How self-isolation is testing how much we really love our significant others

A little over a week ago, the actual reality of the Coronavirus seemed almost farfetched. Lock-in, quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing. Loaded terms that had yet to form part of our everyday vernacular, a shorthand way to speak about the world we are now inhabiting. 

Instead, Coronavirus was nothing more than a funny-sounding infection. It was happening, but it wasn't here. Even when it arrived, rolling out the red carpet and taking down Tom Hanks, it still felt like a punchline, not a pivotal moment in history. I can now admit that I spent far too long trading Hanks-related Corona puns while ignoring what was heading our way. 

For the record, the best ones were: Apollo-19, Don't Catch Me If You Can, The Da Vinci Covid, You've Gone Pale and my personal favourite, You've Got Corona. 

But then came a series of increasingly grim press conferences, the take-home message growing louder and more explicit: this is the real deal. Each day since the world has offered up a new normal, and for many, this has also included the introduction of a shiny, new acronym WFH: Working From Home.

Starts in games...

Of course, as a freelancer this is all I do, no one has been better prepped for a pandemic than me. I watched on in mild bemusement as social isolation took over social media. Instagram was awash with people showing off their home offices or pretending their dog was a co-worker. 

As any seasoned solo employee will tell you, working from home is a novelty, and before long, even your own company becomes tiresome. There are only so many times you can traipse to the fridge, open it, then close it. Go to the bathroom, pick at something in the mirror. Wash your hands (obviously, thoroughly), then plonk back down at your computer. Day three and you're already hate-missing your work nemesis. 

New to the club

But even I was caught off guard by the challenges the past week has offered up. My fiancee, Kate, was one of the many sentenced to an indefinite term of home imprisonment. When she received the news she rejoiced, social isolation was an unforeseen silver lining to the shitshow that is Coronavirus. 

"We can sleep in, watch movies and have sex during the day!" she promised. "You and me, against the world!"

It took about two days to go from that to this.

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"Can you not, I feel smothered!?"

"You're quite a heavy breather, aren't you?"

"Stop cracking your knuckles."

"Honestly I hope you get a bit of Corona."

The true terms of social isolation: You and me, against each other. 

Time-limit love

It's only set to get worse, as the domino effect of this pandemic sends more people into isolation. Waiting for them is the shocking reality that while you may love your boyfriend, wife, housemate, mum, dad, sister or aunt, you definitely don't love them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I suspect we all knew this anyway. Who amongst us hasn't glanced at their partner after an extended period together - school holidays, a European break, even a long weekend - and thought, 'can't wait to not see you soon.' 

It's human nature, but now we're being forced to lay bare that inner monologue and see how loud it screams. As with much of the dialogue around Coronavirus, maybe we should go back to the beginning to understand what comes next. 

Unbroken vows

In China, self-isolating couples are celebrating their eventual release by running for the hills. A Chinese newspaper, The Global Times, has reported a spike in divorce cases since the COVID-19 outbreak. The clarity that comes from being forced inside with your choices. 

We're not quite on the brink of divorce here in my house. Ironically, we were on the brink of marriage, but that is now a postponer-because-of-Corona situation. The only aisle we're walking down is at the supermarket.

But I can see what the data is saying. It's only been a couple of weeks, and yet my very tiny case study of two people has thrown up unpredictable results. Some days the subjects appear wonderfully in sync, gleefully trapped in their germ-free love bubble. 

Other days even the smallest infraction, a cough, a sneeze, a too-loud laugh warrants a look that says, 'when this is over I am leaving you.' 

Rules to live by

With the lockout looking likely to last a while, we've instilled a set of rules to ensure we survive isolation. These include designated time apart, Corona-free conversations and a commitment to only watch TV series and films that are light-hearted and pandemic-free. 

Last night was my choice, and I opted for Forrest Gump, a classic film but also a great way to alleviate my Hanks-guilt following those poorly timed jokes. 

As the movie began, Kate shifted in her seat and reached for her phone, the universal signal that she wasn't into it. I knew I shouldn't, but I couldn't help myself. 

"Something wrong," I asked? "Oh, no, nothing...I just don't really like Tom Hanks," she replied. 

Ah, perhaps we won't survive isolation after all.

After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.

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