March 26, 2020

STELLA | The Quest For Human Interaction in the Age of Coronavirus

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It’s been a week and a half since I returned to The States from my shortened semester abroad. I’ve been in quarantine since stepping back inside my childhood home, not just because I was in Europe, but because the Bay Area instituted shelter in place two days after my return. The state of California followed suit a few days later, and other states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania have the same restrictions. There are now 20 countries under a Center for Disease Control level 3 warning, not including the fact that the entirety of Europe is a level 3. Additionally, the CDC has put all travel anywhere at a level 2 warning. So I’m left sitting at home wondering — how the absolute shit have airlines not reimbursed me for the flights I have in early April?

It seems to be the golden age of memes, as people around the world are staying home, trying to find any entertainment they can through a variety of outlets. I’ve never been a big fan of social media trends, but it’s amazing what self isolation and lack of companionship has done to people’s content: just check out this kid in quarantine. Apart from children shooting themselves in the face with nerf guns (spoiler alert), people have been desperately seeking out any and all activities to pass their days alone at home. The one benefit of living under marshall law is that it forces you to be creative with your new hobbies. Whether it’s perfecting your Elvis Presley impersonation, taking up the ukulele or bringing your dad cocktails at happy hour in his makeshift home office, we’ve never had more time to discover interests we never knew we had (except me, I was put on this earth to make a mean whiskey sour).

As if the boredom weren’t enough, coming home early from college to be stuck in confined quarters with your parents can be like pitting two ants from different colonies against each other. They resemble one another, but passion flies high when territory is crossed. We’re so used to independence, being locked under our parents’ roof and rules hits like the Ithacan winter. Warm and sunny disposition at noon, icy wind that would make you cry if your tear ducts weren’t frozen closed by 4 p.m. I’m finally 21 in the good old USofA, but bars are closed and I’m limited to two glasses of wine because if it gets my mom drunk, she’s convinced it gets everyone drunk.

One vastly important thing to keep in mind while under shelter in place is not to let yourself spend too much time horizontally. Watching TV all day is great for a day or two, but then you’ll start to feel like a container of jello. The government still lets us venture outside for exercise like jogging or walking the dog (if you’re facing quarantine without a dog, man, that fucking sucks). But if you’re too scared to face the wrath of the almighty sun, or the potential onslaught of outdoor germs, I’ve got some tips for how to keep in shape indoors. For gains: my friends in ROTC tell me to stuff backpacks filled with books and lift. For cardio and aerobics: blast 80s pop music and dance in front of your full body mirror. Not “Don’t You Forget About Me” though; that one hits too close to home since our friends are only minutes — but also a whole quarantine period — away.

As fun as some of these goober activities can be, you can only go so long entertaining yourself. Our innate desire for human interaction cannot be ignored. With restrictions on leaving the house, you have limited options of conversing with friends. Group Zoom calls have become a new format for the necessary face-to-face time (Apple nailed it with the name for that feature). The video calls don’t need to be limited to just talking either; you can play Monopoly with friends, moving their pieces along your own board. Or you can all simultaneously watch Prisoner of Azkaban — just make sure you all start at exactly the same time … and make it into a drinking game.

Some of us may still crave the attention of new faces. Hinge is gone, parties are gone, how are you supposed to meet people? Having a girlfriend or boyfriend may cause some jealousy in the singles amongst us, but it’s got complications of its own. Long distance in the age of the modern plague is no walk in the park.

I started dating a girl while abroad, so we knew we would face distance. What we didn’t plan for were the facts that airlines would be cancelling flights and catching a serious respiratory illness at an airport was a legitimate possibility. People in remote relationships have had to put seeing each other on hold, which makes you miss your partner like a kid misses Halloween on November 1st. Just like with your daily hobbies, you have to get creative.

For the immediate future, we are living online. Even the overtly romantic aspect of long distance relationships has been squandered by the coronavirus. Writing love letters has been the quintessential mode of expression for a significant other since humans first developed written language. In fact, I’m confident writing was invented in order to communicate in one of the first long distance relationships in human history. She was from Mesopotamia, he was from Egypt, and their parents threatened to cut them off if they didn’t stop seeing each other: No oxen to inherit. It was a forbidden romance for the ages. Now, who knows how much longer the U.S. Postal Service will stay operational? Instead, write your feelings down and send pictures. Not the same nostalgic appeal, but it still might manage to be a tear-jerker.

You can still have cute date ideas in an online-mandated relationship, however. Order takeout from the same style restaurants and eat over FaceTime, help each other cheat on the online bartending certificate test, eat miracle berries together then see what vinegar and jalapeños taste like. And nothing says romance like sending funny gifs to one another. The truth is, if they’re worth it, distance doesn’t seem so daunting. The cuddling, hand-holding and blanket fort building can be put on hold, and that lost time will be made up for once you finally do reunite. I know I’m gonna hold the shit out of her hand come May.

But until this virus starts to settle and shelter in place becomes a distant memory, I’ll be here, playing into social media trends — trying to get my dog Instagram famous.

AJ Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at astella@cornellsun.com. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs alternate Friday’s this semester.