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August 9, 2022

Love in the Time of Contagion explores the effects of quarantine on our relationships

By JULIA ALUMBRO | February 15, 2022

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WILL 2037/CC BY-SA 4.0

Laura Kipnis’ new novel Love in the Time of Contagion: A Diagnosis is a mixed bag of witty commentary and stagnant ideas.

The pandemic has undoubtedly transformed our views of love and relationships. Many in coupledom have remained together despite the untimely arrival of COVID-19 and its spread worldwide, while others have scattered to explore connection through social networks. Nonetheless, quarantine left us with an endless amount of time to reflect on our emotional, romantic and intimate needs.

Not only has the pandemic exposed deal breakers in some relationships, but it has also raised new personal standards for how we approach love. Now, with COVID-19 restrictions lessening due to vaccinations, we’re supposed to take what we’ve learned and go out into the world. But how have our lockdown experiences contributed to this newfound realization of proper relationship stability? What are the cultural effects of COVID-19 regarding partnerships and love?

These are the types of questions Laura Kipnis aims to investigate in her new book, Love in the Time of Contagion: A Diagnosis. The book was originally published on Feb. 8, just in time for peak coupledom celebration: Valentine’s Day. It’s composed of four essays titled “Love and Extinction,” “Vile Bodies: Heterosexuality and Its Discontents,” “Love on the Rocks: ‘Codependency’ and Its Vicissitudes” and “Love and Chaos.” In each essay, Kipnis offers her witty, insightful commentary on pandemic love stories ranging from her own personal experiences to that of an online forum.

Early in the book, Kipnis talks about the unhealthy dynamics she saw in her relationship during her forced sequestration. For example, she began to pat her boyfriend’s head even though she knew he hated it. Reflecting on this experience later, she had an epiphany about her habit of impulsivity: “I did become aware of previously untapped reservoirs of sadism bubbling up in me. I was mutating into a new, more diabolic version of myself.”

Although it was a minor impulsive annoyance, Kipnis admitted that it was part of a larger backdrop behind their forced household coexistence. The “bubbling” she describes is an accumulation of frustrating moments in which she knows she has lost certain freedoms a single person typically has. 

When you’re part of a couple, you know that there are conflicts built into the relationship, and while yes, your partner’s presence may provide comfort, it can also construct weird fixations or jealousies. Kipnis concludes this section by describing how a form of triangulation, a term in psychology that describes a form of manipulation, can uphold our internal desires to an extent.

One consistent feature of the book is how often it references psychological works. Love in the Time of Contagion cites many famous psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Stekel and Karen Horney. Kipnis loves talking about Freud’s work, and her chapter title “Vile Bodies: Heterosexuality and Its Discontents” was actually inspired by his book Civilization and Its Discontents. As often as she brings up these psychological explanations, I do criticize how briefly she presents these ideas to the reader.

For a book that covers such an unbounded topic, I would prefer that her ideas, which are already supported by the stories she introduced, make a lasting impact on the reader. Instead, we’re left with a lot of half-answered questions and Kipnis’ sarcasm. I was disappointed that she didn’t dig into her investigation as much as I thought she would.

I feel that the synopsis of the book may have misrepresented its content ratio of investigation and storytelling. The first half was definitely more insightful, aligning with most of the aforementioned questions regarding COVID-19 and relationships. The last half, however, was hard to get through in one sitting. Kipnis plagued her enjoyable introduction with stalling storytelling and infrequent analysis.

Luckily, there was light at the very end of the book. The last chapter, “Coda: Antibodies,” contained forum responses that Kipnis collected. The comments were entertaining to read as they didn’t refrain from any obscenity or ­informality­ — they were realistic comments from couples and singles alike.

Moving forward, there’s definitely more to investigate from the questions and ideas Kipnis brings up in this book. That, I guess, is the aftermath effect of experiencing something as colossal as a pandemic. Everything that she wrote about is so recent that our opinions of her arguments are subject to change. In terms of recommendation, I’d still encourage people to read Love in the Time of Contagion because of its social relevance and hilarious commentary.

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