Love and death have been pretty tough on me the last few years. If I had to pinpoint a start date, I’d probably say August of 2014. That was when my father died, and my marriage dissolved past the point of no return. Although neither of those (unrelated) events could be classified as “tragic” – my dad passed at the age of 90, after a full and wonderful life, and my divorce happened just shy of 25 mostly happy years – they signaled the beginning of a turning point toward a dark and depressing direction.
Well, two different directions, actually. The death spigot was turned on, with a continuous flow of lost loved ones, old acquaintances (who weren’t so old), work colleagues, and parents of so many friends I lost count, from heart disease, cancer, aneurysms and “just old age.”
At the same time, the love well had run dry. I was a middle-aged man who hadn’t dated since Ronald Reagan was in office, who resisted (and still resists) online dating, preferring to meet people the old fashioned, “organic,” meet-at-a-party kinda way. I might have been older and wiser, but I was also balder and more reserved. The handful of dates I went on were, for the most part, awkward and unsatisfying.
Oh, how I now long for those days.
COVID-19 has changed the rules of both love and death to the point where both games are no longer recognizable. Let’s start with death (now that’s a sentence you don’t hear very often!). Of course, the stakes have been raised (to continue with the game analogy), with every day bringing sad news of the passing of another friend, neighbor, relative or beloved celebrity. But the way we’ve had to deal with loss has been altered as well. The pain and difficulty is intensified before mourning even breaks.
Deaths now occur at such a rapid pace – often in isolation – that it’s often impossible to say goodbye, or even catch word in time to be given the chance to do so. Then, if you’re “lucky,” the funeral will be live-streamed so that you can pay your final respects in front of a computer, straining to hear eulogies through masks and a poor internet connection. And although shiva technology has come a long way over the past year – with choices between a Zoom community gathering during the mourning period or individually scheduled appointments by phone or video conference – the process remains highly ungratifying (though I have talked to many a mourner who aren’t overly distraught that their homes haven’t been turned inside-out for seven days).
FINDING SATISFACTION in love has been equally frustrating. I should clarify that I’m not talking about “within the bubble” love of family members and close friends, which in some instances has been intensified, but rather the search for love, known as the dating game. Difficult and awkward enough pre-COVID, now it is next to impossible. There is no way to avoid the use of a computer or phone now, and almost all “relationships” never progress beyond that. The couple of times I managed to convince the person on the other end that in-person meetings are usually a necessary step in getting to know someone better, the rendezvous turned sour, for varying reasons.
In one instance, the woman was so paranoid of meeting a relative stranger during the pandemic that I had trouble seeing and hearing her between the masks and the distancing. In the second case, she was so cavalier in her disregard for safety protocols that I felt uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to end the evening. And though in both instances it turned out not to be a consideration, it got me wondering: How does one even get to that “next step” in the COVID era? All the fun of trying to hold someone’s hand for the first time, or heaven forbid, leaning in for a spontaneous goodnight kiss, has been stripped away. Discussions must be had, agreements must be made, tests must be taken. If Seinfeld was still on the air, I could see the episode now: Is she kiss-worthy?
So, I’ve been searching for alternative ways to get some sort of satisfaction out of both love and death. In order to “hook up” in a safe and responsible manner, I have explored the world of MeetUp, the global network of groups of like-minded individuals, going for socially distanced hikes and bike rides with total strangers, in the hope of finding a soulmate in a parking lot waiting for the activity to begin. To cope with death in a more manageable way, I am taking a six-week Zoom course with my local rabbi on the “Journey of the Soul,” in the hope that a guarantee of meeting the dearly departed on the “other side” will ease the pain of not saying goodbye properly on this one.
In reality, though, we all now know that there is really only one thing that makes both the pain of death bearable and the joy of love blissful: human touch. COVID has hammered home the knowledge that the common denominator in truly feeling human is to be able to truly feel humans: a consoling hug; a passionate kiss; hell, a peck on the cheek!
So do me a favor, dear reader: Get your vaccine, wear your mask, and wash your hands. Then, one day, please God, you’ll be welcome at both my wedding and my funeral – with open arms.
The author is a Toronto-based writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.