We went into lockdown with podcasts and articles about the changing nature of relationships. We saw changes at extreme ends of the spectrum, an increase in marriages and an increase in divorces. The uncertainty of life made people realize that there is no better time to live their life than now. Within the uncertainty, some people found their certainty, but what happens when at the end of 2020 you realize that you don’t know what you want anymore?
The pandemic pushed a lot of couples to buckle down; work, family and surviving became the stressful norm. Locked in two separate rooms with no one watching, what were couples doing? Despite living in the same house, did they connect? Or did the stress of staying afloat leave marriages sexless and disconnected. Guilt, a complicated emotion experienced in the pandemic, was felt by a lot of individuals making some unconsciously deny basic pleasures like sex. Guankian Li (2020) in their study noted a 41% decrease in sexual intercourse frequency and a 22% decrease in sexual desire during the pandemic.
The pandemic did all sorts of things to us, but it definitely left a lot of us questioning who we are. And what we want. These existential questions can’t be understood in a single post and require a lot of soul searching; but does an urban young adult have the luxury of stepping away from a marriage and stepping into their feelings? The superficial answer to who we are and what we want is – go figure! Take your time, go on the ride and keep unraveling. After all, the truest form of intimacy is in unraveling yourself.
But let’s get back to those who are now in limbo – not sure of what they want. It is likely that 2020 has seen a definite increase in emotional infidelity. People in committed relationships like marriages know there is love and companionship in their relationship but the stressors of the pandemic pushed them to emotionally checkout of their relationship and check-into another. Ashley Madison, the world’s leading marriage dating site, published a report entitled Love Beyond Lockdown, to understand why there was an increase in infidelity during the pandemic (they noted an uptick in signups during the pandemic).
Their report suggested that infidelity has gone virtual (remember social distancing), although some are still meeting in-person. Behind locked doors as colleagues are connecting over distracted conversations about work and life, curiosity heightens, intrigue begins and then the thrill. These virtual relationships serves/ed as a distraction from the present stressful reality of what lies on the other side of the door – a grocery list, a stressed partner, or worse a disinterested one. The need to feel desired albeit through intellectual and emotional stimulation is intrinsic to a relationship. 60% of Ashley Madison users surveyed (all of whom are married or have a significant other) said their partner didn’t initiate sex once from mid-March until early September, which 25% of all users surveyed found to be the most distressing part of the pandemic. It was for that reason that 76% of all users decided to actively to give up on their “dead bedroom” and seek romantic fulfillment elsewhere.
The revelation of infidelity has led a lot of couples to introspect. We live in monotonous marriages often forgetting to look at our partners, sex becomes mechanical rather than pleasure driven and it’s a list of chores to ensure we are constantly keeping up with the Jones. Relationships are built on physical, emotional and intellectual attraction. Communication is probably the sexiest foreplay and for some the pandemic has left them feeling disinterested and uncommunicative.Thus the desire to feel desired creeps in and sometimes we may want to look outside.
Infidelity is not a character flaw; it could be a symptom of a problem. At times like this maybe we need to step out to step in. 2020 was rightly termed as an unprecedented year, it pushed us in corners we never imagined we could reach. Take the wisdom from the year gone, and live consciously for the year to come.