Clandestine liaisons in pandemic times

-“Doctor…Gave up all my social life, except my virtual dating – My daily dose of oxygen.”

Verónica X. is a successful lawyer with a stellar career in a competitive business realm who has a nice family that has backed her all along the expected ups and downs, including a supportive husband and two teenage daughters that admire her.  For all her personal and professional achievements, she still longs for the adrenaline shots she used to get in “her rather hectic days” as a college student in the 90s. She still keeps a roster of girlfriends from those times that meet with her once per year in order to remember their “wild times” and laugh all along a nice dinner outing.

However, what constituted an unexpected, and most welcome surprise, was the re-connection with an old flame that burned intensely for several months in her senior year. Due to the not-so-subtle pressure from the unwritten yet very influential rules of her starchy social milieu, she dumped him for “one of her own kind”, which she still resents in spite of her supposedly “perfect marriage.” Out of the blue, he found her in a Facebook page and send her an open invitation. Initially she considered dismissing him as a thing of the past, but she was curious. Extremely piqued.

In the beginning they were both skittish, talking inconsequentially about their old times and their present family structures, but slowly the talk became more erotic. After a several weeks-courtship in the web, they became de facto “spiritual lovers” again, openly dreaming about a future physical encounter. They are both professionals who, in spite of working largely at home during the pandemic, can still snatch some secluded time in their home offices for a chat almost anytime under the cloak of a pressing “business conference.” What used to be an escapade in the 9 to 5 regular working hours has shifted to the after-hours when the rest of the family is distracted with a Netflix series.

Feeling a little bit sated with the precious personal and professional objectives she had fought so hard to reach, Verónica X., like the central character in our novel, feels the irrepressible urge to shake her torpor and boredom. Hedonic adaptation is a psychological phenomenon whereby the initial excitement of a new situation, a new relationship, a new purchase, etc. slowly starts to wear down and we go back to our previous emotional state. Veronica was in the beginning very happy to take possession of a privileged social status that she would have never reached if she had married her former penniless boyfriend. But over the years, the joy of having a nice mansion in the suburbs, three cars in the driveway, spare money to splurge on shopping, eating out, vacations overseas, etc., all that begun to lose its initial shining and looked aged compared to the possibility of feeling a romantic thrill again.

As related by an article published on October 24 in Clarín, an Argentine newspaper, “a survey done in the site for the unfaithful called Second Love (they actually used the English term), 80% of the 989 participants confessed that the quarantine increased their desire to meet other people outside their stable relationship. But, at the same time, only 10% has materialized a date from the time the pandemic was declared (from a total number of 1102 cases)” The majority of respondents claim that they have maintained the rules of Social Distancing during their clandestine encounters. Only 36% of the respondents admitted using the videoconferencing to have some intimate moments with their paramours; paradoxically 32% of the respondents admit that their partners do know about their use of the social media.

Walter Ghedin, a psychiatrist and sex therapist in Buenos Aires, said: “the fantasy of an affair has surely come up some long time ago and it has most likely stalled as a mental elucubration without ever translating into an act…The ever enduring cloistering due to the pandemic has affected the sexual desire, especially in the couples that share the same residence…In fact those that are daring to try a tryst in the context of a pandemic might consider it as an excitatory stimulus that they cannot find in other activities.”

The predictable, safe alternative might not excite us erotically. But the mysterious stranger will make us dream.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

Note – The featured reproduction of Gustave Courbet’s Amants was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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Don’t leave me alone.