“Do not feel lonely; the entire universe is inside you.” — Al-Rumi
Many people have perhaps resorted to finding solace in mystical quotations from the mediaeval Persian poet Jalaleddin Mohamed Al-Rumi during the Covid-19 pandemic and particularly during periods of social distancing.
Although the pandemic has thus far hardly changed the course of world politics, many agree that life under quarantine has wrought changes on many people’s personal lives, changing their perspectives, priorities, and relationships in ways that may prove irreversible.
Life under quarantine has affected marriages in many different ways depending on how couples were already faring in their lives before the pandemic. Initial reports have showed that divorce rates have increased globally, marking an estimated 34 per cent spike in the US and an unprecedented number of divorce requests in China.
“The pandemic has not been easy on couples,” noted Theresa E DiDonato, a social psychologist and associate professor at Loyola University in the US, in an article published in the US journal Psychology Today.
“It hits from all sides: from economic concerns to new working arrangements, from sick family members to managing children’s stress and virtual schooling, from being at home more than ever to recommended social distancing from friends and family.”
DiDonato’s take, however, seems to apply mostly to those whose marriages had already been unhappy before the pandemic. Those marriages, she explained, were often stable because couples had been busy with distractions that kept them apart for some of the time, ranging from working hours to taking care of the kids.
When isolated in quarantine, such couples suddenly found themselves together. “Suddenly, couples couldn’t ignore their relationship,” DiDonato said.
But there is another side to the coin, and other surveys have found that the quarantining has yielded positive changes to many people’s lives. Some couples have reported that having been through the pandemic together has strengthened their bond.
A recent report in the US newspaper the Washington Post entitled “Divorce is Down, Despite Covid-19” says that “the net effects of the pandemic are not nearly as negative as many media reports would suggest.”
According to the Post, a recent survey revealed that “58 per cent of married men and women 18 to 55 said the pandemic has made them appreciate their spouse more, while 51 per cent said their commitment to marriage had deepened.”
“Only eight per cent said that the pandemic had weakened their commitment to one another,” the report said.
The surveys were mentioned as indications that divorce rates may decrease after the pandemic, that the pandemic has actually drawn couples closer towards each other to overcome the crisis, and that it had made them appreciate each other more.
Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia in the US, is among those who predict that relationships will be stronger in the wake of the pandemic because “people value the safety of home when the world seems uncertain.”
“They appreciate their families and seek stability in tough times, even if this means sustaining a potentially less-than-ideal relationship,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox, who is also the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and author of a book on marriage entitled We Before Me, believes the pandemic has “given
+many people a new appreciation for how much they depend upon their spouses.”
This may not be the only positive change that Covid-19 has brought to our lives.
The earth seems to have also taken a break from many pollutants during the lockdown, and environmentalists are reiterating calls that this should be an opportunity to rethink and ensure that we do not go back to our polluting ways of life.
The pandemic has shown that many professions can survive online and that the pollution produced by traffic can be greatly reduced if work-at-home strategies are adopted. Studies have estimated that in the US alone, for instance, one third of the workforce can work from home. They have also shown how work-from-home strategies as well as distance-learning can be cost-effective since they reduce spending on fuel and the time spent in traffic, not to mention fewer pollutants.
On the personal level, many agree that the pandemic has been an opportunity to take a break from a roller-coaster life, to spend quality time with family, to explore new hobbies, and to give vent to creativity.
“I think the pandemic and lockdown have managed to bring huge changes to how we see our lives,” Rania Shoukry, an Egyptian therapist and life coach, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Shoukry, also the author of a best-selling book entitled After We Broke Up, explains that the quarantine has provided “many people with the chance to reflect on their current status and make needed changes.”
“Others have started to look at their priorities and check how much they invest in them,” Shoukry said. “Many have discovered that their comfort zones were not as comfortable as they thought and that they were putting up with some issues just because they were distracting themselves with work or being busy.”
For Shoukry, the quarantine was thus a sort of “self-discovery journey that wasn’t intentional for many”.
“Losing loved ones is also a very profound experience, and the fear of losing them gave some people the opportunity to rethink how much time they should be spending with those who are most important to them,” Shoukry said.
But whether these changes are permanent or not will “depend on the person concerned and their willingness to work on these changes consistently,” according to Shoukry.
A new survey commissioned by the US Parade Magazine and Cleveland Clinic and given to 1,000 US citizens aged 18 and above has yielded some positive results.
“Overall, 34 per cent of those who responded said they feel closer to their family and, in households with kids, 52 per cent reported feeling like they’ve forged new connections,” the survey revealed. “Additionally, 78 per cent agreed that quarantine made them value their relationships.”
As for additional stress with kids, the US study found that “27 per cent of those surveyed who have kids in their households say their children have benefited from being able to spend more time with family.”
Although many reported having had severe anxiety and depression due to the uncertainty and loneliness wreaked by the pandemic, many still reported that they had managed to find positives in their experiences.
“Overall, 78 per cent of those surveyed said that while quarantining and social distancing was difficult, it has also made them value their relationships,” the survey wrote. “Meanwhile, 65 per cent said the pandemic has made them reevaluate how they spend their time, and 58 per cent said it’s made them reevaluate their life goals.”
Interestingly, about 58 per cent of respondents said the pandemic had changed their way of life forever.
“This was the best time of my life. I’ve had the time to read more books, and I’ve taken free online courses that I would never have had the time for otherwise,” a friend noted. “It was a much-needed break to spend quality time with the kids,” another said.
Many people across the globe started to take more time cooking new recipes. Parents have been employing creative ways of distracting the kids during quarantine, and most improvised new ways to adapt with social-distancing, distance-learning, and work-from-home.
Many have started to practice new hobbies that they had never found time for before. Others have started to think out of the box to make career shifts, for example by creating new things and marketing them online, and many students have tried to learn new courses online.
“Many of us, in our own small ways, have become reconnected with something that is increasingly lost in hectic modern life — making and doing things from scratch for ourselves and realising how deeply satisfying and fulfilling that can be,” said a BBC article entitled “The Covid-19 Changes that Could Last Long-Term.”
LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID
Richard Slatcher, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia in the US, has been working with colleagues to determine the psychological effects of a decrease in face-to-face communication in a “Love in the Time of Covid” project.
One of the findings of the study is that some people have reported that “they feel more connected to others than they typically do.”
“Many people will feel very isolated, both physically and psychologically, but others may actually feel more connected to their households, neighbours, and/or social networks,” the study wrote.
“The way people are connecting during this time is incredibly moving, and not despite the pandemic, but because of it,” Slatcher said.
In Egypt, many individuals and NGOs went out of their way to provide relief to the afflicted during the pandemic, preparing meals for families and donating monthly salaries to those who had lost their jobs in the informal sector.
Heba Al-Sweedy of the Ahl Masr Foundation, an NGO, and Heba Rashed of Mersal were at the helm of such non-governmental efforts, providing an 11th-hour rescue to those most needing intensive care during the pandemic. Chemist Amira Abdel-Aal launched a Facebook page that helped provide ventilators, ambulances, and isolation places for Covid-19 patients via her personal contacts.
Others launched Facebook pages to prepare and distribute food to infected families or find employment for those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic. Others volunteered their own services and distributed free masks to garbage collectors and those unable to afford sanitisers.
“We are inherently social beings, and this deep drive for connection becomes beautifully and painfully apparent in times like these,” Slatcher concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly