Love and Longing During COVID-19: Coping With the Emotional Toll of Social Distancing

As part of our “Love Essentially” series, Jackie Pilossoph helps us navigate the complex world of relationships. Have a question that you would like her to answer ? Contact her here, and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

Marla Levie Craven is a devoted daughter who frequently visits her 95-year-old mother, Muriel Levie at the Northbrook, IL, senior community where she lives. To Craven, the visits are anything but obligatory.

“My mother is such an amazing person,” said Craven, a Glenview, IL, mom and marketing professional. “She never complains, keeps a positive attitude, and showers me with loving words every time I see her.”

But, seeing her mom hasn’t been possible because of COVID-19 rules at the community, and because Craven hasn’t wanted to risk infecting her mom, even though neither of them have had symptoms of the virus. It’s been more than six weeks since the two were together.

“It’s been awful not seeing her, just so difficult,” said Craven. “I dream about her every night and I wake up thinking about her.”

Craven visiting her mother, Muriel at the Northbrook senior community where she lives.

Craven isn’t alone when it comes to heartbreak and longing for loved ones. Social distancing has made senior visits almost impossible, and out-of-town travel unquestioningly challenging.

Even those in romantic relationships—living together or not, are affected by social distancing, leaving them yearning for physical contact, like kissing, hugging, handholding and sex.

Dina Collins is single mom in Deerfield, IL, who found love last fall but, because of the quarantine and social distancing, hasn’t been able to see him since mid-March.

“His job requires him to visit pharmacies so we decided to follow the rules and be respectful of social distancing,” said Collins, who works in business development for a benefits technology company. “The first couple weeks, I couldn’t stop crying and then I got angry about the virus, almost like I was grieving.”

Collins said she and her boyfriend check in with each other by phone a few times a day, and talk, text or Facetime at night. Last weekend, they had a drink together while talking.

“It took this from a great relationship to a feeling of anxiety and wondering, ‘Would we survive this?’” she said. “It’s made it a ‘before COVID and after COVID relationship.’”

A few days ago, the senior community where Muriel lives arranged an unusual way for her to meet with her daughter. Craven was allowed to sit outside in the courtyard and look through a window into the community’s lounge where Muriel was seated.

“I walked up and there she was, sitting there like a queen waiting for me,” Craven said. “When I saw her I burst into tears. She was so happy to see me. It was a lovely moment.”

Wearing her heavy winter coat, gloves and boots, Craven talked with her mom for about an hour through the glass, and with the help of cell phones so they didn’t have to shout.

“It was the best day I’ve had since the shut-in began,” Craven said.

“It was so beautiful and emotional because I haven’t seen her in so long,” said Muriel. “I felt like I was in prison and I was talking to her through the glass partition.”

Muriel, whose husband died 10 years ago, said not seeing her daughter and two sons has been difficult.

“I’m used to hugging them and now it’s so different,” she said. “We can only talk over the phone or through Facetime. We’re able to see each other but it’s not the same. I miss them all terribly.”

It is still unknown when we will all be able to have physical contact again, or for that matter, to even be able to be in the same room with some of our loved ones—even with a mask.

One of the first things I do every morning is call my 81-year-old mom, who lives alone in her condo in Florida. With our spring break trip cancelled, I haven’t seen her since February. It’s heartbreaking and stressful to not know when I’ll be able to get on a plane and go there without risking anyone’s health.

Then there’s my boyfriend. I have not kissed him on the lips in over six weeks. Giving or getting the virus just feels too risky. What’s worse is that there’s no set date on when our social distancing will end. Even though I see him, I miss him. We long to be a loving, affectionate couple again.

Collins said even when the stay-at-home order is lifted, she and her boyfriend might still have to be socially distant.

“It’s hard to plan anything,” she said. “I feel like when I see him I’m going to be really emotional. He’s thoughtful and listens really well. He’s funny and he’s just a really good person. I miss him terribly.”

“When I’m able to, I’m going to give her the biggest hug,” said Craven of her mom.

Human touch—a hug, a kiss, even touching someone’s arm—is a basic need, just like food, water and shelter. I’m not sure I know anyone who isn’t longing to see and/or touch and be touched one or more friends or family members. The good news is, it will happen at some point and when that longing is finally fulfilled, think about how wonderful it will feel. COVID-19 will eventually be eradicated, but love never will be.

Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.

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