Two love stories in a time of corona

By Marie Rask Bjerre Odgaard

This blog post portrays two love stories in the time of corona. Or more precisely – different experiences of what love can be in such times of uprooting and questioning the status quo. The stories are told by myself: a Ph.D. student currently on parental leave. I work on queer activism, ethics and moral community and with a focus on Jordan. 

So, what is meant by ‘love’ in this short post – and what does it have to do with corona? 

Well, in a number of ways both stories are stories of longing in a strange time. One is the story of a longing for a concrete Other, the second is a longing for an abstract Other manifested in a woman instead of a man. Some woman, somewhere, waiting.  The global pandemic that Corona virus is now categorized as, has had a substantial impact on these stories and on how I am able to communicate them.

Love, movement and then: standstill 

I first met Imad when I started initial fieldwork in 2015. A fieldwork that was part of my master’s degree in anthropology. Already back then, Imad was a known figure and activist in the gay and queer community in Amman. Now, a number of years later, he has become much more than an interlocutor to me. A dear friend with whom I spend considerable amounts of my time whenever I live in the city. 

So, Imad met Hans through a dating app when he was on vacation in Jordan. It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight – but definitely there was a strong fascination. A tall, handsome stranger met Imad with an enormously pleasant personality and a great sense of style. Two things that he appreciates highly. Imad was intrigued but also cautious. Hans was a good deal older than him, and his reasons for showing interest were not clear to Imad. So just to be sure, he brought his best friend with him on their first ‘date’. They had a great time and walked through the city with the many stairs. I imagine that they looked at the beautiful beige sceneries of seemingly endless building-blocks that stretch out on hill after hill. Perhaps they went out to eat in one of the many restaurants serving hummus, foul and falafel, drank tea or the anise-seed liquor arak. They took nice photos of each other. They smoked a bunch of cigarettes and laughed – of that I am sure. Hans was different than anyone Imad had dated before. They started seeing each other at least monthly after that. Hans came back many times to visit and their relationship changed from ‘casual’ to more committed, exclusive, even. Hans was different in the sense that he didn’t care too much what people thought and didn’t know much about local do’s and don’ts when it comes to same sex relationships.

Skipping ahead in time, Imad and Hans decided to marry. Intensely drawn into each other’s lives and dreaming of a life together. Imad was lucky to get a Schengen visa and I was even more lucky to part take in the wedding in Hans’ home country on an otherwise rainy Saturday morning. Now a married couple, they were figuring out how Imad would start his life and work there. Then came corona. Now they are stuck on each side of an internet connection, sharing kisses and worries on each their own side of endless numbers of closed borders and curfews. Placed by the circumstances at a standstill. ‘After everything, now this!!’ Imad exclaimed on a call. 

Chosen and then mandatory Solitude 

And then there is the other story. Adeh’s love story. A story that unfolds in the time of corona in the sense that it is one that includes a choice of celibacy and solitude, as well as a mission to figure out how to choose and how to act in social life both now and after corona quarantines are over.

When Adeh and I first started talking in the context of my research project, he told me about his difficulties with labels such as ‘gay’ and ‘queer’. They were concepts that didn’t make sense in a local (Arab) context. Too difficult for the layperson to understand and not representative of ‘the local mindset’. By the local mindset he meant that of the man or woman on the streets of Amman, he told me. He experienced himself as ‘80% female and 20% male’ and found it ridiculous that this had to be labeled as anything in particular – apart from his own experience of himself.  His first relationship had been with a high school boyfriend and he was seeing a European man long distance when we first met in 2018. But when, in late 2019, I came back to Jordan, he told me that he had started a process of redirecting his desires.  How so? I asked him. First and foremost, through celibacy and more time spent with the family. Secondly by dating women. Now the corona-situation had led Amman into a nationwide curfew and going out to socialize wasn’t possible. Adeh had continued his thinking at home. He had started to reflect on himself and his sexuality by drawing systematic models and notes in a number of notebooks. He did so, he told me, to understand and accept himself and to be less judgmental of his own journey. We went through the models on a semi-crappy internet connection during the first days of corona lockdown. Being alone had allowed him to go further in to the process.

Love and (longing for) the Other 

Love is complex and complicated. Yet it can hit us like a lightening from a clear sky. And as we all know; love and longing have long and complicated histories with each other. But as the two love stories in this post shows us, love and longing can take very different subjects and objects at different points in time. Love can emerge in the form of both a concrete other; or an abstract longing for being another version of oneself. A self that is perhaps more acknowledged, less confused, more at peace. We as human beings find ourselves in need of the Other in times of crisis and uncertainty. An-Other version of oneself that has perhaps been there all along. Or, as with Imad, another life waiting in the horizon. Choosing to be alone is very different, existentially speaking, than being placed in a state that confines us to loneliness (Guenther 2013). Where love disappears from reach. In a sense as long as we long for something, we are still in companion. Even if that longing has to do with ourselves and how we hope to be in the world. 

I am not trying to fortune-tell about what Corona will do to how we love in the years to come (if anything at all). At least I try to avoid the urge to do so at the moment. But I can tell the two love stories as a testament to some of the impacts that the corona situation has on the two men’s way of understanding themselves through intimate relations. This, too, has affected my own perception of the pandemic, from my parental-leave cocoon in a small town outside of Aarhus. To think of love in all its ‘queer’ (indefinite and full of possibilities) forms, during this strange time.  

Reference sited: Guenther, Lisa. 2013. Solitary Confinement. Social Death and its Afterlives. The University of Minnesota Press.

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