What is time? That is what we have been telling ourselves as one day bleeds into another, and we wake up only to realize that it has been 365 days (and then some) of a period of time that feels like a drunken blur of everything from panic attacks from the onset of a sneeze to wondering if the world order would turn upside-down.
Some people marked the anniversary with Instagram posts of airplane wings cutting through clouds, and nostalgic notes about dreaming of traveling again. Others refused to mark the anniversary altogether, reluctant to admit that it has been one year of being held hostage by incompetent leaders, being kept from seeing loved ones, and leading the generally limitless lives that the type of people who complain about lockdowns are generally used to.
But I like anniversaries, and even though I can respect the argument that 365 days is an arbitrary unit of time whose meaning is up for debate, I’ve deliberately chosen to make it meaningful because I think it matters. I think it matters that in the beginning we tried to tell ourselves stories that it could just as easily kill the rich and powerful as it could anyone else (it couldn’t), that it was divine intervention to reset the clock on climate change (it wasn’t) and that it would only last for two weeks (it didn’t). I think it’s important to think about what we’ve learned and how we’ve changed, even if that is a shift in our perspective or a reality check about our priorities.
I spent most of the first months of lockdown waking up in the wee hours of the morning to put together the proposal for Love in the Time of Borders, a book that will look at all the ways that borders have shaped love stories, both over time and in our present day. It was as personal as it is political—after all, one of the stories is my own—but it was strange and curious to pour over the stories of people whose lives have been shaped by everything from the Syrian revolution to Trump’s travel bans during a time when the entire world was going into lockdown, and many people were experiencing the trauma of borders closing over night and the heartbreak of family separation for the first time. I couldn’t help wondering if the universal nature of the Coronavirus would make people understand the cruelty of borders, the injustice that some people could move through the world more freely than others. I dreamed of a future where we would emerge from the pandemic stronger, kinder, more empathetic.
One year later, I’m not sure—and some days I’m more cynical than others. But the good news is that as of this month I can officially share that the book will be officially published by Algonquin Books—and while the publication date is far in the future and very much TBD, I’ll be sharing my reporting journey with you here. I’m even more thrilled that since announcing the book, several people have reached out to me, with stories of love and borders of their own. It’s hugely important to me to make sure that this book is written for people who are fighting against borders in the name of love, so it means the world to already be forming these connections, creating this community. If you know someone who should be a part of that community, this newsletter is for them.
But back to love and lockdown. Maybe its the hopeless romantic in me (it is more likely the nosey Lebanese grandmother), but I couldn’t help but notice the way lockdown was impacting my relationship, and the relationships around me. I felt stronger knowing that Salem and I had already navigated the challenges of borders, and jumped through the hoops of immigration policy, as if we could weather any storm that came our way. Still, weeks on end with the same person is enough to drive anyone insane—particularly when the stress of work, family and life is condensed, and confined to the same space. We learned to be patient with one another, a quality that seemed to be more and more important with more and more divorces and breakups of longterm relationships. I always felt the pandemic was a time to afford the people in our lives grace—but I guess for others it exposed rifts that had always been there.
For newer relationships, I noticed that the virus erased all senses of romantic ambiguity. You either cared about one another, or you didn’t. You quarantined together or you broke up—and while uncharacteristically romantic and vulnerable FaceTime conversations filled the void for a time, there reached a point where these too resulted in an illicit encounter or an unnatural end. Meeting new people became nearly impossible. Was the potential of a bad date really worth the possibility of contracting a deadly disease?
Depending on how long your dry spell had been, yes.
Meanwhile, travel bans due to the virus have created a whole new generation of couples separated by borders. New groups on Facebook have popped up of binational couples separated across oceans, commiserating over their long distance relationships and counting down the days before the borders reopen again. It reminds me of the groups for couples waiting for visas, and seeking information about their partner’s deportation. I hope when the lockdown lifts, it isn’t just the recently separated who reap the benefits.
Has lockdown made us more caring, more patient, more communicative? Or has extended time apart warped reality so much that we aren’t sure how to relate to one another anymore? I’m not sure I have these answers, but I’ll be writing more about love, borders and lockdown in my first essay for Newlines Magazine, out next week. I’m hoping to integrate everything from the BBC’s infamous sex advice (do me a favor, and read this in a British accent), to the psychological impact of separation from our loved ones, and the way that even though there is talk of vaccine passports and opening back up again, borders are still bullshit.