Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2021

Love in the time of coronavirus

By RUDY MALCOM | April 6, 2020

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM Malcom is social distancing with his boyfriend in Baltimore.

Two weeks and two days after making it official, my boyfriend (my first ever!) and I moved in together. Needless to say, our relationship is moving rather quickly. Our very first date was on Feb. 14; I suppose I sort of lied in my last column when I wrote that I was destined to be single on Valentine’s Day — “barring any unlikely developments.”

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taught us, unlikely developments do happen. On March 10, I was sitting outside CharMar, still finishing my strawberry-banana crepe, when the Hub posted that in-person classes were canceled through at least April 12. I let out a scream and headed to the terrace outside Brody Learning Commons to begin interviewing sources. I wrote the breaking news article that evening in the Hutzler Reading Room in Gilman Hall (I miss her), my fingers glazed in Nutella.

University President Ronald J. Daniels’ email that evening encouraged students who live in University housing not to return to campus immediately after spring break. In accordance with the email’s instructions, my boyfriend, a sophomore, registered with Student Affairs, planning to stay on campus between spring break and April 12.

However, two nights later, some residential students received an email informing them that they were required to leave campus by that Sunday. My boyfriend — let’s call him “A” — would not receive the email until the following morning, Friday. At around 1 a.m., A and I took what we thought might be our last walk around campus, briefly intermingling with a bacchanalia of sorts on the Beach. It was surreal. 

The next morning, I began calling various offices on campus: Dining Programs, Housing Operations, Student Affairs, Student Financial Services, Student Outreach and Support. I had many questions and was eager to begin reporting so that I could use my position as News & Features Editor for The News-Letter to help inform the overwhelmed student body. 

But I also wanted to spend time that day with A, along with other friends. Who knew when I would next get the chance? I managed to have my cake and eat it too, taking breaks from frolicking to send emails and conduct and transcribe in-person and phone interviews. That night, he slept in my bed while I stayed up writing “University requires residential students to leave campus due to COVID-19.”

We agreed that, after spring break, he would stay with me in my off-campus apartment. This seemed like a normal response to an unprecedented situation. On Saturday, we embarked on separate trains, planning to reunite in one week. Amid mounting pressure for a shelter-in-place order in New York or even a national lockdown, I grew anxious about getting stuck at home, an environment that isn’t the healthiest for me. That Monday, I changed my ticket back to Baltimore to Wednesday. That Tuesday, brimming with fear, I changed my ticket to Baltimore to later that same day. 

Upon arriving in my apartment, I was overwhelmed with relief. But I also felt guilty over leaving my family members, though this decision was best for my mental health. 

Now, living with A, I feel a different set of emotions. Yes, it is an immense privilege that I get to be with him. I wouldn’t want to self-isolate with anybody else. It has been wonderful, and I am deeply grateful for this experience to grow with him. But it has also been overwhelming. Living with someone after dating for barely a fortnight is a wild concept, even during a public health crisis. We’re falling into the dynamics of our relationship at an accelerated, unnatural rate; it’s a large adjustment. Because of social distancing (and now Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order), he is the only individual I interact with in-person (my roommates went back home). We spend a huge amount of time together. 

It scares me how quickly — with all other routines subverted by COVID-19 — he has become the center of my universe. In a previous article, I described The News-Letter as “my beloved boyfriend.” Since then, COVID-19 has reshaped the production cycle; until in-person classes resume, we’re online-only.  The halting of the paper’s print production has eliminated several day-to-day stressors of being a News editor. This, along with the disruption of many facets of everyday life, gives me more time to focus on a relationship with a person and not a publication.

Nevertheless, I have hours of interviews I must transcribe for features I want to write before the semester ends. It can be difficult to prioritize long-term goals when the stress of a pandemic makes it hard to focus, when classes are now satisfactory/unsatisfactory, when I can watch a movie or just co-exist with my significant other. I can often procrastinate without immediate consequence.

Of course, during this chaotic and confusing time, it is perhaps especially important to practice self-care. It is more than okay not to be “productive” right now. But I need balance; part of my self-care is to uphold my responsibility to the newspaper and to the student body and community members we represent. This is why I am making sure that I set aside time and space for myself — that A and I do work in different parts of the apartment depending on our schedules, that we don’t always sleep in the same bed.

I am also making sure not to trivialize my emotions by attributing them to COVID-19. I can be thankful that my boyfriend is staying with me but also be frustrated when navigating our differing love languages or deciding who’s paying for groceries. Maybe I’m more on edge because I’m stressed about a once-in-a-lifetime cataclysm, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up when little things upset me.

A FaceTime call with a friend helped give me a vocabulary for what was making me upset. I think that when we’re self-quarantining, with whomever it may be, it can be easy in the short term to tell ourselves to accept the situation as it is. The effects of COVID-19 on our lives are largely outside of our control, but we do have some agency over the situations we’re in. We can make meaningful improvements if we recognize that our emotions are valid and express them if it is safe to do so.

This is difficult and can require an external perspective. Keep in touch with the friends or family members you’re apart from. Take walks with the people you’re living with (and wonder if those who move away from you as you pass by them are homophobes or social distancers). Communicate with them. Who knows, maybe there will be an unlikely development. 

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