rely on a probability when complete certainty is within arm’s reach? Similarly, it isn’t uncommon among my friends and me to question what we think love means, the difference between loving someone and being head over heels, over the moon, in love with someone and if we even believe in the type of everlasting love we read of in our favorite novels. However, we found ourselves grappling with a new question. How can you even begin to explore whether you love someone if you have to remain at least six feet apart?
Love is a tricky emotion. Romantic love, especially, develops in a very different way than nonromantic love. There is a reserved nature specific to romantic love that isn’t found in nonromantic love. It’s as if those who experience it are fearful of what it comprises.
This complexity isn’t helped by the current state of global health. The pandemic has placed a colossal strain on everyday life. We’ve been advised to stay home if we are neither essential workers nor in the pursuit of essential goods. This has made it nearly impossible to see everyone besides our immediate family. As a result of these restrictions, new modes of communication have become quite common. Rather than private study rooms in Bass, treks between your residential college and theirs, and squeezing into a too-small dorm room bed, movie dates over the phone, constant texting, and, if you’re the sentimental type, pen-palling have become the new normal.
Despite the limitations, there have been novel benefits as well. One friend told me of their significant other, “The physical affection and physical presence is definitely missing. It makes me yearn for them more and I feel like once classes start then I will treasure each physical moment with them. But it’s also the question that keeps knocking on my head — must I put effort into this budding romance in the time of a pandemic and with family problems accruing? However, I figured that’s exactly why I choose to continue with this relationship because it’s one of the few things that is going right.”
Another friend of mine said, “Quarantine has proved to me that this is someone who I really do want in my life. They are someone who will respect my time and space without question. Also, they don’t feel the pressure to be necessarily doing what everyone else thinks you need to be doing in order to show that you still care about each other or that you’re still interested in each other.”
The lack of physical presence is hard to ignore. More than merely sexual acts, I’ve found myself reminsicing on simple acts of affection, romantic and otherwise. I’ve also found that I can get to know the person I’m interested in with an independence and carefulness I may not have been afforded on campus. Rather than run the risk of rushing things — Yale seems to move at a pace faster than the rest of the world — we’re getting to know each other with something that can’t be found at suite pregames or in stolen glances. Things that may not have crossed our minds on campus occupy our conversations now.
While there is inarguably much that is lost, we should try to take advantage of all that can be gained. Developing a genuine connection with someone goes beyond what physical touch can provide. As opposed to longing for what I’ve lost out on, I intend to take this time to pursue what I otherwise may not be able to.
LEILA JACKSON is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .