The pandemic hasn’t been good for my libido
If anyone asks how I’m doing, my first instinct is to reply, ‘Well, we’re still together, so that’s something!’ And it is
Love in a Covid climate: boil-washing masks doesn’t feature highly on the Hot Things To Do Together list. Illustration: iStock
There are several nice things that glue a romance together. Intimate dinners, a date night to the cinema, Sunday morning lie-ins, a getaway with all the trimmings; you get the idea. The constant drone of anxiety, financial precarity and health worries; not so much. Oh, and masks. Probably useful in some romantic scenarios, but boil-washing masks does not feature highly on the Hot Things To Do Together list.
If anyone asks these days how I’m doing, or how my partner is, my first instinct is to reply, “Well, we’re still together, so that’s something!” And it is.
At the start of lockdown, with the world shrinking to a two-mile radius, we ended up living in perilously intimate quarters. After a while, the walls closed in on us. Our respective social lives, a valuable release valve, were no more. You’d think that having one endless night in, with nowhere to be but with each other, sounds idyllic. You’d be wrong.
First came the daily walks in the park. That got boring, fast. Then came the Microbiology Banter, in which we talked about little else but R-rates, curves and ICUs. We’d sit and listen to the radio, cowering under the unsettling, oppressive stream of Covid news. With all due respect to Tony Holohan, Ronan Glynn et al, this also turned out to be deeply unsexy, as activities go.
At the risk of going full Spartacus here, the stresses and strains of a pandemic, not to mention wave after wave of fatigue, are also not great for my libido. I’m guessing I’m not alone: stress produces prolactin in the body, also known as the “celibacy hormone”.
And now, we face into a winter of those very cloistered conditions. If previous winters are anything to go by, we won’t even have those walks in the park to keep body and mind (and us) together.
But there are ways to get through. The stuff that helped you build a relationship in the first place can probably help.
A good starting point is to create shared ritual every week. A friend does steak and red wine nights with her husband on Wednesdays; we do Thai takeaway on Fridays. Others binge a boxset together, which at least gives them something to talk about aside from clusters and vaccine trials. Having the same sort of coping mechanisms is a blessing.
If home is likely to be the centre of your world more than usual, make it as lovely and agreeable as you can. Buy the softest bedsheets you can afford. Keep the place clean with an orderly housework rota. Buy the spendy Dyptique candle you’ve always threatened to (or even better, the one that smells like Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina. At least you’ll both get a giggle out of it).
Agree on the point each day at which your home stops being “the office” and becomes “home” again.
At the outset of my relationship five years ago, someone offered what turned out to be particularly sound advice: “Uphold an element of mystique. Keep your lives separate to some degree. Create situations in which you can miss and long for each other.”
This is hard to manage right now, but not impossible. Skype, Zoom, chat to friends – or visit them if you can – but do it separately and regularly. If the budget allows, take advantage of the many discounts that five-star hotels are offering to locals (right now, BrookLodge, the Morrison, Dunbrody House and the G Hotel have decent deals on), and take a night away, alone. You’d be amazed how a night of full-blown, uninterrupted romance with yourself can help grease the wheels with your plus-one.
The Covid era has definitely become the third wheel that no-one wanted in their relationship. But it’s here now, and has likely changed things forever. To paraphrase Seamus Heaney, if you can winter this next lockdown, you can survive anything. If you’re feeling particularly despairing about the state of your union, talk through your future plans and dreams, and how truly sweet it will be when we can summer anywhere.