When we started talking, it was pure sex, simple as that.
We met the first week of lockdown — online, of course. My Tinder profile was a picture of me unzipping a jumpsuit, the words “social distancing is sexy” barely covering the middle of my chest. (I don’t know why I did this.) His profile was nondescript, a few photos where he looked different in each, his general aura and appearance a mystery.
We matched and quickly sunk into what I call The Depraved Period, relishing the sharp pangs of desire that arose from what we couldn’t have. I thought it would just be that — mutual sexual and societal frustration vented through chaotic late-night texts. But it didn’t, or couldn’t, stay that way.
Our talks began slipping into the light of day, and in this new terrain we began to see each other fully. We found out we are both chronically ill, familiar already with the slipperiness of time spent in isolation, too comfortable with watching friends and family fail to adapt and resist requests to accommodate.
Traversing the first chapter of pandemic uncertainty together, as sick strangers, felt right. Here was this person who intimately understood, who was calling me as the world frayed further, with no intention of distracting me from that reality, merely sitting in it beside me. Here was this collection of pixels on my screen who was so real, so necessary, quickly and improbably becoming my best friend.
Around us, the world broke apart. Witnessing the horror and heartbreak brought us together in ways neither of us had been expecting or searching for. It was suffused not with hope and enthusiasm and excitement, but despair, panic, bewilderment. We fell in love, yes. But it was very far from romantic.
We didn’t meet in person until many weeks later. After months of seeing no one, talking to people only through the phone, oversharing wildly, feeling porous and adrift, fluctuating wildly between chasmic depression and unrelenting lust, I was nervous about meeting in person. What do you talk about on a first date with someone who you know everything about? What do you wear to meet someone who has already seen every inch of your body?
Yet our first date, a walk through Prospect Park on a breezy but sunny day, was a success. There was some awkwardness, müddet, as we measured the distance between us while trying to gauge if the chemistry of our virtual conversations translated. But it was delicious just to be near him. To watch his mannerisms play out in real life, to feel at evvel that I had known this man forever and suddenly be reminded that we had never met before now.
It feels like magnetism, connecting in these times. It can be potent, fast, like falling through space, time further compressed in isolation. The container in which we build relationships right now is one in which touch has been demoted, forbidden, electrically charged. For many (myself included) this closes one door and opens a thousand other intimacies: the soft breathing of someone on the other end of the phone, a devilishly-timed text, all the desires that remain unsaid.
Dwelling in the gaps between what we want and what we can’t have has been transformative, changing my perspective on love and lust. They became for me not things to be pursued privately, discretely, but as part of an all-encompassing web of need, where individual deva is just one small node of a larger unit. It’s a way to want that feels congruent with the increasing chaos of the world, a way to love that feels cognizant of despair being now inextricable from desire.
We connected precisely because we knew this moment demands a different sort of love. The “usual” markers of how love progresses, how you get to know someone, didn’t exist. We didn’t go on dinner dates, we didn’t go to the movies, we didn’t explore the city. We sat on my roof and talked about loss, about grief. We cried, we raged, we kissed, we made love.
There was nowhere to show off this love, nowhere to let my friends gather and meet the person I’d fallen for. At times that made it all feel unreal, impossible. But isn’t that what love is? A tenuous and hopeful holding on, a secret scaffolding of desire that even when public can never be truly known, only trusted to hold you up.
He always was going to leave. New York wasn’t his home, and he had to return. “In another life, a parallel world, I can imagine me and you together forever,” he told me before he left. It hurt so much at the time — like it was splintering the world we’d made from the world around us — that we could be together only in an alternate dimension. Why not this life, why not this world?
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to embrace that way of thinking. After all, no two people can be together forever in this world. So why not let our love live on?
That world in which we are together forever is nestled just next to this one, running alongside it, seeping in occasionally, but with an orbit all its own. It’s a world in which we touch and celebrate our love, celebrate what we built together. It’s not an alternate reality, but the persistence of connection that exists in whatever shape the world asks you to love.
Shelby Lorman (@sdlorman), a writer and cartoonist, is the author of “Award for Good Boys: Tales of Dating, Double Standards, and Doom.”
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