Shades of Love in the Time of Cholera

These are strange times we are living in. In the last few weeks since Covid-19 has escalated from dominating the news cycle to directly impacting our lives, I keep hearing that phrase over and over. And while the media have focused on the number of deaths, the lack of a cohesive Federal response, school closings, and potential loss of income, nobody seems to be addressing the effect the Corona virus has had on love and dating.

I remarked to my friend, Adam, that this reminds me of “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the wonderful novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, about older people in love, coping with a plague-like epidemic of cholera in a series of vignettes. Adam and I share a place in the suburbs, but Adam has a boyfriend in the city, and travels there every weekend to see Ken, and take in the latest theater shows. Now that Broadway has gone dark, it’s not clear to me that Adam will ever leave the house again. Mindful of this, I told him that if things get bad in the city Ken is welcome to come stay with us. But then we just looked at each other and sighed, knowing that it would take a full blown zombie apocalypse to get Ken on a train to (Gasp!) the suburbs.

I have another friend, Rachel, divorced and in her 50s, who has recently gotten back onto and JDate. She says that she has seen a real acceleration in the usual progress from initial coffee meet, to first date, to physical contact. Rachel said, “I suddenly understand all those soldiers and women who got married in a rush during World War II or Vietnam. None of us are teenagers anymore, but I get it because the feeling of urgency is real. At the same time, I’m thinking, boy, we really have picked a weird time to start kissing strangers.”

Then there’s my son’s friends, Josh and Kristi, who live in Oakland, California. They spent last weekend calling or texting over 100 people to tell them that they were postponing their April 4th wedding indefinitely. They were too concerned about their own elderly parents and other at-risk guests to take a chance. Two days later the CDC recommended avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people, and the state issued a “remain in place” order affecting six counties, including Alameda, where they live. Right now, no one can even guess when Josh and Kristi will be able to set a new date.

As for me, I’ve been seeing a nice guy, too. It’s early days, but Peter has earned bonus points already for his sense of humor and compassionate response to these unfolding events. Peter works as a respiratory therapist at a Senior Center. Along with his usual duties, he spent last week taking inventory of face masks and other protective gear, and this week explaining to the residents and their relatives why there can be no visitors from outside. These are the kinds of topics we discussed over that initial coffee and first few dates. Oh yes, we also talked about how the local amateur theater company, for which he was doing lights, had to shut down their production after the first week. No gatherings allowed of more than (at the time) 100 people.  I’m glad I got to see it while it was still running.

Tonight I’m going to his place for the first time and bringing anti-pasta and ravioli to cook there, because all the restaurants are closed. He’ll tell me about his day: his concern for his patients and fear that the protective measures taken are too little, too late. I’ll tell him how I’m now working from home for the foreseeable future, and that I will not be traveling to California for a wedding in two weeks. There is a profound comfort in having someone with whom one can share one’s day – the fears, the joyful moments, the annoyances. There is a profound desire for physical contact and intimacy – of all varieties – in times of stress. And there is a profound need for kindness when the world seems particularly harsh. These things endure: sharing, intimacy, kindness. These things are what get us through these strange times.


by Cheryl Shainmark
Cheryl Shainmark is a writer and editor living in Westchester, New York. A long time contributor of articles and book reviews, Cheryl is now a senior editor and a regular columnist at Merlian News. When she is not reading, reviewing, or dreaming about books she can be found playing with cats of all stripes at her quiet country retreat.