As a pediatrician in a busy part of Brooklyn, I take care of so many families who, prior to Covid, were making a home for a family of 4 in the space for a family of 2. During Covid, these families struggled with being on top of each other with no free time and heightened awareness about how they all actually functioned individually.
Being single for the majority of my life, I considered myself lucky. I had my spacious 1 bedroom overlooking the water in Queens, my sanctuary of safety and solitude. I felt fortunate to not have to worry about touching anyone when I came home and possibly infecting them.
But by May, as we headed into the 3rd month of Covid, I realized I hadn’t been touched by anyone other than infants needing vaccines in over 90 days. I’m not even talking about romantic touch, I mean just ANY type of human contact. Not a single handshake of professional appreciation, a slap on the back of a shared joke with a friend, a hug of love from friends or family, nothing.
I knew it was for everyone else’s safety that I super-quarantine but it became increasingly painful and lonely. Caring for sick kids made me the potential vector of disease to be avoided at all costs. It was actually dangerous for others to be around me and I felt the fear of my family and friends. I felt shunned by everyone, ironically at the exact same time as all those commercials set to those lovely solo piano arpeggios and heartwarming shows of ‘support’ started airing on TV. I’ve never seen so much and felt so little support in my job before.
The isolation started to take a very strange toll on me. I started living vicariously through other people’s physical interactions. I would stare with anticipation at couples about to hold hands, waiting for and savoring the moment when their fingers interlaced in the exact right way for that couple. Mothers wiping their kids’ faces in the grocery store would elicit huge smiles from me that said, ‘Wow, that looks amazing.’ I almost wanted to bump into someone at the grocery store. But no one would come within an aisle of the Asian Lady In Scrubs.
By June, friends of mine started dating, which felt reckless to me. But their stories of outdoor bike ride dates and walks through a park, even if socially distanced, sparked their hearts as well as mine. Could it be possible? I tested myself 3 times over the course of 6 weeks and finally by late July I felt negative enough to start dating as well.
Frightening as it has been, speaking to someone live, even while masked and not involving physical touch, has been divine. It has been therapeutic in a way I didn’t know I needed. We are indeed social creatures and as much as I tout self-care and ‘me-time’, there is something primal and pure about our need to connect in real life, face to face, even if it is mask to mask.
I’ve been on a few dates, some good, some not so good. But each time I go out, I feel a little more alive and a little more human than I did before. Remembering how to have conversations, get to know someone, even how to laugh at jokes that aren’t that funny, seems like such a luxury. I do not take any dates for granted anymore, even the awkward ones.
After a particularly good one recently, I went home smiling, hopeful that our fingers might interlace in the exact right way for us, that I could finally be touched. One day. Hopefully soon.