Lovers Bound by Joint Martyrdom Under Lockdown

“How to Ensure a Coronavirus Lockdown With Your Partner Doesn’t End in Divorce,” ran a feature headline in the March 17, 2020 issue of Newsweek. When restrictions were recently eased in the Xi’an, where more than 10 million people were under lockdown, “the city’s divorce rate spiked,” as the March 23 issue of the New Yorker reported. Said one Chinese official, “Many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts.”

Of course, a fairer interpretation is that the stress of quarantine can solidify couples with already strong relationships and rend apart those with weak ties. Still, we have a different take on the couple-quarantine story.

Balcony Scene, Romeo and Juliet, by Ford Maddox Brown

Here we are, sharing a relatively small space (about 1,600 square feet) not too far from Hollywood’s famous Pink’s Hotdogs, which we can’t go to because Gov. Newsom has ordered us to stay at home for now. If coronavirus enters the premises — say, from a contaminated delivery — we’ll both be exposed. Even if one of us somehow gets the virus first, that person will be shedding it — and thus infecting the other — days before symptoms become apparent. In its instructions on home isolation for people with COVID-19 infections, the LA County Department of Public Health counsels patients, “Stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home as much as possible.” Yet we know that if either one of us first comes down with fever, cough and shortness of breath, the other one will be the caretaker. In short, if one of us gets IT, both of us will get IT.

It all started with Tawq ul-hamamah fil-ulfah wal-ullaf (The Dove’s Neck-Ring About Love and Lovers), the famous treatise written by the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Hazm around 1022. (“There is no stopping place for my eye except upon you.” When we were undergraduates, we knew this stuff cold.) That was almost six centuries before Romeo and Juliet (1595). And nine-and-a-half centuries before Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide (1969) and Gabriel García Márquez’s El Amor en los Tiempos de Cólera (1985), which was really more about the blossoming of love in old age rather than about cholera.

Now, in 2020, we have the newest twist on lovers bound by joint martyrdom.

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