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Culture
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Coronavirus

Falling in Love During Coronavirus? Do as Jane Austen Did

Long, ambling walks. Agonizingly delayed kisses. Or just send a raunchy text, whatever.

Dorothy Woodend 4 Apr 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

Outside my window, two flickers are madly in love. Every spring they return, make a lot of horny racket, and then settle down to quieter periods of nest building and chick raising.

But right now it’s primo wooing time, and it’s really loud. Get a room, you birds.

Unlike the rest of the natural world, humans are largely confined indoors right now, forced to witness spring’s riotous unfurling through the window. While other creatures, great and small, are getting busy with it, we’re voyeurs — able to watch, but unable to fully participate.

If you’re looking for love in the time of COVID-19, it’s not all bad news for you. Reports from the romantic frontlines indicate that online hookup sites like Tinder and Grindr are going great guns. But responsible folk have to content themselves with love at a social distance, meaning a return to more old-fashioned forms of courtship.

Writing messages, long phone calls or walks in the park (watched over by the scrupulous eyes of the public who are quick to note an improper canoodling) — all are OK. Romance that proceeds at a stately pace can actually allow more space for feelings to bloom.

In a way it’s like we’ve magically transported into a Jane Austen novel. Most Austen narratives of note, such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Horny and Hoarding Toilet Paper — sorry, I made that last one up — take as their subject intractable social customs running headlong into romantic upheaval. As it was then, so it is now.

Decorum must be observed at all times. No touchy kissy allowed, but you can do walkies.

A stroll

Walking together is still one of the best ways to get to know someone. Something about the act of ambling along is particularly conducive to conversation, maybe because with your body engaged, trying not to trip over trees roots and watching out for stray dogs, your mind is free to roam and your mouth available to yak.

Many of the most romantic moments in my life involved just walking around. Although nothing quite as soul stirring as John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man, wherein a courting couple, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, are allowed to stroll together at a respectable distance, watched over by a beady-eyed chaperone.

A leisurely stroll can offer ample opportunities to explore and express your feelings.

Take a look at the various Austen adaptations that involve endless turns about the garden. Pride and Prejudice is a prime example, whether it’s the slow burn of the 1995 BBC version, spread over multiple episodes and featuring the original hoity-toity hottie played by Colin Firth, or Joe Wright’s film version starring Keira Knightley’s teeth.*

Would-be couples torturing each other in bucolic settings is still enticing, as the most recent Austen-inspired film Emma makes clear.

Since you’ll be standing a good two metres apart on your walks, you might not be able to hear each other very well, leading to romantic misunderstandings. These too can be grist for later conversation. Afterwards, you’ll have to rush home and attempt to parse the meaning embedded in these exchanges. “Do they like you? Do they hate you? What did they actually say?” Hours of confusion, consternation and endless phone conversations will ensue, until even your best friend gets bored and hangs up on you.

Phone calls

Speaking of endless phone calls. While there are many forms of communication available at the moment, the lowly old landline still does the trick. Unlike cell phones, old school phones never run out of batteries, even after 10 hours of non-stop talking. Your ear might fall off, but the phone will keep on trucking.

One of the all-time most epic phone romances is a little-known film called Julia Has Two Lovers. Released in 1991 and featuring an extremely young David Duchovny, it’s the story of a lonely dude who dials a wrong number and finds a young woman named Julia on the end of the line. Here’s a little taste with the film’s opening sequence to get you going. Although things get more complicated after the couple’s initial meet-cute, the idea that you can pour your heart out over the phone still holds true.

What’s most interesting about Julia Has Two Lovers is the form of intimacy that comes from long meandering conversations. The kind where you stay up until dawn, with the phone tied onto your head with a towel, taking about your hopes and dreams for the future. Will there be a future? Most likely, but for now live in the present.

The other nice thing about the phone, as opposed to things like FaceTime or Zoom, is that you can imagine what the other person looks like or what they’re doing. In Pillow Talk, where Rock Hudson and Doris Day have several bath-time talks, the phone functions as an erotic liaison, a party line if you will. If you’re so inclined, you can involve multiple people for phoney fun.

Use your words

The kid and their texty ways have a jump on us older wieners, but texts, emails, messenger services, however you want to convey romance, the written word is still king.

Eighteenth century novels like Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa took the epistolary idea and went cuckoo with it. Nowadays, receiving a letter in the mail is like getting a visitation from the spirit of romance past, but it wasn’t that long ago that if you lived at a distance from your beloved, letters were your only option. When I was a love-struck lass, long distance phone calls were expensive, and the internet hadn’t been invented yet. You had to use your words.

As technology has changed, the means of written exchange have also evolved. Notes passed in class turned into texts turned into emojis. A string of peaches and eggplants are now supposed to suffice. These different methods of communication find their way into romantic stories. In the film The Shop Around the Corner, later rebooted as You’ve Got Mail, the idea that you can create your identity through words endures.

But be wary. Things can go wrong if your mastery of language isn’t so masterful. To wit: Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James and her constantly invoked “Inner Goddess,” which functions as the interior horndog voice of character Anastasia Steele. Run away from terrible erotic fiction and sentences such as: “My inner goddess is doing a triple axel dismount off the uneven bars, and abruptly my mouth is dry.”

Take heed from writers who knew that less is often way more when writing about matters of the heart.

The best lines from Charlotte Bronte’s romantic masterpiece Jane Eyre?

“Am I hideous, Jane?”

“Very, sir: you always were, you know.”

Raunch dressing

As Guardian columnist Brigid Delaney recently noted, the pandemic has returned us to strangely more moral times — staying home, cutting our own hair, no casual sex or affairs allowed.

Sure.

But the sale of sex toys has, to put it gently, exploded like 10,000 nuclear missiles. In Canada, sales are up by a whopping 135 per cent. “Jaysus,” you might mutter under your breath, but sex with yourself is the safest option at the moment. You might as well whoop it up with giant purple whirring machines in the shape of rabbits, butterflies or Humboldt squid.

With masturbation being touted as the only truly safe form of intercourse right now, you’re stuck with yourself for a while. And you don’t want to start a lovers’ quarrel if you’re the only person there.

For couples sequestered together, if you don’t throttle each other first there might be a baby boom in the coming year. Then you can join the flickers in a raising a brood of squawking babies in a hole in the wall.

Whether it’s done through sexy semaphore, smoke signals in the sky or Zooming on Zoom, humpy humans will never shed their desire to connect and communicate. Love will keep us together, even when we’re finally allowed to go outside again.

*Story corrected April 4 at 11 a.m. to reflect the correct name of the director of 'Pride and Prejudice.'  [Tyee]

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