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#23: Love in the Time of Quarantine

#23: Love in the Time of Quarantine

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Welcome to another Mother Fuggin’ Monday email, the only weekly newsletter that fist bumps you when you open it, because, you know… viruses. Each week, I send you three thought-provoking ideas that could potentially make you a less awful human being (keyword: potentially). This week, we’re talking: 1) love in the time of quarantine, 2) opportunity in isolation, and 3) irrationality in times of high stress. Let’s get into it. 

1. Love in the time of quarantine – As we all buckle into our living rooms for the long haul, a particularly foreboding (or hilarious, depending on your perspective) piece of news has been making the rounds. Apparently, divorce rates shot up in parts of China as the quarantine was lifted, in some cases maxing out the capacity of the government to process them. 

Of course, this could have simply been because the government offices had been closed for over a month and there was pent up demand. Or, perhaps when forced to be together 24/7 for a month straight, people realized they couldn’t stand each other. 

The data on whether close proximity to a partner for an extended period of time is mixed. But given the extraordinary times we’re living in, it’s something interesting to think about. 

My theory has long been that stress either brings people closer or pushes them apart. If the relationship is healthy–i.e., if both people’s intentions are aligned correctly with the relationship and they communicate with respect, the stress will make the bond stronger. If the relationship is unhealthy–i.e., if one or both people’s intentions are not aligned and/or they treat each other like dog shit, then the stress will push them further apart. 

Then there’s the inability to distract oneself. Before, if you were a lousy dad or an angry wife, you could endlessly distract yourself away from owning that fact. Now? There’s nothing hiding you from yourself, or from your partner for that matter. By stripping us of our day-to-day lives, we are, in a way, emotionally naked. And if we’re not used to being emotionally naked with our partner, then things might get weird. 

I think over the coming weeks and months, as people are forced to face the naked truth of their relationships, there will be a lot of emotional stress to compound the existential stress of the pandemic. For this reason, I think this period is actually an important time to maintain and repair the relationships in your life, if at all possible. 

It’s also a great time for an audiobook! 

Oh wait, how convenient! This coming Thursday, I’m releasing an eight-hour audiobook on relationships and all of the problems that come with them. Granted, when I recorded it, a global pandemic was still unimaginable. But the principles are timeless: managing conflict, mutual respect, strong boundaries, and not being a piece of shit to people you love. You know, the basics. 

Check it out: Love is Not Enough – An Audible Original 

(P.S. I’ll also be doing an Instagram Live on the afternoon of the 26th to discuss the project. Follow me on Instagram and find the event here.) 

2. Opportunity in isolation – Some people I know have been pretty down about the whole idea of staying in their house for potentially months on end. But I think there’s a therapeutic potential here. 
I know, that sounds nutso-balls. But one thing I’ve long pointed out is that it is often difficult to consider our personal values without getting some distance from them. That is, when you’re caught up with work all day, your kids, running errands and keeping up with friends, you simply lose the time and mental capacity for healthy reflection on the trajectory your life is on and whether you want it there or not. 

Typically, the way we get that perspective is by eliminating distraction and noise. Getting away on vacation, taking a retreat, going hiking, or even just spending an afternoon with a good book. These can be ways to get the mental space necessary to reflect on what in your life really matters to you. 

Another way isolation helps grant one perspective is that you are often surprised by what you miss and what you do not. Sometimes you miss people and activities dearly that you always took for granted and the things you thought were such an integral part of your life, you end up not missing them at all. 

So, in these coming weeks when we’re all home–assuming you’re not trying to divorce your significant other–take this time to reflect on the commitments in your life and whether they are worth your time or not. 

We are in the period of deep financial and existential stress. But many of these things that have been forcefully removed from your life, you may eventually find that you were better off without them all along. 

3. A tale of two emails – On March 9th, this newsletter said, “In the coming weeks, we will see more quarantines and cancellations of flights, events, etc. … What’s important to understand is the point of the quarantines isn’t to prevent us all from getting sick. The point of the quarantines is to slow the spread of the virus enough to prevent overloading the healthcare system.” I then described this as a moral duty, because, I paraphrase, “if we go outside, other people will potentially die.” 

The email was so popular with readers that I published it on the site, where it was shared thousands of times and read nearly half a million times. It also garnered almost universal praise with many people telling me it was the most “rational” and “level-headed” take they had read on coronavirus. 

Exactly one week later, I wrote, “By the time you read this, my wife and I will be locked in our house with about a month’s worth of food and supplies. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the most logical and responsible thing any of us can do right now … I encourage everyone reading this to take measures to practice [social distancing].”

I proceeded to get many dozens, if not hundreds, of emails and messages telling me I was “hysterical,” “encouraging panic,” and “irresponsibly reckless” in writing these things. People compared my email to screaming “fire!” in a crowded theatre, told me I was manipulating the public for my own gain, suggested I was a domestic terrorist, and even claimed I would be responsible for the deaths of others by my actions. 

Now, I’m used to getting hate mail from shit-brains who read a couple articles on Facebook and think they know everything about everything. That is not new. 

What was fascinating to me was that two emails, saying essentially the same thing–that the data suggests it is hugely important to socially distance and self-quarantine–sent exactly one week apart, received such different responses. 

I have a few theories for why this could be: 

  1. The first email was written from a third-person, “this is the way the world is and why people are behaving this way,” perspective. It’s written in the tone of a tour guide, if the tour was the most significant large-scale calamity in generations. The second email was written from a first-person, “this is what I’m doing to prepare,” perspective. And if we know anything about the internet, it’s that people love nothing more than to pass moral judgment on the actions of others online. Something that makes sense and seems rational in theory, “Stock up and stay home,” suddenly becomes infuriating when it’s an individual human being doing. Doesn’t he understand other people need toilet paper? Doesn’t he understand he’s causing people anxiety?

    Well, uh… duh. The email was called “When fear can be useful.” 

  2. But that doesn’t explain why so many people replied to the second email with plain dumb arguments and incorrect numbers about the situation. Somehow, it felt as though the readership became less informed between the first email and the second. My second theory is, therefore, that all of the shit-brains weren’t paying attention before and didn’t care until, you know, it started affecting their own precious lives. As a result, they were a few weeks behind on the information curve and still stuck on the inane idea that the flu kills more people and why is everyone freaking out about this thing, come on, man, this is a free country, why can’t I eat my grand slam breakfast at Denny’s anymore? 

    These people definitely weren’t paying attention a month ago. Because in my February 24th newsletter I went through the data comparing coronavirus to the flu and explained why, if China’s numbers were accurate, coronavirus would likely be far more dangerous and result in a global pandemic. (Spoiler: they were fairly accurate.) 

  3. The third possible explanation is that something happened in the week between the two emails. That week, Trump came out and gave three progressively scarier-sounding press conferences, beginning with a travel ban from Europe on Wednesday and ending with a “pretty please with a cherry on top, everyone stay the fuck inside” plea the next Monday, coincidentally just a few hours after my second email went out telling people to do the exact same thing. 

    I think that week is when the fear really started to kick in for most people. And when people get scared, they are prone to do two things: deny reality, and/or lash out at others who unpleasantly remind them of reality. 

  4. The other minor explanation here is that it wasn’t until this week that the conspiracy theory scum of the interwebs finally dusted the Doritos powder from their fingertips, told their mothers to turn down the television upstairs, and adjusted their tinfoil hats so they could set to work posting an avalanche of absolute nonsense online. This army of neckbeard 40-year-old virgins clearly made a dent in our collective psyche because the drivel I was exposed to was beyond the intellectual pale. I won’t link to anything because, well, fuck these people. But just know my faith in humanity this past week was deeply tested… and long-time readers know I’ve never had much faith in humanity to begin with. 

Look people, there are about a dozen leading epidemiologists in the world, people who have studied viruses their entire lives, people who have successfully helped eradicate and stop the spread of HIV, SARS, H1N1, Ebola, etc. Before you and I even knew what a coronavirus was, these people had been studying it for years, all day, every day. Coincidentally, these people are all actively posting valuable information and peer-reviewed research online… every. single. day. You can follow some of them hereherehere and here. Stop reading dumb shit you see posted by your uncle on social media. Stop listening to talking heads on cable news. Be skeptical of any news article not written by a scientist or doctor or not based on the work of a scientist or doctor (Scientific American is a good resource). I’ve spent much of the last year writing about developing the skill of finding good information sources. This is an excellent time to start practicing. 

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and (maybe) stay married… or not. 

Until next week,