COVID-19 has grabbed all of us by the shoulders and shaken every aspect of our lives.Whether it’s going to the gym, buying groceries, visiting relatives or even just working from an office. Normal elements of our everyday lives were suddenly brought to a halt when the world finally realised that COVID-19 was not just a fad or a scare tactic but a real and dangerous threat to mankind.
It’s been scary. And, as selfish as it may sound, largely inconvenient. Especially for South Asian couples who haven’t quite yet gotten to the stage of living together or have said their “I dos”. Let’s backtrack a little bit.
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The tools we are using to fight coronavirus include social distancing and quarantining. As defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘social’ or ‘physical distancing’, means keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household. While the idea behind ‘quarantine’ is to separate and restrict the movement of people who may have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.
Though the concepts are a little different from each other, both boil down to the fact that in order to fight the virus, staying away from people other than your cohabitants or people you already live with, was not going to cut it.
And that’s why since March, social media is filled with posts and stories from struggling millennials and Gen-Z users documenting the time till they finally get to see their significant other. With every passing week, the countdown and anticipatory posts continue to increase.
Couples living in the same town have suddenly found themselves enlisted into the long-term relationship club without the chance to even say goodbye. Whereas the silent minority suffers, and that too, silently.
What does that mean?
By silent minority, I mean South Asian couples, ranging from the ones in their teens to those sailing their thirties.
For many brown girls, or guys, or anyone for that matter, the subject of dating can be a little taboo. After all, many who are in relationships often do so with such secrecy, they themselves may forget that they have a significant other. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but still.
[Read Related: Dating as a Brown Girl: 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before]
When your relationship depends on covert planning with back up covers like, “Hey mom, I’m going to stay at Ayesha’s tonight”, and struggling to meet even a few times a week, a quarantine, both socially and self-imposed, can be exhausting and quite difficult.
Finding a safe closet with thick walls to take phone calls, running “errands” just to find the breathing space to FaceTime or sneaking in delivered gifts, are just some of the ordeals South Asian couples face while dating.
A Quick Disclaimer
This article is in no way trying to imply that those suffering from the impacts of the pandemic, in terms of family or employment or illness or otherwise, have it worse than those struggling to maintain their relationships in such a tumultuous time.
Rather, I am doing my best to articulate that brown girls and boys in relationships are feeling a specific and unprecedented consequence of the global pandemic.
They even lost that little amount of unscrutinised time they get to leave their homes and spend it with someone they care about. That someone, they socially cannot disclose.
Let’s Get Into Some Specifics
The details vary from relationship to relationship and there is no ‘one size fits all’ description that can cover the intricacies of everyone’s situation.
One situation that many find themselves in is meeting and getting to know someone they care about, potentially see a future with, and then deciding to officially start dating as a sign of commitment, trust, and let’s face it, hope.
That doesn’t sound all that different from tons of people across the country, right?
The situation starts to look a little different when you have roots in a culture that dismisses any relationship not tied by blood or marriage, or at most approved by parents. Particularly in the case of South Asian couples.
Let’s take two members in a hypothetical relationship Person A and Person B.
A and B are sure that they want to be together and want to spend quality time with one another as a couple, to get to know each other, create memories, and strengthen their bond and friendship.
But the catch is, they’ll have to do this without anyone knowing. Because the minute they tell their families, a meet the parents brunch and discussions around marriage qualifications will start within the hour.
What do they do?
Where is their family from?
Don’t you think that’ll be a conflict?
What do you mean you don’t want to get married now?
What is dating?
Do they speak our language?
Are they serious about you?
Or better yet:
Next winter works for me for a wedding!
Some of these questions are on the more optimistic side, assuming that A and B’s families are more accepting and welcoming of an non-arranged marriage.
But because neither A nor B is ready for that step, keeping it to themselves is the best move.
A wants to spend their one-month anniversary together; plan a dinner, grab dessert after, maybe a walk by the river. But, A is struggling to put this together as a surprise for B. B lives with their family, is 24 years old, and regularly returns home around 7pm, or 9pm on days they plan to see friends after work. And their family knows about their friends, even about A, but not so much about A’s added significance.
For Person A, the situation is pretty much the same. A and B work tougher to figure out how to celebrate their milestone together. A is going to say that they’re working late that day, a hard deadline at work has come up. B plans on casually mentioning that their friend’s, Person C’s, birthday is coming up and everyone is planning a dinner for them.
Until of course, there is a statewide quarantine that has restaurants, theatres, and other public places all closed for the foreseeable future. And all social events are also cancelled. Including their dinner they made such an effort for.
In these times of distress, couples have found creative ways to manoeuvre the situation. For example, through FaceTime and Skype dinner dates. But then, those are a no-go when your relationship is a secret and answering the phone requires prior planning, surveying the area, and punctuated whispering.
A and B are now stuck either coordinating a trip to a grocery store or drugstore so they can call each other from the car and talk freely. With alarms set on their phones and volume settings triple-checked so a call from home isn’t missed.
It’s not easy.
Is There a Silver Lining?
The short answer? Yes.
There’s a cliche about how you grow the most during the hardest of times. And I would argue, this is one of those opportunities. When you’re facing this many restrictions, learning how to communicate is one of the biggest wins couples can report from during this time.
How often phone calls and messages are happening everyday.
How frequently updates are expected.
When and how hangouts and dates can take place.
How to get through today without knowing what tomorrow holds.
Being able to manage all of this, improve communication, maintain the spark, and live in obscurity is a set of skills the strongest of couples are made of. So as a brown person in a covert relationship during quarantine, I want to leave you the following:
You are seen. And this is an unpredictable and difficult time for many. And getting through this will be a defining moment for you and your strength and commitment to communication.