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  • Mihlali Mbobo

LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID: Romantic Love and Sexual Attraction

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

They say a life without love is like a year without Summer and well…

I like Valentines Day but I haven’t had much opportunity to enjoy it with a romantic partner on some #VDayGoals but I love the idea of a dedicated day to celebrate the people we love.


Cellphone with emoji heart and kissing emoji

I’m grateful for primary school teachings when we had to make our classmates and families Valentine's gifts on Valentine’’s Day. I looked forward to it every year because it was always a no uniform, civvies day so I could rock my fire red and white outfit and it was always a giggly, eventful day.


Over the years I decided to carry on the tradition of taking the day to celebrate my friends and family. Romance should not be exclusive to intimate relationships and I’m fortunate to have loved ones who also model that kind of love with me. Sounds cliche but love is a beautiful thing and we do it and ourselves a disservice by limiting who should express it, how, when and why instead of just leading with our hearts.


Oh sweet infatuation...is there anything better than new love, new vibes, new feels!

Every day is an adventure! So many possibilities, each one better than the last, I love how hopeful and refreshing new romance makes us feel. That feeling of being reborn in a new romance, washed anew by the eyes of your beloved, the world is yours to seize again.


Perhaps more than other people, this is the most addictive part of love and what drives us crazy. This is why we download and delete these apps throughout the year, from Hot Girl Summer to It’s Not Love, it’s Winter cuffing season. We’re not addicted to other people, we’re addicted to how other people make us feel.


It’s the dopamine kick, the ego trip is the heroin in our veins and we’ll go anywhere and try anything to get a hit! Well almost anything, it takes us a long time and a lot of mess to figure out how to make ourselves feel good so that we don’t have to depend on other people to do it for us.


So much of attraction in a romantic/sexual sense is about physical presence, being seen, being heard and being touched. With social distancing and quarantining all of that casual and intimate space went away but it’s function and the need for it obviously didn’t. In fact it has grew and right now we are at critical levels of horny!


All over social media on a random Tuesday afternoon timelines and news feeds are aflame with racy pictures and conversations. The people need an outlet, the horny is overflowing! We all read the stories of the instant couples at the beginning of lockdown who basically went all in from strangers or people casually ‘talking’ to moving in together. Some are still going strong, building a solid bond riding the rollercoaster of our current situation but many have not been so lucky.


I had my own adventures on the limited-time only free Tinder Global where it allowed everyone to swipe in any Tinder area around the world.


So I swiped and chatted from Bangalore to Berlin, Cape Town Southern suburbs to Cape Town Northern suburbs which is basically a long distance relationship.

For all of 3 weeks it felt like I was only a match away from my own 90 Day Fiance adventure and grand Lauren and Cameron love story (don’t judge me).


But after a while the enthusiasm would fizzle, the chats would get boring and the stark reality that we were just trying to distract ourselves from this pandemic would rear its ugly head and shut down our blissful escapism.


So I spent most of it holed up in my room binge watching ALL the reality shows! Love is Blind was an interesting experiment, great TV with memorable couples but Dating Around was my Netflix favourite. I still break into a sweat thinking about how awkward some of those dates were, it did make me feel better about my cringe verbal diarrhea approach to flirting though.


In our modern society we are constantly surrounded by messages about romance and relationships. It’s the messaging on a MyCiTi bus advert about getting a promotion to afford that De Beers diamond for your lady and it’s the assistant at the salon telling you to get that Brazillian for their birthday dinner for some Birthday Sex.


Everywhere we turn or flip or scroll we are met with an image, an impression of what Romance is, of what sexy is, what it should mean to us and what we should be doing about it. It keeps us passively pre-occupied and plugged into the system of commercialised romance.

What it means about you as a person, who to become to get it, how to keep it and why this will be the most worthwhile pursuit of your life. Because in our Capitalistic society...even desire is a commodity. Being desirable and desiring is a form of trade, you are judged on who you deem desirable and who deems you desirable.


There are rules, spoken and unspoken about who deserves what and how to go about ensuring the desired results in our romantic and sexual pursuits. Whole industries, genres, countercultures and philosophies have existed for centuries around these interactions and exchanges.


Just started dating? You have to get them flowers! 1 year anniversary coming up? Time for a baecation! Been commuting between places for 2 years? Why not move in together?!

And of course, the jackpot bonanza of getting married in a lavish ceremony with blinding Swarovski arrangements or on a secluded beach with just your partner and your plant children.

At every point and for every archetype, there’s a stage and something you do or buy or give up or give into to be admitted into this next level of relationship, of romance and of sexiness.


It’s like a video game! You’re moving from one level to another hitting every target, collecting the bonus points and you can’t stop, won’t stop until you win the big game!


Sometimes I question how much of wanting to be in a relationship is the natural urge of being human and how much is social conditioning. I know people who genuinely have never been single, they don’t understand why they would ever purposely choose to be alone when they have the option of being with someone. And equally, there are people who have never been in any romantic relationships and cannot fathom the idea of being that attached to a particular person. There are degrees in relation to our ideas and attachments regarding relationships, some are nature, some nurture and others the crafty work of Walt Disney Studios somewhere in Hollywood.


We take it as a natural part of life, this Romance Industrial Complex of dating apps, singles socials and date night deals. This constant preoccupation and busyness with searching for and creating our lives around a romantic mate. People assume that if you’re single you’re obviously actively looking for a romantic partner, which is likely the case for many single people but I sometimes resent the standard expectation, like duh, what else would you be doing with your time and energy?


We were in lockdown and in the absence of all that constant chatter and noise, being single and mingling and consuming normal media before everything became about the pandemic...there was this silence. I was alone only caring about what I wanted and what I liked, how I liked to look or not look.


The public gaze, the romantic gaze and the wanting to be liked gaze fell away and what was left was my own gaze and my own thoughts.


It brought up questions of what kind of people I’m attracted to and why. Thinking of how much I genuinely wanted to connect with some match even though I knew we wouldn’t be able to physically meet, just knowing that I’d have a person to ride out the storm with or at the very least pass the time with was a strong driver. I thought it’d be great, then we’d really get a chance to know each other’s personalities without the anxiety of perhaps not having that physical chemistry or not being sure we’re each other's types.


Thinking back I actually enjoyed my pandemic time on the dating apps and found it educational because I was fortunate enough to be in a space where I had a lot of time to think and introspect. The whole world was shutting down, in an eerie but also peaceful way. Now I only had myself to exist with, to look forward to and to negotiate my internal world with.


I discovered 2 things: 1. How draining the whole dating process and constantly feeling like I was auditioning for a crumb of affection was. And 2. I was actually happier by myself; focused on my loved ones, whatever movies I was bingeing that week, trying out new recipes and just staying afloat in a global pandemic.


All of a sudden I had all this time and focused energy returned to me! I realized, perhaps for the first time in my life, that I was enough for me.


I discovered that I liked myself. I’m cool and funny even though I really shouldn't say some things out loud. Left with only my own company, I found a genuine friend and that led me to happiness with myself and by myself.


I had somehow always believed the false idea of someone coming along to save me with their love. On some ‘let me love you until you learn to love yourself’ mission, which can be a valid and beautiful thing but for me I realised it came from a place of avoidance.


It was about abdicating my personal responsibility to myself to provide happiness, stability, excitement and opportunities to practice love and care with others. I wanted the convenience of a person who could take care of all those needs for me and with me. It seemed too great a task to carry out solo all of a sudden, even though I’ve been single and happily alone most of my life. Navigating Love in the time of COVID showed me how much self-abandonment can be involved in modern dating culture and how much I had started to internalize those patterns and behaviours with the people I was dating and with myself.


I’d already been working on my people pleasing tendencies, now add wanting affection and validation. Starved of attention, feeling uncertain, unattractive and frankly scared because it felt like the sky was falling. Love in the time of lockdown was a hot mess!


For many there was no Summer or Spring in 2020, just straight Autumn and Winter vibes! Speaking to friends and strangers about this past year, COVID has been really tough on our tender spots and the ways in which we deny needing and wanting other people. Their attention, their care, their desire and their love.


I had never felt such despair and genuine loneliness as I did some days these past 18 months. Having gone from a thriving life of being able to move about, see friends, enjoy live music, be excited about a new shade of lipstick and generally live like the hustler main character in a series about the big city and it’s bright lights. All of that was taken away in an instant! And when we spend so much of our time on transient people doing transient things to soothe ourselves of transient emotions, what happens when everything comes to a stand still?


I’m glad that now, months later I can see it in a positive light and I hope we’re all able to re-evaluate the things that happen in our lives and try to find new meaning. I won’t say every cloud has a silver lining because a deadly global pandemic and the insane amount of loss that is still going on because of this pandemic is heartbreaking.


In each phase of our lives we have opportunities to see ourselves and gain new insights and understanding about ourselves and our lives.


We should make a habit of making the time to do that and most times, the work is undoing the defensive mechanisms we’ve put in place to avoid connecting with ourselves in a meaningful way. Because sometimes when we do, we feel overwhelmed, fearful, hopeless and even numb. These are difficult times physically,emotionally and financially and everyone deserves to find a way to cope.


If you or someone you know is dealing with Depression, Anxiety, Grief or just needs someone to talk to please reach out to counsellors, loved ones or trusted spiritual guides if that’s more comfortable. The point is don’t suffer in silence, don’t undermine your struggle because ‘we’re in a pandemic and everyone is struggling!’. That is true, but your pain matters and so does your healing.

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