Tagged Dating and Relationships

Tiny Love Stories: ‘Relieved About a Friend’s Failure’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words

Looking for Someone, Maybe You

My boss at the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS wanted me to meet Susan. He said that she, a hardworking designer, needed to get out more. Imagining that meant “couldn’t get a date,” I felt more resigned than happy. “How will I know you?” she asked over the phone. “I’ll be the 5-foot-9 woman who looks like I’m looking for someone.” She replied, “I’ll be the 6-footer looking for you.” Susan entered the Noho Star, now permanently closed, in a cloud of colorful fabric. I was agog, thinking, “I’m not introducing her to anyone.” I’m still agog. — Rosemary Kuropat

Susan, at right, and me traveling through Italy in 2016.
Susan, at right, and me traveling through Italy in 2016.

When Snow Melts

Wonder Woman’s eyes on my ninth grade journal illicit sharp memories. I purchased the notebook when I was 14, a new student in a new state. Hounded by an internal villain wielding a whip of self-doubt, I tried to emulate Wonder Woman’s strength. The pages describe a young dancer fearful of being “an ugly, stumbling little snowflake who you could miss in a blink.” Now, at 18, I look at the trees unfurling after a long New Hampshire winter. Though I have learned to appreciate snow, I am always grateful when it melts. And this is a story about spring. Victoria Chen

Holding my notebook as Concord, N.H., opened itself to spring.

Oh Dearling, My Nar-Dar, Est-Est-Est!

Our terms of endearment have always evolved. Once, after a movie, “dear” and “darling” morphed into “dearling.” During lockdown in Prague, the evolution accelerated: “Darling” became “Dar-Dar,” then “Dar,” followed by “Nar-Dar” and “Nar,” and finally “Nar-Nar.” Meanwhile, “Dearling” transformed into “Dearlingest,” then “Est,” then “Est-est-est.” It makes sense: Working from home for a year and stuck in a second lockdown as the Czech Republic battles one of the world’s highest Covid death rates, we’ve had far more time together than usual. I just wonder: In what other ways has humanity evolved faster than usual this year? — Melody Rose McClure

A photo we took of ourselves with a tripod.

Blowing in the Wind

Recently we toasted with champagne in your newly purchased East London flat. Three years earlier, I watched your red nails scratch thin hospital sheets, brought you cans of Coca-Cola and coloring books after you tried to overdose. I have never been so relieved about a friend’s failure. On the first anniversary of your attempt, we traveled to Puglia, acquiring parking tickets at an alarming rate while enjoying gorgeous seaside towns. Friendships hold uncountable sorrows and joys, like toasting your new life or eating Ikea hot dogs in the store parking lot, our masks blowing like flags from our wrists. — Xan Pedisich

My friend, whose shadow you can see, took this picture of me in Torre dell’Orso, Italy.

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¿Ya podemos besarnos con desconocidos?

Una serie de nuevos comerciales muestra besos ensalivados. Los viajes en avión están regresando. Y la inminente vacunación puede parecer un boleto de vuelta a la normalidad para los veinteañeros de Estados Unidos, muchos de los cuales se sienten desesperados por volver a su vida social de 2019 con fiestas abarrotadas y pistas de baile con luz estroboscópica, así como la posibilidad de enviarle un mensaje de texto espontáneo a un amigo: ¿Quieres ir por un trago?

Los adultos más jóvenes han sido de vital importancia en la propagación del coronavirus.

Un informe de los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC, por su sigla en inglés) mostró que, de junio a agosto de 2020, las infecciones por COVID-19 entre las personas de 20 a 29 años aumentaron y representaron más del 20 por ciento del número total de casos en el país. Poco después, los datos mostraron que esos casos provocaron un aumento en los contagios entre personas de mediana edad y mayores, lo cual pudo haber contribuido al incremento nacional de casos en Estados Unidos.

Ahora, a medida que se ha dado prioridad a la vacunación de personas de la tercera edad y alrededor de dos tercios de los mayores de 65 años ya recibieron al menos una dosis de la vacuna, su riesgo de enfermar de gravedad tras contagiarse por un joven ha disminuido de manera considerable.

Pero eso no significa que sea completamente seguro ir de fiesta como si fuera 2019.

La forma de calcular el riesgo de transmitir el virus a personas más vulnerables dependerá de tus circunstancias individuales: si vives con tus padres u otros veinteañeros, si hay personas con riesgo de padecer síntomas graves de COVID-19 en tu círculo social. “No hay una simple luz roja o luz verde”, afirmó William Schaffner, experto en enfermedades infecciosas de la Universidad de Vanderbilt.

A continuación, algunas respuestas a preguntas habituales sobre qué pueden hacer los jóvenes que presentan un bajo riesgo en general después de vacunarse.

¿Se puede volver a la normalidad así como así?

Nos dirigimos hacia una especie de normalidad, subrayan los expertos, pero todavía hay muchas incógnitas sobre qué pasará en los próximos meses. Aunque el aumento de las tasas de vacunación y el descenso de los casos son alentadores, explicó Schaffner, hay tres situaciones que podrían obstaculizar o anular ese progreso: si la gente se niega a vacunarse, si las tasas de transmisión comunitaria siguen siendo altas y si las variantes del virus disminuyen la eficacia de las vacunas.

“Si los adultos mayores y los más jóvenes se vacunan, y las variantes no son demasiado variantes, entonces podríamos tener muchas fiestas en la piscina”, dijo. “Los bares podrían abrir”.

“La vuelta a la vida normal debería ser un lento proceso gradual”, comentó Tara Kirk Sell, asociada principal del Centro Johns Hopkins para la Seguridad Sanitaria, que investiga eventos sanitarios a gran escala. Recomendó que la gente escoja una actividad de mayor riesgo que haya querido realizar durante la pandemia —como ver a los amigos o salir a comer— y la lleve a cabo para celebrar su vacunación. “Estamos hablando de un avance gradual, en lugar de actuar como si estuviéramos cantando ‘Libre soy’”, dijo.

Lelanie Foster for The New York Times
Lelanie Foster for The New York Times

Sin embargo, gran parte de esto depende de la cantidad de virus que circule en tu comunidad.

“Una vez que se llegue a una combinación de casi ningún caso en la comunidad y un alto porcentaje de gente vacunada; entonces, todo cambia”, afirmó Paul E. Sax, especialista en enfermedades infecciosas en el Brigham and Women’s Hospital de Boston. “De hecho, eso es lo que esperamos. Ahí es cuando dices: ‘Claro, me arriesgaré a ir a un restaurante. Mi probabilidad de ir a un restaurante y enfermar de COVID-19 no es mayor que el riesgo de enfermar de un resfriado normal’. Es un riesgo que la gente debería estar muy dispuesta a correr”.

“La gente tiene que estar atenta al entorno de la COVID-19 del mismo modo que lo está al clima”, comentó Peter Chin-Hong, experto en enfermedades infecciosas de la Universidad de California en San Francisco. Recomendó que la gente vigile las tasas de vacunación en su comunidad y los casos por cada 100.000 habitantes. Carlos del Río, especialista en enfermedades infecciosas de la Universidad Emory, recomienda el sitio Covid ActNow para consultar el número de casos por condado; The New York Times también da seguimiento al nivel de riesgo por condado.

Si te encuentras en una zona que tiene menos de 10 casos por cada 100.000 habitantes, es más seguro ir a una fiesta o socializar al aire libre en un grupo mayor donde todos estén vacunados. Un escenario mucho menos seguro sería participar en el tipo de fiestas relacionadas con las vacaciones de primavera que están atrayendo la atención en Florida, que registró 22 casos por cada 100.000 habitantes en los últimos siete días y se piensa que tiene una concentración importante de B117, la variante más contagiosa y tal vez más letal del virus identificada por primera vez en el Reino Unido.

¿Podemos besarnos con desconocidos?

Los expertos entrevistados para este artículo dijeron que besarse y tener otro tipo de contacto íntimo con desconocidos tras vacunarse puede ser seguro siempre y cuando puedas confirmar que la otra persona también está vacunada.

Incluso sin esa confirmación, puede que besarse con un extraño sea una actividad de menor riesgo que ir a un lugar abarrotado como una discoteca o una fiesta, afirmó David Rubin, profesor de Pediatría de la Facultad de Medicina Perelman de la Universidad de Pensilvania. “Es una de esas cuestiones que se dejan a criterio de cada persona, sin juzgar”, comentó.

“Si estás en un entorno controlado y solo te encuentras con esa persona y quieres asumir el riesgo de besarla y crees que esa persona no parece tener ningún riesgo de padecer COVID-19 grave, conforme a los lineamientos de los CDC, adelante, puedes hacer todo lo que quieras con esa persona”, comentó Chin-Hong.

Si estás vacunado, pero no puedes confirmar la vacunación o la condición médica de la otra persona, aun así, no habrá problema para la mayoría de los jóvenes, agregó.

“La cuestión aquí es el control”, continuó. “Cuantas más narices y bocas se junten, más riesgo potencial de transmisión”.

También está el evidente dilema logístico: puede ser difícil verificar de modo casual y rápido que alguien recibió todas las dosis requeridas de la vacuna y que es de bajo riesgo. Hace poco, una aplicación de citas, Coffee Meets Bagel, añadió una opción para incluir el estado de vacunación en los perfiles de citas, aunque no requiere verificación.

¿Podemos reunirnos en grupos?

A principios de marzo, los CDC dieron a conocer recomendaciones que afirmaban que era seguro para los adultos vacunados reunirse en grupos pequeños sin cubrebocas ni distanciamiento social. Una vocera de los CDC comentó en un correo electrónico que dichos lineamientos aplicaban a toda la gente que reside en Estados Unidos y que no había consideraciones adicionales para los adultos más jóvenes.

En la práctica, eso significa que no hay problema en que un grupo de entre cinco y diez amigos vacunados se reúnan sin tomar precauciones. Pero cuanto mayor sea la reunión, más probable será que alguien del grupo no esté vacunado. Aunque las tres vacunas que se administran en Estados Unidos (Pfizer, Moderna y Johnson & Johnson) parecen ser eficaces para prevenir los síntomas graves de la enfermedad del virus, aún no sabemos si evitarán que las personas contagien a otras.

¿Qué pasa con los bares en espacios cerrados?

Ashish K. Jha, decano de la Escuela de Salud Pública de la Universidad Brown, predijo que la mayoría de los bares abrirán para el verano en todo el país. También predijo que serán una fuente importante de propagación del virus entre las personas no vacunadas, aunque, en general, deberían ser seguros para quienes han recibido la vacuna.

“La conclusión es que, si quieres ir a un bar, si quieres ir a una discoteca, puedes hacerlo y estarás bastante seguro” una vez que te hayas vacunado, explicó Jha. No obstante, otros expertos advirtieron que todavía hay demasiadas incógnitas (relacionadas con las variantes o si se puede seguir transmitiendo el virus después de haberse vacunado) como para animar con toda libertad a la gente a volver a los bares en interiores.

Los bares al aire libre pueden ser más seguros, dependiendo de su configuración y de si la transmisión en la comunidad es baja. Solo asegúrate de que tu grupo de amigos sea pequeño y no una multitud.

¿Qué pasa con los conciertos al aire libre?

Los expertos coinciden en que los conciertos al aire libre pueden ser seguros, sobre todo si los asistentes usan cubrebocas y se mantienen distanciados. Las actividades al aire libre pueden admitir grupos mucho más grandes de personas vacunadas, comentó Sax.

“La gente se pregunta por qué no hubo más casos después de las manifestaciones del verano. Bueno, se debe a que se llevaron a cabo al aire libre. Será el mismo caso para los conciertos al aire libre, además, me sorprendería mucho que hubiera algún evento de propagación importante vinculado con un concierto en un espacio abierto”.

¿Es necesario que los jóvenes se vacunen?

Los expertos expresaron su preocupación por la reticencia a vacunarse entre los jóvenes. En enero, la Oficina del Censo de Estados Unidos dio a conocer datos de una encuesta que mostraban que los estadounidenses menores de 44 años eran los más renuentes a vacunarse.

“Hemos estado promoviendo la vacuna entre las personas mayores a fin de protegerlas de la hospitalización y la muerte”, afirmó del Rio. “La mayoría de los jóvenes, si se contagian, tienen síntomas leves. Necesitamos poder comunicar de manera muy clara que la vacunación es benéfica para los jóvenes, además de decir: ‘No te vas a morir’”.

“Cuanto más rápido vacunemos a la gente, más probable es que tengamos una vida más normal”, recalcó.

My Choice Isn’t Marriage or Loneliness

I thought I had a classic fear of commitment, but it’s more complicated than that.

I broke up with my boyfriend of five years during quarantine, but not because we had fallen out of love.

I sent him an email with the subject line, “My Terms,” and proceeded to outline why I wanted to be single. In an effort to impose order on my decision, I included subheadings like “Why I Need This,” “What This Change Means For You” and “What We’ll Say To the Outside World,” followed by a trail of bullet points.

Under the subheading, “What This Doesn’t Mean,” I wrote: “That I don’t love you anymore.”

We were three months into the pandemic, and most of us couldn’t fathom the devastation to come. By then, though, we could begin to see our loneliness stretching into the future with no end point. Singles stared absently into the eyes of strangers on Zoom, longing to be touched.

And here I was, alone and equally desperate for connection, breaking up with my boyfriend of five years, even though nothing between us had broken.

For months afterward, I struggled to understand why. It was only when I looked back on flash points throughout the relationship that I realized my singleness was inevitable; I was simply building the vocabulary to explain it to myself.

I had met Malcolm my freshman year of college at a luncheon for honor students. He was wearing a blue plaid button-down and his voice was a startling baritone. Everyone compared him to Barack Obama, and the comparison was fitting — he was similarly warm, what some might call magnetic. He seemed like a reasonable person to trust with your life or your love.

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My friend and I had been talking idly about starting a dating service on campus, but first we needed to create a database. I walked up to him and asked if he wanted to be our first client.

He laughed. “OK, sure. How does it work?”

I pulled out my phone. “First, I have to take your picture so girls can know what you look like.”

I positioned him before a wall and gave him unhelpful guidance on how to look appealing. The picture came out awkward and blurry. Still, I sent it to my mother, giddy about the cute guy with the deep voice who looked like Obama.

After the luncheon, he and I circled each other for two years until one night I called to see if he wanted to hang out. What followed was a relationship plucked from romantic folklore. He sent me flowers with handwritten letters and arranged for my favorite ice cream to be delivered to my hotel room while I was at a conference in New York.

After four months, he followed me to France, where I was studying abroad my junior year. That’s where our relationship became official. On a call several weeks before he arrived, I said, “I guess we should get together or something.”

He said, “We’re kind of already together, aren’t we?”

“I know. But I should probably be your girlfriend, right?”

He laughed. “OK.”

Our exchange felt like a conversation between two third graders in the playground. I understood that I was supposed to care about this milestone — he was my first boyfriend. Yet when I grasped for the significance of it, I came up empty.

When he left France several weeks before I did, I was surprised to feel relieved. I longed — not to be alone, not to be without love, but for freedom and autonomy. Since we had gotten together, I had felt our identities weaving into a beautiful quilt, and I didn’t see how to disentangle myself without alienating the man I loved.

I was somebody without him. I knew this, but others didn’t seem to. Even when I was by myself, people always asked me about him, their remarks dropping me into a future — of marriage, children and muted desires — that I had not signed up for. I wanted my identity back. I wanted to unravel.

As soon as I got back, I suggested an open relationship, something I had wanted from the beginning. I saw it as a step toward establishing myself as a romantic and sexual entity outside of my relationship.

The following year, after leaving college in Atlanta, we moved 2,000 miles apart — Malcolm home to California, me home to D.C. — with no plans of either of us moving to be with the other anytime soon. We saw each other several times a year.

By the time the pandemic hit, we had been long-distance for three years, and I saw no problem with it. When the travel restrictions began, co-workers said, “It must be hard not being able to fly to see your boyfriend.” To which I replied, “I actually like the distance.”

Many times, I thought I had a classic fear of commitment, but I knew it was more complicated. I was resisting something greater than our individual relationship, and my resistance was political.

A day before I sent Malcolm the email saying I wanted to break up, I came across a term online: solo polyamory. It described a person who is romantically involved with many people but is not seeking a committed relationship with anyone. What makes this different from casual dating is that they’re not looking for a partner, and the relationship isn’t expected to escalate to to long-term commitments, like marriage or children. More important, the relationship isn’t seen as wasted time or lacking significance because it doesn’t lead to those things.

I wasn’t comfortable identifying as polyamorous then. My desire for something nontraditional was a source of shame and questioning. But for once, in the vast literature on love, I felt seen. I liked how solo polyamory cherished and prioritized autonomy and the preservation of self, and I found its rejection of traditional models of romantic love freeing.

When Malcolm and I first told friends and family about our open relationship, we were met with verbal lashings and gross generalizations, including that this was “not something Black people did.” Much later, I realized they viewed our arrangement as a personal attack on an institution they wanted to believe in. In some ways, this attack was the rebellion I had been seeking.

My entire girlhood had been consumed by fantasies that were force-fed to me. Love and relationships were presented as binary, and in this binary, the woman must get married or be lonely (or, in classic novels, die). The path to freedom and happiness was narrower still for Black women. Even in our extremely loving relationship, I had felt confined.

I knew my mother would be devastated by the breakup. A divorcée of 20-plus years, she often warned against “ending up like me,” a woman untethered to a man.

I waited nearly six months to tell her. When I did, she said, “What if he finds someone else?”

“He could’ve found someone else when we were together,” I said, puzzled.

But relationships do give the illusion that we exist in a bubble with another person, insulated from the rest of the world — that’s part of what makes them feel so intimate. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that none of us are insulated from each other, even in isolation, and that, at any moment, our bubble could burst. I no longer see this rupture as a bad thing.

After I sent Malcolm my breakup email, he and I spoke on the phone.

“I have to be honest,” he said, “I was a little sad when I read it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It just seemed more final in an email.”

“You know, we can change the terms whenever we want,” I said.

“I know.”

“You’re still my best friend,” I said.

He made a joke about being friend-zoned, then said, “Yeah, you’re my best friend too.”

I recently listened to a conversation about polyamory on Clubhouse — a new voice-based social media platform. All the faces in the chat were Black.

“You have to own your choice,” one guy said. “You have to remember you chose this for a reason.”

I thought of my choice to be single and not looking but still very much loving.

What I want are relationships that operate with a spirit of possibility rather than constraint. Shedding the identity of “girlfriend” has allowed me to experience the expansiveness of love. It has challenged me to stretch the limits of my relationships to see what they can be when relieved of social pressure.

As humans, we’re always going to reach for certainty using the few tools we have, and sometimes that tool will be a label like “girlfriend.” But in a year of crippling loss, canceled trips, delayed milestones and a charged election, I have found strange consolation in knowing that nothing in our lives has ever been certain. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I am just here to enjoy this, whatever this is, for however long it lasts.

Haili Blassingame is a producer of the 1A show at WAMU in Washington, D.C.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

To find previous Modern Love essays, Tiny Love Stories and podcast episodes, visit our archive.

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Tiny Love Stories: ‘I Didn’t Want Her to Stay Long’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Our Seder, a Year Later

“Why is this night different from all the others?” Last Passover, there were more ways than usual. My father was hospitalized with low oxygen. My mother and sister, also sick, spent the holiday clutching their phones in case he called. I was with my partner, crying over chicken broth, gripped by fear. This year, I remember the virus that passed over my own blood, sparing my father as the Israelites were spared from the final plague. I find new meaning in “Dayenu,” a Seder song of gratitude with the refrain: “It would have been enough.” My family’s health will always be enough. — Amanda Glickman

My family at Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, N.Y., one of our favorite hiking spots. My fiancé and I are on the left, my parents are in the middle, and my sister’s on the right.  
My family at Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, N.Y., one of our favorite hiking spots. My fiancé and I are on the left, my parents are in the middle, and my sister’s on the right.  

Sowing a Future

Midway through 2020, I started planting seeds in my backyard. My daughter said, “You’ve wanted to do this for years. Do you like it?” “Yes,” I said. “I love it.” At the time, I didn’t realize I was growing more than tomatoes. Overwhelmed by the pandemic, my mother’s worsening dementia and the painfully quiet demise of a decades-long relationship, I was sowing a future. My head down and hands busy, I could hope. “You seem calmer even though everything is more difficult,” my daughter said. Yes. Planting new seeds is hard. Realizing old seeds are no longer growing is harder. — Karen Amster-Young

The tomatoes I grew.

Hello, Old Friend

Grief was that relative I heard stories about. I knew her in the way I knew Uncle Gerald, someone I never met but learned so much about. Then my husband died, and there Grief was, shaking my hand. I offered her the guest bedroom, scrambling to make it comfortable, but not too comfortable because I didn’t want her to stay long. Instead of the guest bedroom, she marched right into my bedroom and dropped her heavy bags. Years later, she’s still with me, now an old friend, someone to sip martinis with and remember. — Barbara Phillips

A picture of me and Bob, my late husband, on a trip to Peru.

Teacher of the Year

In March 2009, two weeks after my students voted me teacher of the year, I learned I wouldn’t be returning to school after summer break. State budget cuts had threatened hundreds of thousands of public schoolteacher positions around the country. I finished the semester, teaching five high school Spanish classes with a total of 110 students. When they discovered that I wouldn’t be returning, a clandestine plan was set in motion. They surprised me, arriving at school wearing custom T-shirts that read “I support Ms. Minsky.” That expression of affection helped carry me through a dark time. — Connie Minsky

Years later, I still have the T-shirt.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

When Can Vaccinated People Date Again?

A slew of new ads show sloppy kisses. Air travel is ticking back up. And impending vaccination can seem like a ticket back to normalcy for 20-somethings in the United States, many of whom feel desperate to get back to their 2019 social lives. Cramped parties. Strobe-lit dance floors. The ability to spontaneously text a friend: Want to grab a drink?

Younger adults have played a disproportionate role in spreading the coronavirus. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that from June to August 2020, Covid infections among 20- to 29-year-olds surged, accounting for more than 20 percent of the country’s total cases. Shortly after, data showed that those cases then led to an increase in infections among middle-aged and older people, potentially contributing to a national surge in cases.

Now, as older adults have been prioritized for vaccination and about two-thirds of those over 65 have received at least one dose, their risk of getting severely ill after catching the virus from an infected young person has decreased significantly.

But that doesn’t mean it’s completely safe to party like it’s 2019.

How you calculate your risk of passing the virus onto more vulnerable people will hinge on your individual circumstances: whether you live with parents or people in their 20s, whether there are people at risk for severe outcomes of Covid in your social circle. “There’s not a simple red light, green light,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

Here are some answers to common questions about what, in general, younger adults who are low risk can do when they’re fully vaccinated.

Can we just go back to normal?

A return to a kind of normal is coming, experts stressed, but there are still many unknowns about how the next few months will play out. While rising vaccination rates and falling cases are encouraging, said Dr. Schaffner, there are three situations that could hamper or negate that progress: if people refuse vaccination, if community transmission rates stay high and if virus variants render vaccines less effective.

“If the older and younger adults get vaccines, and the variants are not too variant, then we could have lots of pool parties,” he said. “Bars could open up.”

“The movement back to normal life should be a slow step-by-step,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who researches large-scale health events. She recommended that people pick out one riskier activity they’ve been craving during the pandemic — seeing friends, going out to eat — and do that to celebrate their vaccination. “Then it should be a gradual move forward, rather than this huge explosion of, ‘I’m free!’,” she said.

Lelanie Foster for The New York Times
Lelanie Foster for The New York Times

But much of that is dependent on how much virus is circulating in your community.

“Once you get to a combination of hardly any cases in the community and a high proportion of people vaccinated — then, everything changes,” said Dr. Paul E. Sax, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “That’s really what we’re looking forward to. Then you say, ‘Sure, I’ll take the chance of going to a restaurant. My chance of going to a restaurant and getting sick from Covid is no higher than the risk of getting sick from a regular cold.’ That’s a risk people should be very willing to take.”

“People have to keep their eyes on the Covid landscape the way they do the weather,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. He recommended that people monitor vaccination rates in their community and cases per 100,000. Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University, recommended the Covid ActNow site to check case numbers per county; The New York Times also tracks risk level by county.

If your area has fewer than 10 cases per 100,000, it’s safer to go to a party or hang out indoors in a larger group of all vaccinated people. A far less safe scenario would be to participate in the kinds of spring break-related parties that are drawing attention in Florida, which reported 22 cases per 100,000 in the past seven days and is thought to have a large concentration of B.1.1.7, the more contagious and possibly more lethal virus variant first identified in Britain.

Can we make out with strangers?

Experts interviewed for this piece said that kissing and other intimate contact with someone you don’t know once you’ve been vaccinated is likely to be safe as long as you can confirm that they are also vaccinated.

Even without that confirmation, making out with a stranger is likely to be a lower risk activity than going into a crowded setting like a club or party, said Dr. David Rubin, a professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s one of those events best left to the individual person, to make that choice and not judge it,” he said.

“If you’re in a controlled setting and you’re just with that person, and you want to take a chance on making out with that person and you think that person doesn’t have any risk of getting bad Covid — from the C.D.C. guidance, you can go ahead and make out with that person all you want,” said Dr. Chin-Hong.

If you’re vaccinated but can’t confirm the vaccination or medical status of the person you want to kiss, it will be OK for most young people, he said.

“The name of the game here is control,” he said. “The more noses and mouths that get together, the potentially riskier it is for transmission.”

There’s also the obvious logistical quandary: It can be hard to casually and quickly verify that someone is fully vaccinated and low-risk. One dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel, recently added an option to include vaccine status on dating profiles, although it does not require verification.

Can we gather in groups?

The C.D.C. released recommendations earlier this month that said that it’s safe for vaccinated adults to gather in small groups without masks or social distancing. A C.D.C. spokeswoman said in an email that those guidelines applied to all people living in the United States, and that there were no additional considerations for younger adults.

Practically, that means it’s OK for a group of about five to 10 vaccinated friends to hang out without precautions. But the larger the gathering, the more likely it is that someone in the group will be unvaccinated. While all three vaccines seem to be effective at preventing severe illness from the virus, we don’t yet know if they’ll prevent people from transmitting the virus to others.

What about indoor bars?

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, predicted that most bars will be open across the country this summer. He also predicted that they’ll be a major source of viral spread among unvaccinated people, though they should be mostly safe for those who have received the vaccine.

“The bottom line is, if you want to go to a bar, you want to go to a club — you can, and you’ll be pretty safe” once you’ve been vaccinated, Dr. Jha said. But other experts cautioned that there are still too many unknowns — about variants, about whether you can still transmit the virus after you’ve been vaccinated — to fully encourage people to flock back to indoor bars.

Outdoor bars can be safer, depending on their setup and particularly if community transmission is low. Just be sure to stick to a small group of friends, rather than a large crowd.

What about outdoor concerts?

Experts agreed that outdoor concerts could be safe, particularly if attendees wear masks and keep distanced. Outdoor activities can support much larger groups of vaccinated people, Dr. Sax said.

“People were wondering why there weren’t more cases after the protests this summer,” he said. “Well, it’s because they took place outside. That’s going to be true about outdoor concerts, also — I’d be very surprised if there were any major spreader events linked to an outdoor concert.”

Do young people need to get vaccinated?

Experts expressed concerns about vaccine hesitancy among young people. In January, the U.S. Census Bureau released survey data that showed that Americans under 44 were most reluctant to get vaccinated.

“We’ve been selling the vaccine to older individuals as a way to protect against hospitalization and death,” Dr. del Rio said. “Most young people, if they get infected, they get a mild disease. We need to be able to communicate very clearly that there’s an advantage to getting the vaccine for young people, besides saying, ‘You’re not going to die.’”

“The faster we vaccinate people, the more likely we are to have a more normal life,” he said.

Learning to Love a Stepmother Through the Language of Flowers

I loved the strenuous labor, the smell of the upturned soil as I planted a seed, and learning from her how to shepherd a plant through its life cycle.

The day I met Carole, I was determined to hate her.

It’s hard to embrace a stepparent, harder still to keep adjusting if your father, like mine, married many times. Carole was his fifth wife; their marriage bestowed on her the thankless title of my fourth stepmother.

I was 22. My mother had been my father’s first wife. The opposite of Carole, Mom was a frail woman who locked herself in her room to write and never left the house without earrings and a hat. When I was 7, my parents divorced and Dad left us in New York to move to California. While Mom raised my sister and me, he became the founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum. He married and divorced three more times. When I graduated from high school — between wives No. 3 and No. 4 — he’d beckoned, “Come to college in California.”

It was not the father and daughter reunion I had imagined. A steady parade of his girlfriends streamed through our lives. By the time Carole arrived, I was sick of women moving into his house with their cats and cozy furniture, wanting to be my “friend.” As soon as their relationship with Dad fell apart, they’d disappear, along with any semblance of friendship.

Dad’s previous wives had revamped the kitchen. Carole focused on the rock-strewn front yard where Dad and I had attempted to grow agave and ice plant. “Ice plants attract slugs and snails,” she declared as she ripped out the neon pink flowers. “We can do better.”

Carole was all about renewal. She volunteered for Berkeley’s Parks and Recreation Commission. She ran a watershed project whose mission was to reopen streams and creeks that lay beneath Berkeley’s city streets. I did not want to be another restoration project.

I was used to running wild. My father had lax rules. Most weekends, before Dad married Carole, I drove the two hours north, with my troop of friends from the University of Santa Cruz, where I attended college, to his house in the Berkeley hills. We drank his wine and partied in his living room. As long as I didn’t interfere with his dating life, he didn’t care if I passed out on the couch. Carole didn’t like this arrangement. She wanted me to call before I arrived. She wanted me to “be safe” when I went out at night.

“You’re not my mother,” I snapped. The last thing I wanted was to be cared for by someone who I was certain would soon leave.

“No, but I’m your stepmother, and this is now my home,” Carole replied calmly.

It was her home and she transformed it. After graduating from college, I left for a year abroad. When I returned, the barren front yard was adorned with climbing vines of bougainvillea and princess flower trees, a subtropical evergreen with deep purple flowers as soft as velvet. Where once fluorescent ice plant had struggled to take root, spears of scented lavender, woolly thyme and trailing rosemary flourished. At dinner, Carole sent me outside with garden shears to cut chives for the salad. I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Three years into the marriage, long past the time when previous wives, frustrated with Dad’s philandering, had vanished, Carole stayed. When she got mad, she stormed off for a walk, but she always returned. Saddened, disheartened, but not defeated. As I watched her hold her ground no matter what chaos my dad threw her way, my resentment against her withered away. I recognized the anguish of being enticed and then ignored by my father.

One day she found me sitting on the front steps crying. I’d just broken up with an unfaithful boyfriend. “How can you stand it?” I sobbed, meaning infidelity.

“Sometimes I can’t,” Carole admitted. Then she handed me a trowel. “Dig. It will help.” She had a box of species tulips to plant. “They’re not as flashy as hybrid tulips,” she said, placing a bulb in the earth. “But they’re reliable. Every year, they return and multiply.”

By then, I was living in San Francisco, working as a receptionist. I hated answering a phone in a stuffy office. Gardening with Carole became my weekend release. I loved the strenuous labor, the smell of the upturned soil as I planted a seed, and learning from Carole how to shepherd a plant through its life cycle.

After Carole started a landscaping business and realized that I was immune to poison oak, I became her go-to person for clearing properties. She bought me pruning shears and a garden belt to wear around my waist with pouches for my tools. Up and down the slopes of Berkeley, I swaggered beside Carole in heavy boots as she recited the botanical names of every plant we encountered. Rosemary was of the genus Salvia. Lavender was the easy Latinate Lavandula, and the glorious princess flower tree was Tibouchina urvilleana. “It’s native to Brazil.” Carole said, “but it does well here.”

“Why do you care about knowing every name?” I asked.

She stopped beside a Helleborus bedecked in nodding burgundy flowers. “I was lonely,” she said. “But once I learned the names of plants, wherever I went, I recognized things I knew. I saw friends.”

Carole might have looked as sturdy as a tree trunk. In fact, she was riddled with the same insecurities that plagued me. In that new house, with a contentious stepdaughter and an impulsive husband, she was often angry. She was lonely and lost. Plants were her signposts in an alien landscape. They comforted her and helped her orient and navigate. The early blooming hellebores meant spring had arrived; a purple Tibouchina signaled the climate was mild; and even though a blooming Agave heralded the plant’s demise, it also meant the succulent had prepared for death by propagating “pups” at its base.

Unlike Carole, I never again chose a faithless partner like my dad, but I’m thankful that Carole’s commitment to us endured. She was the reliable Tulipa, the species tulip in our tumultuous home life. She was not just my fourth stepmother; she was my final stepmother, her marriage to Dad lasting 36 years. He is now dead, and Carole suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s — the same disease that ended my mother’s life in 2010. Yet Carole persists.

Separated for this last year because of Covid, I was finally able to visit her again. I wheeled her along the streets of Berkeley. Though Carole could no longer remember the names of her beloved plants, I could. Bending over, I held a sprig of rosemary to her nose.

Salvia rosmarinus,” I said.

Inhaling, she smiled in recognition.


Gabrielle Selz is a writer, art critic and the author of the memoir “Unstill Life” and the forthcoming biography “Light on Fire.”

Modern Love: Expecting Long Distance Relationships to End

I kept telling myself not to believe in him. And yet, believe I did.

It started with a Facebook message from a boy I had known peripherally in elementary school lunchrooms, passing through the halls of our high school, and — the main event — seventh grade dance class.

In our school, dance class was a special horror because we weren’t paired up by the teachers, which at least would have reduced the anxiety. Instead, boys were told to choose a girl — a humiliating experience for those chosen last or not at all. In seventh grade, I was already 6 feet tall, the tallest girl in my entire class, and taller than nearly every boy, putting me at risk of being among the unchosen.

Well, he chose me, even though we hardly knew each other. That dance class was our one significant encounter, one that we each walked away from believing the other had been the rescuer.

Now we were no longer schoolchildren; we were 27. And here, out of the blue, came a Facebook message from him reminiscing about the trauma of us being forced to learn ballroom dancing during our most awkward years. The anxiety of being lined up against the wall, waiting to see if someone would choose us or if we would be randomly assigned to join another couple when the numbers didn’t even out. The relief of a friendly face to make the experience a little less harrowing.

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Maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a moment of gratitude for being each other’s friendly face. But it wasn’t.

We started talking more, about where our lives were now, where we were headed, how he ended up moving to Australia, my plans to make the jump out of the United States the following year.

When I said I didn’t know how I would carry over my career abroad, he sent me a dozen different ideas. When I told him that I didn’t want to miss out on some of my family’s eventual milestones — weddings, babies and so on — he argued those milestones never have an end date: “You come back for what’s important.” When I sighed over visa eligibility, he sent me information on all the places I was currently eligible and encouragement about how worthwhile it would be.

He chipped away at all of my excuses. At the time, I didn’t have anyone in my life who understood the unconventional path I wanted to take. I had more people tugging on my shirtsleeve telling me to hang around for at least this last bachelorette party, or through that next promotion, or, from my then roommate, just one more year on our lease. He was the first one to call me out for dragging my heels.

And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a spark of inspiration from someone who was doing what I wanted to do and encouraged me to follow through on my own dreams. But it wasn’t.

He was coming back to the United States in a few weeks and would be in Chicago, so we decided to meet for drinks and catch up on old times we never had. He took the train downtown from his parents’ house in the suburbs. His mother had made him change his shirt and take an earlier train so he wouldn’t be late to meet me. We sat at a bar and ordered flights of craft beer, and he reluctantly played along with my beer flight rules of sipping each one and voting on our favorites.

We talked about his life in Australia and his plans to go to New Zealand and then Antarctica and then Ireland and then Norway and then Germany and then the Falkland Islands. He gave me more advice and seemed genuinely excited for me, a rare investment from a guy who, despite our being in the same grade growing up, and the same dance class, was essentially a stranger. I noticed that I decompressed around him, that I could be myself without consequence.

And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a mini middle-school reunion. But it wasn’t.

I left him at the train station, telling him to get home safe as he recited back a very friend zoning “yes, ma’am,” wishing he had tried to kiss me. It was almost something.

A week and a few flirty texts later, we decided to meet one last time before he got back to his life in Australia. He again came in by train, we went out for drinks, talked, then more drinks and more talking.

This time I did not get left standing on the platform wanting more. He stayed over and we had a great night. A perfect night. A spontaneous night with no expectations or early-dating confusion or time to overthink things. It was comfortable and natural and just happened.

And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a one-night stand. But it wasn’t.

I kept waiting for the moment he would move on. He returned to Australia, and now we were trying to keep in touch across a massive time difference, and nothing more was ever promised. How long would it take him to get bored?

The men I dated always timed out at about two months — usually in concert with a statement of having met someone new. But with this man, two months passed, then six, then nine, and we were still talking almost every day. Never in a way that pointed to a serious relationship, but certainly as more than just friends. I now knew his 15-year plan, his thoughts on marriage and past relationships, how he spent his summers on the farm, his poetic prowess and his irrational hatred of the movie “Frozen.”

He knew about my dream to ditch my job and travel the world, my depressing music obsession, and every phrase that made me blush. It felt like this could actually be something. It felt like maybe, just maybe, it was even becoming something. I hoped that one day we would get a chance to find out.

A year later, in February 2020, we saw each other in person again, meeting at a hotel in Chicago, a pit stop before his next contract sent him somewhere else far away. This time there were expectations, confusion and plenty of time to overthink — at least on my end. But once we were together, I got swept into that comfortable space again. We wasted no time and fell into bed, only leaving the room to meet the takeout delivery guy in the lobby.

When we decided to go to sleep, he kept checking to see if I had dozed off yet; he wanted to avoid drifting off on me while I was awake. In part, I knew he was seeing if he was in the clear to uncuddle, since he has the body heat of a bear.

Early on, I’d told him on a call that I understood how cuddling turns to sweltering really fast, but that I’m a sucker for holding hands. I could almost see his eyes roll through the phone.

That night, I pretended to be asleep for one of his check-ins, so I was aware when he unfolded himself from me, then fumbled around under the covers until he found my hand and held it for the rest of the night.

A few weeks later the world was in Covid-19 lockdown, and he shipped out to New York to work as a travel nurse. Our communication started to get spotty as he worked long hours in a job so intense that I am unable to fathom it. And it stayed that way for months, with me trying to walk the line between pick-me-up texts and not being annoying, and with him politely replying every so often.

And then it happened. The moment I had been anticipating for the first two months, then six, then nine. He met someone new. Someone he was really excited about who he could see himself traveling the world with and trying to turn into a real relationship.

Just like that, I was right back at the train station, watching him walk away, wondering if this is all it was supposed to be. Another almost something.

From the start, I had tried to keep my expectations in check, telling myself there was a 99.999 percent chance it would end exactly this way, with him meeting someone and moving on. After all, for me it had never not happened that way. And this relationship was more logistically challenged than any I’d had before. But that .001 percent chance had never felt more possible. And I gave myself permission to be excited about him.

And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — me actually opening my heart again. Because in the end, that’s all it was. Another almost something. And I’m so sick of almost somethings.

Jessie McNellis is a writer living in Chicago.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

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‘Una rosa podría oler a heces’: la COVID-19 altera el olfato de algunas personas

Samantha LaLiberte, una trabajadora social en Nashville, Tennessee, pensaba que se había recuperado completamente de la COVID-19, pero a mediados de noviembre —unos siete meses después de que se había enfermado— un pedido de comida a domicilio le olía tan mal que tuvo que tirarlo a la basura. En una ocasión visitó a una amiga que estaba cocinando en su casa, y tuvo que salir corriendo para vomitar en el jardín de la entrada.

“Dejé de ir a lugares, incluso a casa de mi mamá o a cenar con amigos, porque todo, desde la comida hasta las velas, me olía muy mal”, confesó LaLiberte, de 35 años. “Mis relaciones están en problemas”.

Ella sufre de parosmia, una distorsión del olfato, tan grave, que los aromas que antes eran agradables —como el del café caliente o el de una pareja amorosa— podrían volverse desagradables o incluso intolerables. Junto con la anosmia, o la disminución del olfato, es un síntoma que ha permanecido en algunas personas que se han recuperado de la COVID-19.

Se desconoce el número exacto de las personas que padecen de parosmia. Un análisis reciente descubrió que el 47 por ciento de la gente con COVID-19 presentaba alteraciones del olfato y gusto; de ese porcentaje, alrededor de la mitad dijo que había padecido parosmia.

“Eso significa que una rosa podría oler a heces”, explicó Richard Doty, director del Centro del Olfato y Gusto en la Universidad de Pensilvania. Mencionó que las personas por lo general recuperan el olfato al cabo de unos meses.

Por ahora, LaLiberte no tolera ni el olor de su propio cuerpo. Bañarse no ayuda; el olor de su jabón, acondicionador y champú le dan ganas de vomitar.

Además, identificó el mismo olor en su esposo, con quien está casada desde hace ocho años. “Ahora no hay mucha intimidad, y no es porque no queramos”, contó.

“Es un problema mucho más grande de lo que la gente cree”, afirmó Duika Burges Watson, encargada de la Red de Investigaciones sobre Alteraciones Alimentarias de la Universidad de Newcastle en Inglaterra; ella envió a una revista un artículo de investigación sobre el tema. “Es algo que afecta tu relación contigo mismo, con otros, tu vida social, tus relaciones íntimas”.

“Eso significa que una rosa podría oler a heces”.
“Eso significa que una rosa podría oler a heces”.Caroline Tompkins para The New York Times

Adiós a las cenas de citas y ‘los besos espontáneos’

Muchas personas que sufren de parosmia lamentan haber perdido ciertos ritos sociales, como salir a cenar o estar físicamente cerca de sus seres queridos, sobre todo después de un año en el que todos nos hemos aislado.

“Para mí es una batalla bárbara”, expresó Kaylee Rose, de 25 años, cantante en Nashville. Ha estado tocando música en vivo en bares y restaurantes de todo el país, y entrar a esos lugares se ha vuelto desagradable. “Estuve en Arizona para dar un recital, llegamos a un restaurante y casi vomité”, contó. Pero tener que enfrentar las reacciones de las personas a su afección resulta casi peor.

“Mis amigos insisten en que pruebe lo que cocinan porque creen que estoy exagerando”. Ahora mejor no va a las reuniones sociales o acude pero no come.

A Jessica Emmett, de 36 años, quien trabaja para una compañía de seguros en Spokane, Washington, le dio COVID-19 dos veces, primero a inicios de julio y luego otra vez en octubre. La parosmia ha sido un síntoma persistente. “Siento que mi aliento está rancio todo el tiempo”, afirmó.

Antes de tocar a su esposo, usa enjuague bucal y pasta de dientes. Incluso en ese caso no puede dejar de lado la sensación de que apesta. Y no es solo su aliento. “Mi sudor, lo puedo oler, y está un poco alterado”, dijo.

El resultado: mucha menos intimidad. “En realidad no hay besos apasionados y espontáneos”, comentó.

Su único consuelo es que ha estado con su esposo desde hace más de 20 años. “¿Cómo le explicas esto a alguien con quien intentas salir por primera vez?”, se preguntó.

Burges Watson dice que ha conocido a jóvenes con parosmia que se sienten nerviosos de hacer nuevas conexiones. “A veces, su propio olor les produce repulsión”, dijo. “Se les dificulta pensar en lo que los demás podrían decir de ellos”.

Cuando Rose comenzó a experimentar parosmia, su novio no entendía que era una afección real. Y, aunque ahora es más sensible a sus necesidades, todavía puede sentirse solo. “Ojalá pudiera ponerse en mi lugar”, dijo.

También tiene familiares que piensan que está exagerando. Recuerda una ocasión, era una fecha cercana al Día de Acción de Gracias, en la que su madre le pidió una comida especial con un olor que podía tolerar y su hermana se la comió por accidente. Y empezó una pelea. “Mi hermana pensó que estaba siendo demasiado sensible”, dijo. “Eso fue realmente frustrante”.

Muchos pacientes con parosmia se sienten aislados porque las personas que los rodean no entienden lo que están pasando, dijo Doty. “Esperan que las personas se identifiquen con sus problemas, pero a menudo no pueden hacerlo”.

LaLiberte dijo que finalmente puede sentarse junto a su esposo en el sofá. “Sin embargo, todavía estoy muy consciente de mí misma”, agregó. “Lo mío aún no ha mejorado”.

Encontrar una comunidad

Algunas personas que padecen de parosmia han recurrido a grupos de Facebook para compartir consejos y desahogarse con quienes entienden sus síntomas. “Fui al doctor, y me miró como si estuviera loca”, relató Jenny Banchero, de 36 años, artista en San Petersburgo, Florida, quien ha tenido parosmia desde inicios de septiembre. “No fue sino hasta que me uní a un grupo de Facebook que supe que la gente se lo toma en serio”.

Durante el verano, Sarah Govier, trabajadora sanitaria en Inglaterra que presentó parosmia luego de enfermarse de la COVID-19, creó el Grupo de apoyo Anosmia/Parosmia por COVID. “El día que lo abrí en agosto se unieron cinco o seis personas”, dijo. “Para enero llegamos a las 10.000”. Ahora hay más de 16.000 miembros.

Otro grupo de Facebook, AbScent, que empezó antes de la pandemia y está vinculado a una organización caritativa, también ha experimentado un aumento de interés en el tema. “La gente proviene de todas partes, de Sudamérica, Asia central, el este de Rusia, Filipinas, Australia, Nueva Zelanda, Sudáfrica, India y Canadá”, afirmó Chrissi Kelly, la fundadora de AbScent.

En marzo, Siobhan Dempsey, de 33 años, diseñadora gráfica y fotógrafa en Northampton, Inglaterra, publicó en el grupo de Anosmia/Parosmia de COVID: “Me alegra informarles que ya recuperé el 90 por ciento de mi sentido del gusto y olfato después de casi un año de haberme contagiado de COVID”. La inundaron de felicitaciones.

Fue un largo viaje para ella. Durante meses, todo tuvo un olor químico a quemado. Las verduras, que constituyen la mayor parte de su dieta desde que es vegetariana, eran intolerables. “Cualquier cosa dulce era terrible”, dijo. “Dr. Pepper, Fanta, era asqueroso”.

Sin embargo, en las últimas semanas ha notado un cambio. “Suena a cliché, pero el fin de semana pasado fue el Día de la Madre en el Reino Unido, y mi pareja y mi hijo de 3 años me compraron flores”, dijo. “Por fin pude decir ‘huelen muy bien’”.


Tiny Love Stories: ‘Mommy, Why Don’t You Have a Boyfriend?’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

My Mother, My Friend

My first semester of college, I only called my mother twice. At my house, I felt generally misunderstood and judged for my weight; at school, I was finally free. But the pandemic forced me home. I spent the first months in my room. Then, my mother and I started watching Chinese competition shows together, bonding over the contestants. Now I make sure she’s eating even when she avoids meals to stay thin. We converse in simple Mandarin, a language I hadn’t bothered to learn before. I buy her flowers and cry when I think of leaving her. — Annabelle Wang

Me and my mother in matching vests we bought from Costco.
Me and my mother in matching vests we bought from Costco.

‘Love Endures Without Fresh Photos’

I take a lot of photos. My house is filled with images of places I have visited and people I love. I rotate the photos, taking new ones, making more prints, slipping new pictures over old ones in frames. But I have realized, six months after my partner’s sudden death, that the photos I have of John are all I will ever have. So I conjure up memories of him — hiking in the Sierras, enjoying a party, reading at the kitchen table. Love endures without fresh photos, but oh how I miss stealthily snapping him. — Ellen Greenblatt

John in his uniform as a volunteer at the Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

Lean on Me (When You’re in Heels)

Our pace slowed as Monica’s feet started to hurt in her blue velvet heels. I was wearing sneakers and offered to switch. I stumbled along, leaning most of my weight on her shoulders. We only made it one city block before switching back. This wasn’t the first or last time she would prop me up as I floundered uncomfortable in femininity. Later she would help me change my legal name and gender marker. She still loves — and can rock — high heels. But next time the night gets long, I will probably offer a piggyback ride. — Nat Mulkey

I’m on the right. Monica is on the left, wearing her blue velvet heels.

A Man Who’s Just Right

From the back seat, my 5-year-old son, Jack, said: “Mommy, why don’t you have a boyfriend?” Freshly divorced and unsure how to answer, I asked why he asked. Jack replied, “Because you’re really nice. You should be with someone nice.” I realized the troubles of my previous marriage had not gone unnoticed. Jack said I should look for someone kind, respectful and of medium height — like Grandma. Eight years later, Jack calls my husband, Greg, “Dad.” I tease Greg that it’s a good thing that he’s on the shorter side, just like my mother. — Clara Koschnitzke Hoffmann

Jack and Greg on the day they met.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

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How People Are Dealing with Distorted Smell

Samantha LaLiberte, a social worker in Nashville, thought she had made a full recovery from Covid-19. But in mid-November, about seven months after she’d been sick, a takeout order smelled so foul that she threw it away. When she stopped by the house of a friend who was cooking, she ran outside and vomited on the front lawn.

“I stopped going places, even to my mom’s house or to dinner with friends, because anything from food to candles smelled so terrible,” Ms. LaLiberte, 35, said. “My relationships are strained.”

She is dealing with parosmia, a distortion of smell such that previously enjoyable aromas — like that of fresh coffee or a romantic partner — may become unpleasant and even intolerable. Along with anosmia, or diminished sense of smell, it is a symptom that has lingered with some people who have recovered from Covid-19.

The exact number of people experiencing parosmia is unknown. One recent review found that 47 percent of people with Covid-19 had smell and taste changes; of those, about half reported developing parosmia.

“That means that a rose might smell like feces,” said Dr. Richard Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He noted that people typically recover their smell within months.

Right now, Ms. LaLiberte can’t stand the scent of her own body. Showering is no help; the smell of her body wash, conditioner and shampoo made her sick.

What’s more, she detected the same odor on her husband of eight years. “There is not a whole lot of intimacy right now,” she said. “And it’s not because we don’t want to.”

“It’s a much bigger issue than people give it credit for,” said Dr. Duika Burges Watson, who leads the Altered Eating Research Network at Newcastle University in England and submitted a journal research paper on the topic. “It is something affecting your relationship with yourself, with others, your social life, your intimate relationships.”

“That means that a rose might smell like feces.”
“That means that a rose might smell like feces.”Caroline Tompkins for The New York Times

R.I.P. Dinner Dates and ‘Spontaneous Kissing’

Many sufferers of parosmia lament the loss of social customs, like going out to dinner or being physically close with loved ones, especially after an already-isolating year.

“For me it’s a freaking battle,” said Kaylee Rose, 25, a singer in Nashville. She’s been playing live music in bars and restaurants across the country, and walking into those spaces has become unpleasant. “I was in Arizona for a show, and we went into a restaurant and I almost threw up,” she said. But having to deal with people’s reactions to her condition is almost worse.

“My friends keep trying to get me to try their food because they think I am exaggerating.” Now she skips most social gatherings, or goes and doesn’t eat.

Jessica Emmett, 36, who works for an insurance company in Spokane, Wash., got Covid twice, once in early July and once in October. Parosmia has been a lingering symptom. “I feel like my breath is rancid all the time,” she said.

Before she touches her husband, she uses mouthwash and toothpaste. Even then, she can’t shake the feeling that she stinks. And it’s not just her breath. “My sweat, I can smell it, and it’s altered a bit,” she said.

The result: a lot less intimacy. “There is no really passionate, spontaneous kissing,” she said.

Her only consolation is that she’s been with her husband for more than 20 years. “How would you explain this to someone you are trying to date?” she said.

Dr. Burges Watson said she has come across young people with parosmia who are nervous to make new connections. “They can be repulsed by their own body odors,” she said. “They find it very difficult to think about what other people might think of them.”

When Ms. Rose first started experiencing parosmia, her boyfriend didn’t understand it was a real condition. And though more sensitive to her needs now, it still can feel lonely. “I wish for one meal he could be in my shoes,” she said.

She has also had family members who think she is overreacting. She remembers one day close to Thanksgiving, when her mother ordered her a special meal with a smell she could tolerate, and her sister accidentally ate it. A fight ensued. “My sister thought I was being overly sensitive,” she said. “That was really frustrating.”

Many people with parosmia feel isolated because people around them don’t get what they are going through, Dr. Doty said. “They hope people can relate to their problems, but often they can’t.”

Ms. LaLiberte said she can finally sit next to her husband on the couch. “I am still self-conscious about myself though,” she added. “Mine hasn’t improved yet.”

Finding a Community

Some parosmia sufferers have turned to Facebook groups to share tips and vent to people who can relate to their symptoms. “I went to the doctor, and the doctor legitimately looked at me like I was a crazy person,” said Jenny Banchero, 36, an artist in St. Petersburg, Fla., who has had parosmia since early September. “It wasn’t until I joined a Facebook Group that I learned people take this seriously.”

Sarah Govier, a health care worker in England who experienced parosmia after getting Covid-19, created Covid Anosmia/Parosmia Support Group over the summer. “The day I opened it in August, five or six people joined,” she said. “By January we hit 10,000 people.” Now it has nearly 16,000 members.

Another Facebook group, AbScent, which was started before the pandemic and is associated with a charity organization, has seen increased interest. “People are coming from all over, from South America, Central Asia, Far East Russia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Canada,” said Chrissi Kelly, the founder of AbScent.

In March, Siobhan Dempsey, 33, a graphic designer and photographer in Northampton, England, posted to the Covid Anosmia/Parosmia Facebook group: “I’m happy to say that I have now got 90 percent of my taste and smell back after almost a year of catching Covid.” She was flooded with congratulatory remarks.

It had been a long journey for her. For months, everything had a burning, chemical odor. Vegetables, which made up most of her diet since she is a vegetarian, were intolerable. “Anything sweet was terrible,” she said. “Dr. Pepper, Fanta, it was disgusting.”

In the past few weeks, however, she’s noticed a shift. “It sounds cliché, but this past weekend in the U.K. was Mother’s Day, and my partner and 3-year-old boy bought me flowers,” she said. “I was like, ‘These smell really nice.’”

Home, but Never Alone

Privacy is close to nonexistent for those lucky enough to be holed up with loved ones during the pandemic. So, where do you go when you need to complain about those dear and very near?

Of everything the pandemic has stripped from her, Juliana Jackson, 31, a second-grade teacher in Denver, misses her alone time the most.

“I am either working or with my husband,” she said. “The car is literally the only place I am ever alone.”

Her husband used to go to the gym a few times a week for hours. As a project manager, he often traveled for work, giving her days of space.

Alone in their apartment, she would binge reality TV shows like “Supernanny” and play Taylor Swift on full volume when she was cooking. She would order pepperoni pizza, something he, a healthy eater, would never touch. “For me, the greasier the better,” she said.

She would also use the time to vent about her partner, a normal part of any relationship that sometimes helps problems. “Now I go on walks and call people to vent about him and things about living together,” she said. “I got a membership for the botanic garden, where I will hike by myself for hours.”

As the pandemic has stretched on, her need for privacy has grown more urgent. She said she knew “there is an end in sight” — she was prioritized for vaccination, as a teacher, and got her first dose in early March — but she still chafed at the endless together time. So for a weekend in February she booked two nights at Life House, a boutique hotel in Denver with a bar decorated in wildflowers and guest rooms decked out in Marshall speakers.

She watched bad TV, ordered unhealthy takeout, blasted music and took in the sights of a neighborhood that isn’t her own. “It was amazing,” she said. “They upgraded me so I had a king bed and a set of bunk beds. I used them as daybeds.”

“I told my husband I just need to get out,” she said. “He asked me if I had a secret boyfriend.”

With the pandemic raging on, many Americans are still cooped up at home with roommates and family members. During the summer they could head outdoors for space, but the winter’s cold temperatures and shortened days hampered that escape plan in much of the country. Spring cannot come soon enough — for even more reasons this year.

A lack of privacy has taken a toll on some relationships, causing roommates to part ways and adult children to move away from parents. Some have dealt with the issue by coming to terms with the fact that everything they do or say will now be witnessed by another. But many, like Ms. Jackson, have invented strategies to carve out spaces.

April Bartle, 19, a student at the University of Michigan-Flint, tried to live with her parents in her childhood home in Sandusky, Mich., when her college switched to remote learning last spring. “It was hard to find privacy, especially at the end of the day when I like to decompress alone,” she said. “They really wanted me to come hang out with them in the living room.”

They interrupted her classes, asking her to do the dishes or other tasks around the house. She was also acutely aware that they could hear every word when she was talking on the phone to friends or making social media videos. “My room shares a wall with the living room,” she said.

So when her sophomore year started in September, she decided to live with her sister and brother-in-law in a different town. “They live in a bi-level, so my room is on the upstairs part, and she and her husband are on the bottom part,” Ms. Bartle said. “My sister respects my boundaries, and I respect hers. She understands what it is like to be younger and want your space.”

Some Americans are finding quirky, previously overlooked spaces in the house to call their own.

Heather Christle, 40, an author and creative writing professor who lives in Decatur, Ga., said her happy space is now a closet. “My closest is protected by a multiple-door situation,” she said. “There is the bedroom, and then the bathroom, and the closet is on the far side of that. It’s the furthest point you can get from anybody else.”

It’s not that she doesn’t want to see her partner, a poet and professor at Wright State University, and her 6-year-old daughter. In fact, when her daughter slipped a note under the door into her closet the other day, she found it sweet and endearing. But she needs a private den to be creative.

The closet — “I don’t know how big it is, but I am 5-foot-6, and when I lie down there is another two feet beside me,” she said — has no furniture; she prefers to sit on the carpeted floor. It also still has her clothes hanging.

But she moved her books in there, so she can do research for a book she’s writing about London’s Kew Gardens. She also hung a tapestry on the wall with an image of an Alpine meadow, which serves as a backdrop for when she teaches and goes to therapy, all activities she does in her closet.

The only sacrifice she is making for her privacy is sunlight. “A closet is a dark space,” she said. “I have been taking my vitamin D.”

Tom Sharpe, a 52-year-old high school teacher in Toronto, has created an oasis for himself in his backyard, even in winter.

He has a wooden table and chairs, which he covers with a patio umbrella or a tarp when he wants to be out there in the rain or snow. “I have a really, really warm bomber-style hat that goes down to my ears with fur,” he said. “I put on that and thick ski pants and an outdoor winter jacket, and I can be out there for hours.” He has a patio heater, but he doesn’t turn it on often because it scares away the squirrels and rabbits that run around him.

“I will sit out there, have a beer, and chill out,” he said. “It’s good I prefer cold than hot. When we used to go on Caribbean getaways, I spent the whole time finding shade.”

Others have given up on their quest for privacy altogether.

Erica Naito-Campbell, 40, a lawyer in Portland, Ore., prioritizes her therapy. In the spring of 2019 she testified in a criminal sexual harassment trial, and she has been trying to get her life back to normal ever since.

Her property sits on a half-acre of land. With a ravine and a pond, it’s officially considered a wetland. In the summer she would go out there and speak her mind freely to her therapist, knowing she was surrounded by nature.

When it got cold, however, she didn’t know what to do. “I tried sitting in my car one time, but it felt kind of weird,” she said. She is currently renovating her house, which means construction workers are there daily, even in the bedroom. Also, when she is inside, her partner overhears her confidential conversations.

She had a few sessions where she tried to speak in a whisper, but then she gave up. She decided that continuing with her therapy was more important than keeping its contents a secret.

A few weeks ago, she said, “there was nowhere to go, so I sat at my kitchen desk and was sobbing on the phone, and the carpet guy was 20 feet away. I was like, ‘Oh well. I need to have a therapy session.’”

Tiny Love Stories: ‘Mami Sent Me to Check You Out’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

I Guess I Passed Her Test

As a dutiful girlfriend, I accompanied Arturo to JFK airport to pick up his sister, who was arriving from Buenos Aires. Greeting her, I casually asked what brought her to New York. “Mami sent me to check you out,” she said. Years later, Mami was visiting us. She offered to buy me a replacement diamond for the one that fell out of my engagement ring. “Oh, I can’t allow you to buy me something so expensive,” I said. Her reply? “Please do, because you are everything I hoped for in a wife for my son.” How could I refuse? — Phyllis Meyers

Arturo and his mother, Raquel, in Mar de las Pampas, Argentina.
Arturo and his mother, Raquel, in Mar de las Pampas, Argentina.

She’s Still With Us

In February 2019, my youngest sister, Melina, admitted herself into the hospital for PTSD from childhood trauma. When she returned home, she texted, “Do not contact me ever again!” Determined to get through to her, I invited her to walk with me and Preston, my goldendoodle. She loved Preston but refused. In March, Melina died of suicide. On a walk the morning after her funeral, Preston suddenly turned and barked behind us. Nothing was in sight. I felt then that Melina had changed her mind and decided, after all, to join us. — Sarina Tomel

Preston and I participated in a walk in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and in honor of Melina.

No Words Needed

I spoke to Sun Ung in broken Chinese, excited hand gestures and hugs. We lived together for 18 years: a strong-willed Cambodian refugee and me, his spunky Texan granddaughter. Then his Alzheimer’s took hold. He would scrunch his eyebrows, searching for our history in a sea of fading memories. I started every sentence with, “Remember when — ?” But, one of our final nights together before he died last March, we sat beside each other in silence. A granddaughter without the words to convey her love. A grandfather who didn’t need to remember the past to know she loved him anyway. — Sabrina Wong

Me and my grandfather.

An Unexpected Request

Chantal and I met in Bordeaux, France. I was an American student, with long hair and a beard, dressed like John Lennon in olive Army surplus fatigues. Chantal, whose grandfather escaped Mussolini, looked like Isabella Rossellini. We married in Oakland, Calif. Chantal did not want children; I did. We divorced. Chantal’s journey continued, wild as ever. Mine: law school, suburbs, remarriage, children and Little League. Chantal would sometimes call. She became a psychologist. Once, Chantal said she wanted a child and asked if I’d be the father. I mistakenly told my wife. Flattered, remembering, hesitating, I said no. Nice though. — Mark Rice

Hitchhiking through Ilfracombe, England, in 1980.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

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Disenfranchised Grief in a Year of Pandemic Losses

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“I’m probably luckier than most.”

“I can’t complain.”

“I know I am very fortunate — a lot of people have it way worse than I do.”

“I feel our loss is nothing compared to people losing loved ones.”

“It’s terrible to feel like your suffering doesn’t have a place.”

There is a kind of grief that isn’t routinely acknowledged. From lost time with grandchildren to canceled vacations, we need to give ourselves permission to mourn.

March 15, 2021

It’s OK to Grieve for the Small Losses of a Lost Year

Tara Parker-Pope

When I’ve asked people what they lost in the past year of pandemic life, the answer often starts the same way.

“I can’t complain.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones.”

“I know I should count my blessings.”

They are, of course, comparing their losses to the loss of life of 2.6 million people around the world during this pandemic, which makes it harder to talk about these smaller losses. Many people have lost precious time with family and friends, or they’ve been forced to cancel travel plans and miss milestone events like graduations and weddings. In the hierarchy of human suffering during the pandemic, a canceled prom, a lost vacation or missing out on seeing a child’s first steps may not sound like much, but mental health experts say that all loss needs to be acknowledged and grieved.

“People don’t feel like they have the right to grieve,” said Lisa S. Zoll, a licensed clinical social worker in Lemoyne, Pa., who specializes in grief counseling. “A year into this, the losses are piling up. I just had this conversation in my office when this person said, ‘I can’t complain about my grief, because people have it worse.’ But we have to correct that thinking. Your grief is your grief. You can’t compare it to other people’s.”

For RaeAnn Schulte of St Paul, Minn., it was the loss of so many of the small things of day-to-day life during the pandemic that added up to a sizable loss.
For RaeAnn Schulte of St Paul, Minn., it was the loss of so many of the small things of day-to-day life during the pandemic that added up to a sizable loss.Credit…Nina Robinson for The New York Times

A year ago, Georgiana Lotfy was forced to cancel her dream wedding in Joshua Tree, Calif. She and her partner, Stephen Schullo, had found new love at the age of 72, and they had wanted to celebrate with 55 friends and family members. Instead, they got married in their Rancho Mirage backyard on March 21, by an officiant who stood eight feet away. Invited guests watched via Facebook Live, the wedding flowers, which had been paid for, were sent to nursing homes, and the caterer delivered the wedding dinner to a local homeless shelter.

“I’ve cried over it,” said Ms. Lotfy, who is a licensed psychotherapist. “When we started to think about how we are going to celebrate our first anniversary, it just hit me all over again, the sadness of the loss of this beautiful wedding. There’s no ritual for this grief. It’s not like losing a person, but it is a sadness.”

Naming Your Grief

There is a name for grief that isn’t routinely acknowledged: disenfranchised grief. The term was coined in the 1980s by Kenneth J. Doka, a bereavement expert who began studying unacknowledged grief while teaching graduate students at the College of New Rochelle. When the class discussion turned to the death of a spouse, an older student spoke about the lack of social support when her ex-husband died. His new wife was the widow. Her children had lost their father. But she felt she had no standing to grieve for a man with whom she’d gone to high school prom and shared 25 years of her life.

The conversation prompted Dr. Doka to begin studying grief that isn’t acknowledged or supported by social ritual. It can happen when we don’t have a legal tie to the person we lose, as is the case in a romantic affair or after a divorce. When the loss makes others uncomfortable — like a miscarriage or suicide — we might also lack support for our grief. But often disenfranchised grief happens around smaller losses that don’t involve loss of human life, like the loss of a job, a missed career opportunity, the death of a pet or lost time with people we love.

“A constant refrain is, “I don’t have a right to grieve,’” said Dr. Doka.

A Lost Goal

When college campuses shut down a year ago, students were forced to pack up, say quick goodbyes to friends and finish the semester at home. Before the lockdowns, Victoria Marie Addo-Ashong, who grew up in Falls Church, Va., had big dreams for her senior track season at Pomona College. After setting a school record in the triple jump and placing fifth in the 2019 N.C.A.A. Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, she had her eyes set on a national title.

Victoria Marie Addo-Ashong won many awards for track and field as well as volleyball, but missed out on the opportunity to win a national title because of the pandemic.Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

But then Covid arrived, and the 2020 track season was over before it started. “We only had three meets before our season was canceled,” said Ms. Addo-Ashong. “The lack of agency and the complete surprise, it was pretty disheartening. It felt so surreal. It felt like no way this is happening.”

Ms. Addo-Ashong, 22, knows other people have lost so much more in the past year, which has made it hard to grieve her own loss. Her senior year was supposed to be the first time her parents saw her compete in a college meet. She also grieves for her teammates and her coaches, who invested so much time and energy into her training.

“We had these big goals together. It was such a disappointment we couldn’t finish it out the way we wanted to,” said Ms. Addo-Ashong, who now works in economic consulting in Los Angeles. “I’ve lost a track season, whereas people have lost lives. But it was such a big part of who I was, and who I still am. It’s hard because there’s nothing I could do about it. There was no concrete way to go about mourning the end of a lost track season. Even that sentence sounds stupid now. Whether I won I didn’t really care. I was looking forward to having the chance to try. To compete one more time.”

Missing a Chance to Help

A year ago, Ginger Nickel’s life in Eugene, Ore., was full. The 74-year-old retired teacher was volunteering three or four days a week at a local hospital, often accompanied by her white labradoodle, Gryffindor, a trained therapy dog. As part of a No One Dies Alone program, she would sit with dying patients, some of whom were homeless, with no family at their bedside. Her favorite job was working three-hour shifts as a “cuddler,” holding the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.

But in March, all hospital volunteers were sent home — there wasn’t enough protective gear available, and the rapid spread of Covid-19 made it too risky to allow volunteers to come and go from the hospital.

“It was so abrupt. It wasn’t anything I could prepare for,” said Ms. Nickel. “I remember I had that same feeling I had when my best friend died. It’s like your day is normal, and you get this news and everything changes. You’re standing around like, well what should I do now? It was really an unsettling feeling. It was almost as if someone had died, and I would not see them again.”

Ms. Nickel said she redirected her energy into sewing masks. She donated them to the hospital and to local homeless people, and she even hung them from clotheslines in her front yard for people to take. Often she would find thank you notes clipped to the clothesline where a mask had been.

But she misses the nurses and staff she saw every week for the past 13 years. And it’s still not clear when or if the hospital will bring back volunteer workers.

“I know what I’m going through is nothing like what the families of 500,000 people have gone through,” said Ms. Nickel. “But I’m grieving. I lost something. It’s been a year, and I haven’t seen any of them. I know the babies still need to be held.”

Canceled Travel and Lost Time With Grandchildren.

Dr. Brian Edwards, 69, a retired physician in Topeka, Kan., calls himself a “cup half-full kind of guy” who doesn’t like to complain. He and his wife, Ginger, missed out on a lot last year. They had two new grandchildren they weren’t able to see. His daughter got married. They had five cruises planned in 2020 before Covid-19 hit

Dr. Brian Edwards and his wife, Ginger, at their home in Topeka.Credit…Barrett Emke for The New York Times
Dr. Edwards was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2017 and missed a year of travel and visits with grandchildren.Credit…Barrett Emke for The New York Times

Dr. Edwards also has Alzheimer’s disease, and time is precious to him. His doctors have advised him to “just have fun” while he’s healthy, something that pandemic restrictions have made more difficult.

“I know my time is limited,” he said. “But I feel our loss is nothing compared to people losing loved ones. Did I ever feel sad? Yes, but that’s not my way, to linger on bad things. I try to think positively. We all have many losses in many ways. Some losses are more important than others. The big thing is, if you have a loss, you should grieve. Nobody can tell you that your feelings are wrong.”

A Cancer Diagnosis During Lockdown

Lockdowns had an immediate financial impact on Annabelle Gurwitch, a Los Angeles writer who lost assignments and speaking engagements. The promotion for her new book, “You’re Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility,” has gone virtual. But it was when her child’s graduation from Bard College moved online that she found herself weeping in her backyard. Her child had worked hard and even started a sobriety club on campus.

“I was so proud of them for graduating college in four years,” she said. “David Byrne was supposed to be the speaker. There’s so much suffering going on, and I felt like such a terrible person being upset that I couldn’t go to my kid’s graduation and see David Byrne. That’s low on the suffering level. But damn, we got our kid through four years. The kid got sober during college. Am I allowed to say we were disappointed?”

Around the same time as the graduation, Ms. Gurwitch developed a cough. She got a coronavirus test and a chest X-ray, which eventually led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. After her cancer diagnosis, Ms. Gurwitch started to notice that her friends began to downplay their own struggles and grief. One friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, but didn’t want to tell her because she felt like breast cancer was not as bad as lung cancer.

“I had out-cancered her,” said Ms. Gurwitch. “It’s terrible to not feel like your suffering has a place.”

A Year of Lost Fertility and a Lost Marriage

Erin, 38, who asked that her full name not be used to protect her privacy, said she lost another year of fertility during the pandemic lockdowns. After suffering a miscarriage a few years ago, she had been trying to conceive, but her husband didn’t think it was wise to start a pregnancy during a pandemic. “Mother’s Day came, and I was about to turn 38, and it became clear that I don’t have a lot of time left,” she said. “That biological clock — the tick is very loud, and it’s a very real thing.”

Erin said her marriage began to fall apart, and she realized that if she wanted to become a mother, she likely would have to pursue it on her own. She and her husband are now getting a divorce, she’s taking steps to freeze her eggs, and she’s exploring adoption and foster parenting. She said the grief of infertility and miscarriage has only been amplified by pandemic life, as she gets glimpses into people’s family lives via video calls.

“A co-worker, every time we talk, she talks about Lamaze class,” she said. “That’s great for them, but it’s not an OK space for me to say I’m struggling with this. I lost a child. I lost my fertile years. This is an area where I’m really struggling. It’s not something we as a society openly talk about.”

Acknowledging Your Grief

One of the biggest challenges with disenfranchised grief is getting the person who is suffering to acknowledge the legitimacy of their own grief. Once you accept that your grief is real, there are steps you can take to help you cope.

Ms. Addo-Ashong holds one of her many awards for track and field.Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times
  • Validate the loss. Identify the thing or things you’ve lost this year. “I’ve gotten a number of letters from people who read my book and said, ‘You gave my grief a name,’” said Dr. Doka. “There’s power in naming it. It’s a legitimate loss.”

  • Seek support. One of the challenges of disenfranchised grief is that we often suffer in silence. Going to a support group or a therapist or reaching out to friends to talk about your grief is an important step in coping with it. “I think sharing helps, because people feel a lot of times with grief, especially disenfranchised grief, they feel alone and isolated,” said Ms. Zoll. “They think nobody else is experiencing what they’re experiencing. Someone has to be brave enough to bring it up. When you talk about it, people will say, ‘I’ve been experiencing that too.’”

  • Create a ritual. Funerals, memorial services and written obituaries are rituals around death that help us process our loss. Consider creating a ritual that honors your loss. Consider planting a tree, for example, or finding an item that represents your loss, like canceled airline tickets or a wedding invitation, and burying it. Host a pretend prom or graduation ceremony. Some people might want to get a tattoo to memorialize the loss. “What we struggle with is to find meaning in the loss,” said Ms. Zoll. “Grief and loss don’t make sense. The rituals are part of finding the meaning.”

  • Help someone else. Dr. Zoll said small acts of kindness have helped her cope with her own losses during the pandemic. She overheard a woman in a grocery store whose mother had died, and she was making her mother’s favorite meal as a way to honor her. “We waited for them to get to checkout, and we paid for their groceries,” said Ms. Zoll. “I wanted her grief narrative to include something nice that happened. When she talks about remembering her mom, she also remembers that someone paid for her groceries.”

  • Find small moments of enjoyment. Don’t force yourself to be happy, but try to find things to do that you enjoy. “Joy is a lofty goal,” said Ms. Zoll. “Sometimes the best we can do is find moments of enjoyment that are enough of an escape that we get a break.”

Missing Small Joys

To cope with grief, it’s important that you don’t rank your loss as better or worse than another person’s. RaeAnn Schulte, 29, of St. Paul, Minn., said her first reaction is always to say she hasn’t lost anything during pandemic life. “I thought I was lucky. I haven’t lost a loved one; I haven’t lost a wedding or a graduation or a job; I haven’t lost my health,” she said. “So why do I feel so terrible?”

Ms. Schulte goes through her 2020 day planner, recounting the cancelled events and vacations.Credit…Nina Robinson for The New York Times
“I think it’s been just a collection of small losses,” Ms. Schulte says of the pandemic year.Credit…Nina Robinson for The New York Times

Ms. Schulte said she started thinking about all the small losses this year, like lost time with family, especially her young nieces and nephews who are changing every day. She misses her co-workers, browsing in bookstores and going to yoga class.

“I’ve lost vacations and concerts and hockey games and festivals,” said Ms. Schulte. “And maybe by themselves none of these things matter so much. Certainly in the face of so much grief and loss, I realize how fortunate I am. But what is life if not a collection of small joys? Taken altogether, maybe my loss is not so small after all.”

Why I Took a Vow of Celibacy

Modern Love

Why I Took a Vow of Celibacy

In my life, sex and love have been twisted up with childhood trauma. Time for a break.

Credit…Brian Rea

  • March 12, 2021, 12:00 a.m. ET

Twenty months ago, I took a vow of celibacy that had nothing to do with religion. I had just come out of a two-year relationship that had ended messily, and I felt exhausted at the soul level. Not just by what it had taken to extricate my heart from this particular maelstrom of shattered promises and lingering disappointments, but by the whole thing, the dozens of relationships so much like this one that they seemed to exist in an echo chamber.

Two failed marriages. An ocean’s worth of love drama. The giddiness, hope and euphoria that invariably collapsed into conflict and doubt. And then the desperate attempts at relationship CPR, the talking and processing, anxious text messages, fighting and makeup sex, trying and failing to make something work that didn’t.

I was tired, most of all, of the voices in my head that would creep in as the latest enmeshment was disintegrating, telling me that all I needed to do was try again with the next one, the right one, somewhere out there.

This time, however, something shifted. When the voices began to whisper their usual “just keep looking” litany, I couldn’t bring myself to believe them. The jig was up. When the smoke cleared, I saw that I was lost, and that no love, no matter how profound, was going to help me find my way out.

I had been in this limbo for so long, desperate to find someone to save me, that I had lost track of where I had come from: the foster care system in Fresno, Calif. I was only 5 when my two sisters and I were sent to live with the couple at the root of all this.

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A skinny, curly-haired, quiet girl, I had already learned to read grown-ups like maps of difficult terrain and to bend myself into whatever kind of child they seemed to want. This was my job, to watch and to please, so I wouldn’t be given away again. Because I had learned that as bad as any situation was, it could always be worse.

My sisters, who were 3 and 7, must have been coping similarly. But strangely we never spoke to each other about what was happening to us in that house, or about anything that had already transpired. Not about how our mother, who had skipped town with a boyfriend the year before without saying goodbye or telling anyone where she was going. Not about our violent, shiftless father, who bounced in and out of jail and our lives. Not about our social worker, who showed up unannounced at our last placement, which had lasted only four months, and helped us pack our few things into garbage bags.

Had we done something bad? Were we not enough? No one said, and we knew better than to ask. We went without crying or even complaining, as if childhood was a kind of war, and we had been made soldiers.

There were an infinite number of rules in our new situation, which we followed without question. No sitting on the furniture, no food or water after 5 p.m., no raised voices. I must have gone to kindergarten and first grade there, but my school memories are blurry. I do remember days at home, stiff and cold as the plastic casing on the chairs and the sofas. The wife would tell us to play outside and then lock the door behind us.

At night, I shared a bed with my younger sister. We would sleep curled against each other like puppies, rubbing our feet together against the mattress to self-soothe — our oldest shared habit.

Some nights nothing happened. Other nights I would wake to a shape in the doorway, the husband’s inky silhouette. And then I would disappear inside myself, barely breathing, frozen. I vanished so expertly that I wasn’t actually in my body any longer as he peeled me away from my sister. I didn’t make a sound.

I think I was sleepwalking through those years — when I was 5, 6 and 7. That I went somewhere else, even in the daytime, far away from all the things I couldn’t control.

Do children ever belong to themselves? I didn’t. I was a chess piece, there to be moved, sacrificed. Grown-ups, and particularly my caregivers, seemed either uncaring or dangerous or both. There was nowhere to turn, and nothing to do but simply give up my body and hide far away, deep in the maze of my mind.

After two years, we eventually left that family. I was 7. I was so young, too young, but as a therapist once said to me, “The body never forgets.” Trauma leaves its imprint on you.

We were taken away because I had somehow mustered the courage to speak, telling the wife, in a shaking voice, about the molestation that had been happening. Though she never turned around or even acknowledged me, she later called our social worker to say she couldn’t take care of us anymore. We were taken to another foster home, and then another, each of them decidedly less abominable, but not without trauma.

At 18, when I aged out of the system, all I wanted was to reinvent myself as quickly as possible. Given a chance, I think I would have crawled out of my own skin, or even seared off my fingerprints. Whoever that throwaway girl was, I didn’t want to be her any longer.

I broke ties with our latest foster family, who had raised us for the last ten years, and also our biological family, the grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles we had seen less frequently throughout the years. I let it all burn without looking back, making it a policy never to tell anyone in this new life how I had grown up. Not friends, and certainly not the boyfriends I blew through as if I were bent on revenge.

There was a desperate edge to those years. I enrolled in community college, all I could afford or even aspire to, and rented an apartment with my sisters. We lived paycheck to paycheck, well below the poverty line, but we belonged only to ourselves.

Every weekend, we went dancing, drinking Vodka Collins by the dozen. Sometimes I went home with strangers, telling myself I liked sex, when really, I would often feel myself sliding out of my body and going somewhere else during the act, like watching a mannequin going through the motions.

Sometimes I would burst into tears or flood with rage, wanting to fight back in a way I hadn’t as a child. And in these moments, which were like a terrible hijacking, I would feel embarrassed, ashamed, incapable of explaining to whomever I was with what was really happening, not even someone I cared about, a boyfriend, or later my husband.

Sex scared me, so I had more of it. Men bewildered me, so I obsessed over figuring out what they wanted and tried to become that, falling to pieces when it didn’t work. And if I was with a guy who was caring and attentive, I would feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed, poised to bolt.

This is the dance I have been caught up in for most of my adult life, through marriage and divorce, motherhood, a successful career. It’s the dark shape that is forever in the background, tracking me like my own shadow, driving me to seek what can’t be found.

“I just want to have some other argument with the universe,” I told my therapist when I made the decision to swear off relationships. “I feel like I’m fighting the same war, over and over. And the weapons are only ever pointed at me.”

Sometimes I feel as if I am broken and always will be, but I have to remind myself of an essential fact: I didn’t break myself. Maybe I can’t fully mend myself, either, but the first step must be to try to love myself as I am, though that often seems like the hardest task of all.

I want to carry what’s mine to carry, claiming my life experiences, my war wounds, instead of wishing I’d had some other story. I feel lonely now and then in this, my second year of self-imposed celibacy, but I’m hardly alone.

We’re all carrying something. In my neighborhood, I often find myself looking up and down the street in an almost sacred way, knowing that many of the men and women climbing into buses or sitting masked in coffee shops have also been damaged by sexual abuse or experienced similarly painful traumas. I marvel at how beautiful we all are, how human. And then I make my way home.

Paula McLain is the author of the novel “The Paris Wife.” Her new novel, “When the Stars Go Dark,” will be published in April.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

To find previous Modern Love essays, Tiny Love Stories and podcast episodes, visit our archive.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

Tiny Love Stories: ‘I Had to Take Your Picture’

Modern Love

Tiny Love Stories: ‘I Had to Take Your Picture’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Credit…Brian Rea
March 9, 2021, 3:30 p.m. ET

Turning Bitter Fruit Sweet

A blue dawn as I think about how life will proceed without 80-year-old me. How to make those dim vapors disperse? Eggs, coffee, a thin slice of toast and — dare I open a jar of my homemade marmalade? With the inordinate work to make the jam — slicing countless sour oranges into small pieces — I’ve always saved these jars to give to special people. But today, in a wild, life-affirming gesture, I open the preserves for myself. Sticky and runny, the marmalade acts as an elixir, melting away the trailing wisps of blue. — Marilyn Slutzky Zucker


Music From Myanmar

I was teaching English in Myanmar when we met, two years ago. Music connected us — afternoons strumming a cheap guitar as we tried to harmonize. I was learning Burmese. He covered our apartment in Post-it notes with each item’s Burmese name. This January, I returned home to Australia because my mother was sick. In February, when the military staged a coup in Myanmar, he said, “They stole our future.” I could feel his frustration and pain. But every night when we FaceTime, he smiles and joins his neighbors as they bang kitchenware in protest. A hopeful harmony. — Audric Co

Singing the first Burmese song I learned with my love. I’m playing the guitar.

Crazy Drives

For three days, Chris commuted six hours round trip from Virginia to his work in Pennsylvania so he could hold me as I mourned my father. Over the years, my father had done crazy drives for me, his steadfast help showing an unconditional love. Moving me from Virginia to Chicago, we talked so much we missed our exits. I thought the only people who would continue to love me that deeply were my mother and brother. But Chris did, and does. My father would be happy to know someone is still doing crazy drives for me. — Apurva Sisodia

Chris and me.

A Stranger on the Subway

The subway roared into 14th Street. His hand was tucked in my pocket; mine held yellow tulips. It was a brisk March evening, but the tulips were sunny, his hand warm, and I felt like spring. Wrapped in the comfort of a full belly and heart, squished into subway seats, I talked to him about things I can’t remember now. “I had to take a picture,” a woman across the train said, waving her phone. “The way you’re looking at each other — I have chills.” I miss that woman, the people she photographed and the steadiness of those springtime flowers. — Kaitlyn Powers

The photo the kind stranger took of us.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

Tiny Love Stories: ‘We Are Not Ready for Real Life’

Modern Love

Tiny Love Stories: ‘We Are Not Ready for Real Life’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Credit…Brian Rea
March 2, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET

The Last Word

My first message to you, 44 years after high school: “I remember you; you had that long, pretty hair.” You told me about the car accident that left your lower body paralyzed. I told you that our wholeness doesn’t depend on the body. You wrote to me about making art, cooking, living in Mexico, your love for your son, your joyful creativity after surgery. In December, you stopped messaging. I was heartbroken to learn that you died. Then I reread your last message, about how we are connected in unseen and mystical ways. What a gift, intimacy with you. — Alice Hogan

My friend Laura, who passed away, with her son, Constancio, at their home in Mexico.
My friend Laura, who passed away, with her son, Constancio, at their home in Mexico.

Our Big Reality Check

After my 13-year marriage fell apart, I rented an apartment a few blocks from our family home in Rome. Three days later, Italy went into lockdown. I began a new life, along with the rest of the nation, working remotely and spending time with my children. My split was suddenly the second most important thing happening. As my wife and I grappled with the pandemic, pain and regret fell to the side. Is it possible that lockdown is our friend? It may seem cruel, but we are not ready for real life. — Federico Petrangeli

Clothes and masks hanging to dry outside my window.

‘Gram Loves You. Please Call.’

My grandmother Ruth was like a secret agent. Before cellphones or the internet, she would covertly track her grandchildren. At 23, I moved to Mexico to work for a resort. I was, at last, on my own. One night, while I was drinking with my co-workers at a beach bar, a man from a nearby village walked in and shouted my full name. When I responded, he marched up to me and said, “Your abuela has called each house in our village. I was chosen to find you with this message: ‘Gram loves you. Please call.’” — Amy Gotliffe

My grandma Ruth. I miss her! 

Green Ginger Wine

“It’s time, it’s time, for green ginger wine,” we would chant every Friday night as we danced around the kitchen, my lover’s hand at my waist, my arm around his wife. We drank wine from goblets as their toddler yelled happily at our feet. It would be a long time before I admitted to myself that sex with him no longer felt right, that I was more in love with our life together than I was with my lover. When I broke up with him, I stayed friends with his wife, and wondered if their child would remember me. — Melanie Pryor

The three of us lying in the grass together. I have the pink boot. 

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

Tiny Love Stories: ‘I Remove My Wedding Ring’

Modern Love

Tiny Love Stories: ‘I Remove My Wedding Ring’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Credit…Brian Rea
Feb. 23, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET

Negotiating Separation

Outside the Chicago airport the cold creeps up my coat, stiffening my spine as I hug my husband. We haven’t been apart for over a year. I board the plane alone because Nick isn’t vaccinated. At immigration in Harare, I remove my wedding ring and check the “single” box. Love between two men is illegal in Zimbabwe. I adapt to survive. When I emerge, the balmy air relaxes my spine as I hug my mother, Bharati. We cry, mourning the togetherness we’ve lost this year. I also cry for my husband, who drove home alone. One reunion requiring another separation. — Khameer Kidia

My husband’s snowy drive home.
My husband’s snowy drive home.

Weekly Apartment Party

During World War II, Lucy was sent out of Germany by her family. Theo was imprisoned in a concentration camp until the end of the war. In 1959, they lived a floor below us in our Bronx apartment building. They had a piano but no children. My parents had three girls but no piano. When Lucy and Theo found out that the nuns at our Catholic school offered cheap piano lessons, they insisted that we practice in their apartment. Theo would sometimes play show tunes while we danced and sang along. Such a joyful cacophony we created! I hear our music still. — Rosemary Colangelo Stewart

Here I am as a girl with Lucy and Theo.

My ‘Feline Social Worker’

Marjorie, my wife of 41 years, a member of our community fire department in Santa Fe, had a severe bleeding stroke. Leaving the hospital, I drove home through a raging snowstorm, fearing that I might get in an accident and be unable to help her. At home, I cried in our bed. Our cat, Bunnie, came in. Waking in the morning, I discovered that Bunnie had gathered six of her toys from around the house and placed them by my bed. After Marjorie died, my “feline social worker” looked after me until she was 20. — Bob Mizerak

Bunnie

Not So Naturally Gifted

My childhood memories of the Chinese New Year include the noise of my grandmother’s mahjong tiles click-clacking together. When my grandmother, Yuan, moved away from our hometown in Inner Mongolia to join my parents in the big city of Shanghai, she lost contact with her mahjong friends. My parents aren’t enthusiastic about the game, so my cousin and I offered to learn and play with our grandmother. We were naturally gifted, winning round after round. Or so I thought, until I better understood the game: My grandmother had all the tiles, but she was letting us win. — Ke Ran Huang

My grandparents are in the foreground. I’m wearing red and my cousin is wearing yellow. My aunt and father watch our game.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

Tiny Love Stories: ‘What Will You Miss if You Leave Him?’

Modern Love

Tiny Love Stories: ‘What Will You Miss if You Leave Him?’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Credit…Brian Rea
Feb. 16, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET

Lending a Dream

I woke to Nkozi’s arm around my waist. “I had another money dream,” she said, her brow furrowing. We were barely scraping by that year. Nkozi had a lot of money dreams. “Wanna borrow my dream?” I asked. She answered in a formless hum. I pressed my lips to her temple and told her about quahogging on the beach where I grew up: digging in the sand for the quahogs, scrubbing their shells until they looked like bone, enjoying fritters and chowder. I whispered until her brow was smooth and her head was heavy in the crook of my arm. — Serena Libardi

Nkozi, on the left, and me after our wedding.
Nkozi, on the left, and me after our wedding.

What Would I Miss?

After witnessing my parents’ divorce, I swore my life would be different. When I got divorced in my late 30s, I saw a psychologist to deal with the guilt of leaving my workaholic attorney husband and potentially hurting our children. “What will you miss if you leave him?” she said. “Sitting at a dinner table, having meals together,” I said. “But, how can you miss what you’ve never had?” I felt a gut punch; we’d rarely shared family meals. “Is that what you missed as a child?” “Yes,” I replied, finally letting myself mourn my past and present. — Kerrie Houston Reightley

Me and my four siblings on the wedding day of my first marriage.

‘Laughter Still Lights Our Way’

Sometimes the mind slips into dark places. On one such day, I was in the kitchen when my mind busied itself thinking about all I hadn’t achieved. Juggling a career and motherhood, I wished I had more time for both. Believing myself to be alone, I muttered, “What am I good at?” Behind me, quite unexpectedly and matter-of-factly, without a moment’s hesitation, my 6-year-old piped up in his precocious way. “But Mom, without you there would be no laughter.” Nate is almost 33 now, living on the opposite coast. Thankfully, laughter still lights our way on dark days. — Nancy Rae

Me and Nate when he was 4 years old.

Chicken Liver Hearts

In the early 1970s, as a college freshman in Iowa, I met a guy who was only interested in me as a friend. We played pinball (he liked the way I leaned into the flippers) and watched movies. David wasn’t much of a cook (he used a shoe box as a dish drainer) so I was surprised when he invited me for dinner on Valentine’s Day, presenting me with grilled chicken livers (my unconventional favorite) cut into the shape of hearts. Our own hearts are now filled with scars, stents and pacemakers, but also 48 years of love. — Bonnie Miller Rubin

Me and David enjoying the sun before the pandemic.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

Sharing Unexpected Acts of Kindness

Witnessing Kindness and Love in Unexpected Places

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we asked readers to share moments when they stumbled upon acts of affection. Here are some of their stories.

Credit…Nadia Hafid
Sara Aridi

  • Feb. 13, 2021

Has this happened to you? You’re going about your day, minding your business. Then you suddenly spot a caring interaction that lifts your spirits, like a couple embracing or a stranger lending a hand to another.

These days, the world could use a pick-me-up. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we asked readers to share when they unexpectedly witnessed an act of love or kindness. More than 100 readers wrote in with stories of affection, from years ago or just recently. Here are a select few, edited and condensed for clarity.


I’ve been walking in my local park more often. My heart has been moved by two friends who meet every morning. They are male and likely in their mid-80s. They arrive separately, each with coffee and a Dunkin’ Donuts bag. They sit on adjoining benches, six feet apart. One doesn’t start his coffee until the other is there. They aren’t particularly talkative with others in the park — I’ve tried. Their focus is on one another.

— Grace E. Curley, Boston


My 90-pound Bernese mountain dog, Lilly, has a neurological problem that makes her fall down. This causes her great distress. My golden retriever, Katie, came over to Lilly this morning after she had fallen, and licked her on the lips. Then she took a nap and snuggled against her canine sister.

— Penny Nemzer, Greenwich, Conn.


After months of staying at home, my 2-year-old son was not excited to be around strangers. That changed when he started day care. One of the first friends he made was Dennis, a construction worker who works near his school. Dennis often gives a high-five and a fist bump before my son lists all the new words he’s learned. He looks forward to this interaction every day, and Dennis never disappoints: He is always there with a big, welcoming smile.

— Smita Jayaram, Jersey City, N.J.


As the morning bell rings, one of my Grade 3 students would enter the school lobby holding his younger brother’s hand. My student would carefully help his brother remove his mittens and unzip his jacket. Then he would tenderly kiss the top of his head before they split up for their own classrooms. Such a loving and responsible gesture.

— Sheila Bean, Calgary, Alberta


Riding the bus years ago, I noticed a young man suddenly stiffen and slide sideways from his seat, stricken with a seizure. The passengers grew silent. We were concerned, flustered. The driver radioed for help and pulled over. Then a woman sat on the floor beside the young man. Humming quietly, she began stroking his hands. We all got off the bus, but the woman and boy stayed together. Her hum became a quiet song as they waited for his spasms to end.

— Tracy Huddleson, Garden Valley, Calif.


I have a balance problem after an operation on a brain aneurysm affected my ability to do certain things like bending or looking sideways. One day while walking with a stick through the city, I realized that my shoelace was undone. I just kept walking. Suddenly a young woman stopped. “Hey,” she said, “your shoelace is undone. Here, let me do it up in case you trip.” She tied the shoelace, smiled and walked on.

— Carol Lange, Oxford, England


I was 6 years old and spending the night at my grandparents’. While I was sitting on the porch, a couple walked past. The man reached down and plucked one of my grandmother’s tulips out of the garden and gave it to his lady love. I was outraged and ran into the house, yelling that someone had “stolen” one of my grandmother’s flowers. She calmed me down, held my hand and said, “That’s what flowers are for.”

— Clare Poth, Buffalo


I was walking to the post office. An older, masked couple walked slowly on the other side of the street. During the pandemic, people walk fast, avoid contact and try to get their things done quickly. For a moment, the couple stopped. They kissed through their masks and continued walking. It gave me some hope, that even in these times, love and human connection prevail.

— Susi Reichenbach, Brussels


We were at the beach on Martha’s Vineyard. The sun was bright coral and hanging over the horizon. Just as it was about to set, there was a commotion a few yards in front of us. A young man had just proposed to his partner, and everyone around them just turned to watch them take the first step into their new lives.

— Harriet Bernstein, West Tisbury, Mass.


When I was little, my parents and I flew to Seattle often to visit their friends. Once, while at the airport, I saw what I presumed to be a husband and wife embrace, kiss and tearfully say goodbye. That surprised me. My parents had just divorced and had never been overly affectionate. I think about that couple often.

— Margaret Anne Doran, Charlottesville, Va.


I was standing in a crowded subway train, facing a woman who was sitting. I was going through a terrible week. I was exhausted and overcome with emotion. All of a sudden, I started to cry. It almost didn’t occur to me that anyone could see me. But the seated woman did, and she handed me a tissue without saying anything except for giving me a comforting, knowing look.

— Nicole Shaub, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn


My mother often traveled for work when I was in high school. She could be away for weeks at a time. During one of her trips, I wandered into my parents’ room. My father was smelling one of her scarves. Blushingly, he put it down and said, “I was just missing your mother.”

— Sarah Hughes, Rockville, Md.


While I was driving, something up ahead brought everyone to a standstill. There was restlessness and frustrated honking. But when the cars in front of me moved into the next lane, I saw that a woman in one car was repeatedly stopping, getting out, grabbing brown-bag lunches and distributing them to the many homeless people on the side of the road. She offered them conversation, care and warmth, and seemed not to care about the frazzled drivers behind her.

— Sam Alviani, Denver


Several years ago, I was walking in the East Village when a biker got clipped by a car. The biker was hurt and bleeding, and the car drove away. Within seconds, dozens of New Yorkers sprang into action. Several people ran down the street to note the car’s license plate number. A ring of people surrounded the biker to administer first aid, ripping off sweatshirts to stanch the bleeding. In under two minutes, ambulances and police cars had arrived on the scene. There was not a second of chaos. It was a beautiful ballet of competence and confidence. New Yorkers care for each other.

— Elizabeth Brus, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn


We’re back in school, and we’re at choir rehearsal. Scrupulously adhering to guidelines, my students are singing outdoors, in masks, 10 feet apart. It’s January in New England, 34 degrees and overcast with an icy breeze.

Two high school senior boys, young men now, members of the choir I direct, inseparable since forever and never silent in rehearsal until Zoom muted them, chatted and laughed and danced together unselfconsciously between singing verses of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

They look like there’s nowhere in the world they would rather be.

— Scott Halligan, Longmeadow, Mass.


As I was headed to the drugstore, a high school-aged boy walked out carrying a bouquet of yellow daffodils. Someone yelled from across the street: “Are you looking to get lucky?” He answered: “No, I think I’m in love!” This happened probably 40 years ago, and I still think about it.

— Sallie Wolf, Oak Park, Ill.

Podcasts to Listen to If You're Single on Valentine's Day

Dating Podcasts to Make You Feel Better About Your Love Life

Or the lack thereof.

  • Feb. 13, 2021, 11:21 p.m. ET

It is a brutal time to be single — even before Valentine’s Day showed up. The spontaneous whimsy of a regular dating life has been replaced by rolling restrictions, questionable adherence to social-distance protocols and a whole new meaning to “getting tested.” And if you have been in a relationship throughout the past year, you may be wondering if you would even still be together if you weren’t quarantining together. So whether your love life is on life support or you haven’t been touched in way too long, here are four podcasts that know exactly how you feel and are ready to provide advice, consolation and a humorous escape.

Why Won’t You Date Me?

Let’s get this out of the way: Nicole Byer is a national treasure. Her impeccable timing and unfailing cheer make her a delightful host of Netflix’s “Nailed It!” bake-off reality show, and co-host of “Best Friends” podcast with Sasheer Zamata. So why she is — despite her best efforts — perpetually, painfully single is indeed a valid question to investigate for 171 episodes and counting. Byer is joined by fellow comedians, friends, therapists, drag queens and sometimes ex-lovers to get to the bottom of her predicament. She asks guests such as Ego Nwodim, Margaret Cho and Tiffany Haddish if they would date her, and solicitstheir advice as to what she’s doing wrong. And because it’s Byer, the conversation is always unabashedly raunchy, intimate and hilarious.

Alone: A Love Story

This is a redemption story. After the journalist and radio producer Michelle Parise’s seemingly happy marriage explodes because of infidelity, she finds herself piecing together what happened: not just to the relationship, but to the person she thought she was supposed to be. How did she end up nearly 40, a single mother, binge drinking and overwhelmingly lonely, now forced to navigate dating and sex with strangers for the first time in her life. Parise’s narrative vignettes unfurl her path to self-acceptance over three seasons, pulling you with her through heartbreaking despair, bleak humor and sexual discovery, but ultimately compose a tale of resilience and the beauty of new beginnings. Start with the first episode of this memoir podcast, and you will be hooked on Parise’s addictive homage to second chances.

Dateable: Your insider’s look into modern dating

Every Wednesday, the dating coach Yue Xu and the producer Julie Krafchick, both “active daters turned dating sociologists,” explore a different angle of dating, be it virtual sex, ghosting, the #MeToo era or fetishes like puppy play. For five years, Xu and Krafchick have interviewed experts, therapists and daters to not only document modern dating, but also find the healthiest and happiest way to just be yourself in your quest to connect. Xu and Krafchick also go above and beyond the average advice podcast hosting duties to make you feel less alone in your current dating quandaries: Recent episodes include “Socially Distant Yet Emotionally Available, ” and their Facebook group has become a private support community for listeners navigating “Love in the Time of Corona.” With special livestream events tailored to the community and members-only personalized dating advice, these hosts are devoted to the message that every single listener is, indeed, deserving and datable.

Food 4 Thot

Just in case you can’t tell from the title, this podcast is thirsty. Its four queer hosts open each episode with mile-a-minute dirty jokes and the sort of breezily ribald conversation (from illicit hookups to, more recently, sex-toy purchases in pandemic times) that immediately cause the listener to lean right in. But this is not merely a hookup-story swap meet among funny friends. The hosts, all writers from differing backgrounds, bring a literary perspective to subjects like sex, identity and culture, delivering serious critique without taking themselves too seriously. Come for the desperately relatable tales of navigating quarantine while horny, stay for the thoughtful analysis and surprising perspectives on the world.

Join The New York Times Podcast Club on Facebook for more suggestions and discussions about all things audio.

This Valentine’s Day, Take Love Lessons From the Astronauts

This Valentine’s Day, Take Love Lessons From the Astronauts

Accept your ‘full reality,’ keep little rituals alive and remember you’re still — yes, still — in it together.

Credit…Nicolás Ortega
Jancee Dunn

  • Feb. 12, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Normally I like Valentine’s Day. Some people knock it, but what’s not to like about a heart-shaped declaration of love — or flowers and candy, for that matter? But as my husband and I near the 12th monotonous month in lockdown with our remote-schooling daughter, we’re just not feeling amorous.

With the pandemic’s end at least potentially on the horizon, we’re finding the homestretch difficult. Tempers are frayed. Skirmishes erupt over who took the last brownie, or who gets the cat as a lap-warmer while we watch TV. The bathroom has become prime real estate in which to hide from the rest of our little family. We’re grateful to be healthy, but the tedium is causing our marriage to crack.

So it occurred to me — who better to offer advice on how to keep relationships intact than those forced to live with a few others under extreme and isolating conditions?

“If we were only in lockdown for a couple of months, we’d all be fine,” said Jane Poynter, who spent two years as one of eight crew members in Biosphere 2, the enclosed ecological system in Oracle, Ariz. “But it turns out that when you hit between four and six months, you get into what’s called ‘long duration isolation,’ when people start acting out.”

Chris Hadfield, a retired astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency and author of the upcoming suspense novel “The Apollo Murders,” lived in space for half a year. One of the best coping mechanisms he developed was to accept the “full reality” of his circumstances. “Recognize that this isn’t a timeout in your life, and this isn’t an interruption or an imposition on your life. This is your life,” he said.

But even under such radically changed conditions, rituals from before the pandemic have their place. L. David Marquet, a retired commander of the submarine U.S.S. Santa Fe, once spent 87 days underwater. “It’s a weird combination of isolation and close proximity of individuals in your space, and you never see the sun,” he said. “It’s depressing, like Norway in winter.”

He said that rituals like Valentine’s Day were crucial for buoying morale in close quarters. “On the submarine, we did the best we could to replicate holidays,” he said. “It kept us grounded in the rhythms of the year and the rhythms of life, and this idea that it’s not as abrupt a break from the past as it might seem. We put decorations up.”

If the crew went out from January to June, families would prepare Valentine’s Day cards in December, which were kept in a sealed box and opened on the day. “The sense of ritual is important for human beings, and that applies to the pandemic, too,” he said.

Respecting each other’s space was similarly critical. “On the submarine, bunks were about six feet long, two feet wide,” Cmdr. Marquet said. “And they had a curtain, so when you pulled that curtain, that signaled it was your private space, and we were very respectful of that space and time. Only in the most dire emergencies would you pull the curtain back.” He suggested establishing a firm household rule that if someone is pulling back their figurative curtain for a little private time, even in a small apartment where others can see you, refrain from interrupting.

Humor and perspective were similarly useful below the water. “We’d say things like, ‘Life sucks, but at least the ocean’s not coming into the submarine,’ and we’d laugh,” he said. “Sailors have dark humor, but it helped.”

One informal rule to maintain comity on the sub was to “assume good intent,” Cmdr. Marquet said. “If we bumped into each other on the submarine, we’d just say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry.’” If someone is sharp with you, he suggested not jumping to conclusions. Start by assuming they respect you. Consider that their behavior might be the result of environmental stressors, “which now could be day after day being at home on Zoom calls.”

Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut who went on two space shuttle missions, said routine was vital to boost spirits. “Having a regular schedule was very important to us in space,” he said. “When there’s nothing on the schedule, your mind starts wandering.”

To maintain harmony, Mr. Massimino added, clean up after yourself. “In space, if someone’s untidy it could go south quickly.” (Plus, everything floats.)

While routine was important for a sense of normalcy, Ms. Poynter, the “Biospherian,” added: “Every now and then, we found we needed to go a little wild in a positive way, and create an event that pops up out of the background noise of everyday living.” In the Biosphere — remember, this was back in the early ’90s — it was really different and exciting for us to get on the phone and jam music with people around the world.”

Creating different environments within Biosphere 2’s living space was also helpful, she said, pointing out that during the pandemic, we effectively have one setting. In your home, you need to create different types of experiences “so it’s not all this gigantic mush.” Getting on a video call with co-workers, Ms. Poynter said, counts as a different experience, or going for a walk outside with people who aren’t on lockdown with you, even if it’s cold.

Jeffrey Donenfeld, an investment manager who spent three months in Antarctica working as a cook at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, told me what made his time in the remote location bearable. “What got us through was that we all had a mission, that we were all in it together,” he said. “And that’s something I’ve tried to reiterate with my wife and family now, like, ‘We’re having tough times, let’s just stick together and stay safe, and we will get through this.’”

Inspired by this message of maintaining the semblance of normality during abnormal times — and haunted by the vision of lonely submarine sailors opening valentines — my husband, Tom, and I, ensconced in our remote location at home, have decided that since we have celebrated Valentine’s Day in the past, we are going to maintain our little celebratory rituals — chocolates and handwritten notes. After all, even astronaut Chris Hadfield made it a point to have flowers sent to his wife, Helene, on Valentine’s Day — while he was on a months-long mission on the International Space Station.

I asked him if he had arranged the delivery before he left.

“No,” he said. “I called the shop from space.”


Jancee Dunn is the author of “How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids.”

Modern Love: Please Go Shelter in Another Place

Modern Love

Please Go Shelter in Another Place

During lockdown, a 25-year marriage shakes and resettles.

Credit…Brian Rea

  • Feb. 12, 2021, 12:00 a.m. ET

On our 25th day of sheltering-in-place, my husband packed a suitcase and a brown paper bag of food and moved into an Airbnb some two miles away. Our quarter-century-long marriage was faltering, and we needed time apart, so off he went.

For the previous 24 days, the five of us — our son, Tyler; his girlfriend, Irina; our daughter, Alexa; and my husband and I — had been cocooned, venturing from the house only a few times for necessities. No more business travel for me. No more long commutes and late hours for Jason. No more college dorm for Alexa. No apartment of their own for Tyler and Irina, who came home to avoid pandemic-related risks from roommates.

We ordered puzzles and games, walked our dog on the strangely empty streets, made coffee and eggs, passed each other in the kitchen on breaks between Zoom meetings, and then met again sometime after 6 p.m. to make dinner. Alexa and Irina hovered close to me, asking a year’s worth of questions in less than a month: “When do you add the salt?” “How do you zest a lemon?” “Show me how you make the pasta.”

Then, on Day 25, everything broke. As I lay on the cool tile of the bathroom, my hand to my mouth so the kids wouldn’t hear me cry, Jason left. And in his absence, days passed as if I were underwater: breathless, floating, murky. My heart leapt around so much that my doctor ordered an EKG, which, on two separate readings, showed anomalies.

“I want you to wear a Holter monitor,” she said.

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But I couldn’t stand the thought of something so close to my erratic heart. She prescribed small, white pills, which I nibbled on.

My friends said Jason was having a midlife crisis.

Yes, I suppose, but naming something — even something as clichéd and common as a midlife crisis — did nothing for my aching heart. My husband (perhaps my soon to be ex-husband?) came and went, toggling between his Airbnb and visits with the children.

On one visit, he said, “I joined Match. I just wanted you to know.”

I nodded, went inside and made my own Match account. I cropped pictures, removing my husband’s smiling face, so I could post just me on this adult version of truth or dare. Truth in text, dare for a call? I wouldn’t dare all the way to an in-person meeting during these virus-strangled times. Nor, Jason promised, would he.

“I think things happen for a reason,” he said. “The quarantine means neither of us can really leave.”

But in a way, I did leave; I left my life as I knew it. I drank too much and ate too little. I slept too little and thought too much.

I cropped more photos, swiped left and right, bantered online with different men. I eliminated smokers, motorcyclists and those who confused “your” for “you’re.” I stopped staring at old family photos and started scrutinizing pre-pandemic pictures of men at the beach, on vacation, in suits, in offices. My husband had lifted the veil, and I peered out at a world I had never seen before, a world full of different people and alternate possibilities.

Mother’s Day fell on Day 48, more than three weeks after Jason left. Alexa, who generally shies away from arts and crafts, made a sign that spelled “Happy Mother’s Day” in dangling paper letters. I touched each letter, wiping my tears, trying to remind myself that no matter what — Covid-19, divorce, death — I was still a mother.

I was starting to fade, though. I stopped cooking and barely ate.

Tyler, who used to say, as a 4-year-old with a lisp, “You’re a good cooker, Mama,” began saying, “You’re awfully tiny, Mama.”

We still gathered in the kitchen every night, just the four of us, the empty fifth chair carefully ignored, but food overwhelmed me. Hunger and habit left. I didn’t realize the refrigerator was nearly empty until Tyler and Irina returned from Trader Joe’s.

Irina handed me a bouquet of pink roses and held me as I cried. Tyler, who had woken me at 2 a.m. with a panic attack, stood close and wiped his eyes in the way he used to after toddler naps. I wished I had a blankie for him, for all of us.

Day 66 marked Irina’s birthday, but the pandemic eliminated most celebration choices. I touched my Mother’s Day sign like a talisman and asked Alexa to swap out the “S” and “E” with a “B” and “I” and to rearrange the letters to spell “Happy Birthday.” We hung the reconfigured sign outside for a socially distanced dinner with the few in our pod, including Jason, which felt both awkward and normal.

I started to take long walks; Jason bought a bike.

“The mornings are the hardest,” he said. “I’m lonely.”

Mornings were easier for me, the light in the window reminding me that the sun still rose, no matter my sadness. It was nights when I struggled, afraid of the dark, of sleep or no sleep, of dreams and memories.

Days passed, still formless and jumbled. I turned off the camera during work Zoom calls and lay my head on the desk. After dark, Alexa curled next to me as we watched mindless TV.

“I’m not just sad,” she said. “It’s more intense than that. I feel like my whole life got turned upside down.”

“It did,” I said, hugging her close.

Weeks passed. Jason biked, I Bumbled. We hissed, whispered, yelled, stood silent. He came and went from his Airbnb, so close and at such a distance.

I walked and walked, gradually reclaiming myself like a dimmer switch turning on. I stopped the white pills, started eating, sleeping, reading, even smiling. Jason came by to take out the trash cans, to fill my car with gas. He brought groceries, dog food, my favorite iced coffee. He asked me over for dinner and we ate quietly in his little place, as nervous as a blind date. We were tender and awkward, vacillating between passion and pain.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I want to come home. I miss you.”

“You miss me or our life?”

“You,” he said. “It’s you.”

At first his words were quiet and unconvincing. And the veil was lifted: I went back and forth between memories of our 29 years together and flirty text messages from Match and Bumble. I wondered about the next 29 years and what I wanted.

Jason bought me a bike. We rode miles at the beach in masked silence. Sitting on the empty sand after, he leaned over and said, “May I kiss you?”

I leaned in, opening my lips to him. He tasted both nostalgic and new. “So strange,” I said, and he looked as if he might cry. I was sad and present and hopeful. The future, however uncertain, was right there in front of us.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, but not so often as to sound untrue. “I understand you need time. Just know I miss you and love you so.”

I weighed 29 years with the man who is the father of my children, who knew my grandparents, whom I most love to be with, against a new chapter of different possibilities. I thought of the years between us and the years ahead.

On Day 98, we celebrated Tyler’s birthday. California started to reopen. I tied my apron and made Tyler’s favorites: onion dip, pasta salad, chocolate chip cookie pie.

“You’re chefing again, Mama,” Tyler said.

We celebrated outside under the dangling sign that still read “Happy Birthday.”

“I love you,” Jason said as he left our little party, and I remembered us as new parents in the delivery room, too excited and in love to know how hard it could be.

“I love you, too,” I said.

Alexa’s birthday came on Day 109, 84 days after Jason left. The five of us ate blueberry crumble under the sign, and after Alexa blew out the candles, Jason cleared his throat and said, his voice cracking, “I want to say how sorry I am for everything. Mom and I have decided — I’m moving home.”

The next morning, he came back with his suitcase and more bags of food than he left with all those months ago.

We had stood on the edge, teetered and stumbled. When he had wanted to jump, I’d pulled him back. When I stepped forward, he grabbed me. Ultimately, we held hands, each keeping the other from falling until we could turn around and choose each other again. We have learned enough to know that the cliff is always there, and that to love is to choose and keep choosing.

Michelle White is a writer in Los Angeles.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

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Tiny Love Stories: ‘She Was a Little Weirdo’

Modern Love

Tiny Love Stories: ‘She Was a Little Weirdo’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Credit…Brian Rea
Feb. 9, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET

Glad He Asked

On our fourth date, Tayo and I ate tacos on the steps of a colorful church in Oakland, Calif. A white-haired man shuffling down the street shouted at us with slurred speech and apparent admiration: “Look at you two! Are you in love?” Tayo smiled and said, “Sure.” The old man, either unsatisfied or unable to hear, belted out again, “What’s that? Are you two in love?” Tayo and I looked at each other and laughed. We shouted a resounding “Yes!” The old man seemed appeased, and we felt the first glimmer of our answer’s truth. — Theda Maritzer

A lion outside of the colorful church.
A lion outside of the colorful church.

Welcome to ‘Our Weird Little World’

When my oldest friend got pregnant, I felt embarrassingly abandoned. Since fourth grade, Eloise and I had been cocooned in our weird little world; while excited, I worried that our friendship would soon become a faint star in the constellation of her life. I imagine that others in my position would feel similarly, yet I judged myself for not being more exuberant. Eloise’s daughter came, grew and learned to crawl. One day, on FaceTime, as I watched her wiggle through the doggy door, I realized I couldn’t be jealous. She was a little weirdo, just like us. — Cat Coyne

Eloise’s daughter crawls through the doggy door.

Nothing to Fix

People call me heartless. I’m not. I lack one type of human connection, not all of them. I may never have a girlfriend or boyfriend, but I can love family, friends and pets. People say they can “fix” me; they can’t. I’m not broken, just different. People say it’s made up. It isn’t. I’m not heartless. I’m not broken, not a liar and not loveless. I’m just me, and I’m asexual. — Noa Callie

Me in Hebron, Maine. A friend taught me how to make flower crowns. 

Now I Know Why

After Hazel and I got married at the ages of 20 and 21, I questioned our judgment in choosing to marry so young. When we had a baby soon after, I wondered how I could possibly support a family. In our mid-40s, I thought we were too young to become grandparents, though our grandchildren are lovely. Then when Hazel passed away at 50 from the coronavirus, I finally realized why we got married so young: We weren’t meant to grow old together. And I am grateful for our time. — Sean Luke Dado

Together on Hazel’s last birthday, Jan. 4, 2020, in the highlands of the northern Philippines.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”

Can a Long Distance Relationship Work in a Pandemic?

Can a Long Distance Relationship Work in a Pandemic?

Here’s how to give it your best shot.

Credit…Pablo Amargo

  • Feb. 5, 2021, 12:04 p.m. ET

By now, you know the drill: If something was hard before the pandemic, it’s even harder during it. That goes for work-life balance, for parenting and especially for finding the will to change out of your favorite sweatpants.

But when it comes to dating long-distance, it’s not quite as clear-cut. If you were in a long-distance relationship before the pandemic began, you’re likely fairly practiced in sustaining it from afar, said Theresa DiDonato, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland and an expert in romantic relationships. It’s the newer couplings — those created shortly before or since the start of the pandemic — that may be on more fragile ground.

That’s not to say that people aren’t giving it a go. The dating website OkCupid has seen an 83 percent increase in new users setting their location preferences to ‘anywhere’ since the pandemic began, said a spokesman for the company. Survey results published in October from Match, another dating site, show 51 percent of respondents said they were more open to a long-distance relationship than in previous years.

“In normal times, I think the challenges of dating long-distance might have prevented us from deciding to try it,” said Joey White, a resident physician in Ann Arbor, Mich., who met his Washington, D.C.-based boyfriend in May. “But basically every other aspect of life is virtual right now anyway. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to only communicate over FaceTime.”

A new long-distance relationship is the ultimate in social distancing. Can it survive a pandemic? Here’s how to give it your best shot.

Talk about when you’re going to talk.

When you’re dating long-distance, it’s imperative to “set clear expectations around when and how you’ll communicate,” said Logan Ury, the director of relationship science at the dating app Hinge and author of the book, “How To Not Die Alone.” “Some people like texting back and forth all day, but others find it distracting. Establish early on how often you’ll be in touch and for what duration.”

When you’re setting up a recurrent video chat, choose times you can commit to, so your partner feels they’re a priority, said Bela Gandhi, a dating coach and the founder of the coaching service, Smart Dating Academy. A little self-awareness can also go a long way. “If you know you’re not a nighttime person, don’t schedule FaceTimes for 10 p.m.,” she said. “You don’t want to be tired and grumpy when you talk.”

Even in geographically close relationships, people’s attachment anxieties can be triggered by stressful situations, said Dr. DiDonato — like, say, a deadly pandemic. “They often need more reassurance that the relationship is working and that the other person wants to be with them,” she said.

But when you are dating long-distance, it’s harder to console your partner on demand. And for someone who is already feeling insecure, an unanswered text can seem like a tragedy when it’s really just a time zone thing.

To keep it on an even keel, work periodic check-ins into the communication plan, said Dr. DiDonato. “You can say, ‘hey, I notice you don’t reply when I text in the morning, is that not working for you?’”

Be there even when you can’t be there.

Anna Hosey, a hairdresser in Chicago, lives almost 4,000 miles from her fiancé in London. But they still dress up for meals together, lit by candles and the glow of their laptops, even if one of them is eating dinner and the other is having a midnight snack.

It’s important to create quality time virtually, said Ms. Ury, and that doesn’t just mean segueing from work-Zoom to date-Zoom at your desk. “Go for a walk together,” she said. “Pick a time you can both get outside, then call each other and describe what you see.”

Scheduling virtual dates can be a critical way of cultivating what Dr. DiDonato called interdependence — that is, weaving your lives together. “In high interdependence relationships, your partner is always at the back of your mind,” she said. “You see brussels sprouts at the grocery store and you think ‘oh, she likes those, I’ll get some.’” Creating mutual experiences from afar can give you a way to intertwine your lives — cruciferous vegetables optional. Ms. Hosey and her fiancé watched all 62 episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ together on separate continents — “we literally said ‘3, 2, 1’ and pressed play at the same time,’ she said. Ms. Gandhi advises couples to choose a new recipe together, then video chat while they’re making it.

Equally important in long-distance relationships, said Ms. Ury, is responding to your partner’s bid for emotional connection, an idea coined by the psychological researcher John Gottman. “If they send you an article, do you read it and move on or do you write back with a reply?” she said. And don’t forget to make bids too. “Reach out and ask how that hard meeting went,” she said. “It’s not about grand gestures, it’s about doing small things often.”

But be realistic about actually being there.

“There needs to be momentum to build a relationship, and part of that momentum comes from meeting up in person,” said Ms. Ury.

Unfortunately, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising against unnecessary travel, jetting off to see your paramour for a long weekend may be difficult. And without the cadence of regular visits to sustain you, said Ms. Ury, it may be more difficult for the relationship to, well, take flight.

It can also make it harder to “practice” being together in real life, said Dr. DiDonato. For couples who are apart for long periods of time, “the challenge can often happen with reunification,” she said. Not seeing each other doesn’t just mean you miss out on magical moments, it means you miss out on the warm-up of daily life together too. Without that, “this idealized notion of the relationship can come crashing down when you eventually move into close proximity,” she said.

Even if you are separated by a drive and not a flight, you should still preface your liaisons with a pre-visit chat, Dr. DiDonato said. “Do you wear masks around each other? When do you discuss your plans with roommates or others whose health could be affected? What if one of you wants to eat at a restaurant and the other isn’t comfortable? There’s a lot of new turf to negotiate.”

Get awkward early.

Commit not just to the relationship — are you seeing each other exclusively? — but also to a mutual plan for its path, Ms. Gandhi said. “Make sure you’re on the same page about where you’re going,” she advised. “Long-distance is fine for a while, but you need an end goal.” That means having big conversations and having them upfront. “Don’t whittle away two years of your lives without ever asking, ‘Would you move here or would I move there? Do you want to get married? Do you want kids?” said Ms. Gandhi.

The upside is that there’s plenty of time to talk. “Often in long-distance relationships, people say, ‘I just want to enjoy this perfect weekend together, I don’t want a heavy conversation,’ so you end up pushing it down the road longer than you should,” said Dr. DiDonato. With travel paused, you can get to the nitty-gritty sooner.

If the relationship feels worth conserving, said Dr. DiDonato, it helps to take the long view. There is evidence to suggest that long-distance relationships “can have just as much intimacy, high quality communication and satisfaction as geographically close relationships,” she said.

Above all, remember that this too shall pass. “It’s just a temporary sacrifice of physical nearness,” said Dr. DiDonato. “Eventually, it’ll end.”


Holly Burns is a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area and the survivor of a long-distance relationship in the era of AOL Instant Messenger.

Tiny Love Stories: ‘He Had the Nicest Toes’

Modern Love

Tiny Love Stories: ‘He Had the Nicest Toes’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

Credit…Brian Rea
Feb. 2, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET

Survival in Rural Oregon

I found myself in rural Oregon, two years into a marriage with the wrong man and on a steep learning curve. My home: a drafty hand-built cabin with an inefficient wood stove. My partner: a developing opioid addict. Life was dark and cold. Then I met my neighbors. Some my age, some 50 years older. They shared wine, stories and laughter. They taught me to identify native plants, dress a turkey, read the lay of the land, preserve a garden harvest. And to mend everything worth saving and loving — which, their kindness taught me, included myself. — Cate Keller

A self-portrait I took the day I decided to leave.
A self-portrait I took the day I decided to leave.

“No One’s Idea of Maternal”

Amy was a spunky 8-year-old. She lived with our friends, but they were too old to care for her, so she would soon move to another foster home. I was no one’s idea of maternal and had never thought of raising children. But Amy wanted a family. I told my wife, “I want to adopt Amy.” We filled out paperwork, readied a bedroom and waited. After a judge’s OK, we loaded Amy’s clothes, crayons and copies of Harry Potter into our SUV. It’s been 17 years. I’m still no one’s idea of maternal, but I’m lucky to be Amy’s mother. — Lynn Domina

From left: Sandra, my wife, Amy and me.

Dude, I Bet You …

The first notable thing was that his Chinese name, Du Dao Na, sounded like, “Dude, where are you going?” The second: He had the nicest toes. We’d met as graduate-level exchange students in Taiwan. Don was wearing sandals. At Christmas, he surprised me with a kiss. I hesitated. He said, “It’s OK — I’m not dating until I find the one I’ll marry.” I asked, “How do you know that’s not me?” He replied, “I worry you’d tire of me.” I said, “Oh yeah? I bet I won’t!” Twenty-five years, three countries and two children later, I’m still winning that bet. — Doris Chou-Durfee

Don and our girls in Urumqi, the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in northwestern China.

One Last Lovely Dinner

My father lay dying of the coronavirus. A normally ebullient 96-year-old, he drifted in and out of consciousness as I, also infected, sat at his bedside. His lucid moments were precious opportunities for connection and FaceTime calls with his grandchildren. One afternoon, he commanded me to get his yellow collared shirt, blue blazer, khaki pants, Sperry shoes and one of his many bow ties. I laid everything on his bed as he talked about going out to a lovely dinner with my mother, who had died 17 years earlier. Then my father closed his eyes. — Katharine Cunningham

An old photo of my parents.

See more Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove. Submit yours at nytimes.com/tinylovestories.

Want more from Modern Love? Watch the TV series; sign up for the newsletter; or listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption” and “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less.”