Demi-love in the time of coronavirus
‘Love in the Time of Coronavirus’ has been a source of entertainment and commentary during the pandemic.
Playing on the title of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, the hashtag has been attached to everything from questions about how to maintain healthy relationships during lockdown to stories about people ending up in fourteen-day quarantine with one-night stands and Tinder hook-ups.
But what about relationships that started during the pandemic and have never experienced the ‘normal’ we claim we want back? The relationships for which COVID-19 is the norm?
What about people who had never been in a relationship before the pandemic, either because of their age, comfort level or – as it was in my case – sexual identity?
Image: Soroush Karimi
Until I was twenty-four, I was never seriously interested in a relationship. Being demisexual, I wasn’t particularly interested in anything casual either.
While friends spoke of Tinder dates and casual flings, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t as interested in those things as they were. I hadn’t even wanted to kiss anyone and carried some shame about that, even though I knew there were people who felt the same way I did and used the same label as me.
And then, at the start of the pandemic, my best friend and I started going out.
I say ‘going out’, but what we were doing was staying in and spending lots of time together. It started with a very casual catch up at his place. We realised we had been pining for one another for months and had done nothing about it. After dancing around the topic, we started dating.
He knew that I had never been in any sort of relationship and also knew I wasn’t experienced sexually. I explained my demisexuality and how I need the strong emotional bond with someone before I can feel anything romantic or sexual for them. While a little surprised at first, he was totally on board. In fact, he was wildly good about it.
It wasn’t an issue – though I had always worried my lack of experience at my age would be a problem for whoever I dated first – and I felt comfortable with him as things progressed. We spent quiet nights in playing board games, reading opposite each other, cooking together or watching movies – all the usual lockdown activities.
Having no dating or relationship experience before the pandemic, and no desire to gain any for the sake of having some, meant that I had no yard stick with which to measure my new relationship, no exes to swap horror stories about, and no comparison points for any milestones in the relationship.
It wasn’t as if I could rely on pop culture to guide me either – there weren’t any books or movies I could turn to for advice on how to navigate relationships with a global pandemic going on outside.
The YA books I read during my teenage years and early adulthood didn’t provide advice for demisexuals or folks anywhere on the asexuality spectrum. Long distance rom-com cliches didn’t work either, as my boyfriend and I lived close and could see each other regularly.
I already had questions about how my demisexuality would play out in a relationship. I knew I couldn’t engage in a relationship until I felt there was a close emotional attachment.
Any time I tried to test my boundaries by asking someone out for practice, I felt nothing but sick to the stomach. Everything in me would tell me to run away because I felt nothing emotional for that person. I watched on enviously while people around me did the things I wanted without needing that emotional attachment.
When I found the person I really wanted to have a relationship with, I wondered if my panic ridden demisexual brain would ruin it all for me, even though he was my closest and dearest friend.
More than that, I questioned whether I was demisexual at all or if I was just using that word as a cover for my overwhelming anxiety.
Somehow, the pandemic worked in my favour. All the usual social conventions went out the window, as they did in many facets of life. It was much easier to curl up on the lounge and watch a movie with someone I cared about in a place I felt comfortable in than worry about how to conduct myself in a public space at the very beginning of my first relationship.
I was nervous enough about romance and dating, so adding the extra element of worrying would have been overload. The fact that we couldn’t rely on outside distractions or activities, and that we were limited to spending time inside to keep us safe, meant that we were much more focused on each other. We picked up on each other’s natural cues and comforts very quickly, something that put me at ease.
We took things slow, and when the sexual attraction kicked in when I truly felt deep emotional and romantic feelings for him, it reinforced what I already knew – I am wholeheartedly demi.
In saying all that, I wonder if there are things I will feel like I missed out on.
My boyfriend recently told me he feels guilty about the fact that I didn’t get to experience all the things I should have gotten to experience with the start of a new relationship.
I was never formally asked out, never had a first date, never got the walk to the door ‘goodnight kiss or no goodnight kiss’ moment – all those little things that typically come with the beginning of a relationship. He feels like he robbed me of those things, even though many were made impossible by the strict social distancing measures and widespread closures.
While I have told him that the organic growth of our relationship from friendship to being a full-blown couple was more my style, I do wonder what our relationship would have looked like if there hadn’t been a pandemic.
Would we have ever participated in those early relationship rituals? Would I have been the one to ‘rob’ him of those things because of how my anxiety ridden demisexual brain is wired? If there hadn’t been a pandemic, would I have been scared off because of the perceived pressure to follow socially dictated norms?
I don’t know if it is the fact that the relationship may never have happened in the first place, my sexuality, or even my mental health, that makes me I feel like I am far more comfortable, and far happier, with how things turned out for my relationship.
And it makes me wonder, as the pandemic continues, how many other demisexual folks feel the same.
Anonymous is a Sydney-based emerging writer, with a Bachelor of Arts (English/Cultural Studies) from the University of Sydney. She has a particular interest in the intersections between creative life and personal relationships. She can be found snuggling the nearest dog, reading a good book, or writing her first novel.