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Opinion | Are you ready for social monogamy?

We have all had realizations in the past few months, and here’s mine: I miss people I haven’t met already

Lebanese choreographer Sara Karrit dancing to ‘Nobody’ by DJ Neptune with her family.
Lebanese choreographer Sara Karrit dancing to ‘Nobody’ by DJ Neptune with her family.

I miss strangers.

It’s not like I don’t appreciate what I have. The pandemic has made sure of that. Some people applied thrift and creativity to every last vegetable in the house during those months of lockdown. Many people have displayed a similar gratitude to the scarce contact with family and friends. Calling each other much more, sending each other food and gifts and music. Organizing movie nights and family quizzes and Zoom parties. In the last few months, I have been in a household with several entertaining adults and children and I am grateful. In the only time I saw my parents since March, I had coffee and biscuits standing at my mother’s gate and was grateful.

It feels greedy to want more people in my everyday. But we have all had realizations in the last few months. We were always ready to live alone. Or we were meant to live alone. Or we hate being alone. Or we hated our social lives. Or we loved our social lives and didn’t know it. Or we hate our families. Or we don’t hate our families but a little less of them would be nice. And here is mine. I miss people I haven’t met already.

Whatever our home situation was in the before times, it was balanced by our at-work situation. And our extended family and friends and acquaintances. Today, we are supposed to look to our own households to be our everything.

Take the lockdown family dance video. I have been watching the superhit video of Sara Karrit, a Lebanese choreographer, her husband and six-year-old son dancing to Nobody by DJ Neptune. I watched it a lot in March and smiled each time I saw them slouch and swivel in their kitchen. In May, I loved that Malaysian family dancing to Think About Things and in June, the Colt Family and the Quarantine Kids’ Twist And Shout. But now in July, the prospect of wholesome family entertainment is leaving me slightly terrified. The thought that we will all have to live with who we live with and not see anyone else till 2025 is the equivalent of the question from movie clichés, the wedding-eve panic or the seven-year itch—did I sign up for this monogamy?

In 2007, I was living in a Delhi suburb where every street and building looked the same. I had a full-time job 25km away. I often got lost coming home and there was never anyone on the streets to ask for directions when I came home near midnight. You would think on the rare day off I would have sat at home. But one hot, burning Sunday evening, I used three modes of transport to reach a woman I had met once in passing. Like those Adélie penguins in the Disney documentary (in the last three months my household has watched it 200 times), I was short and unstoppable as I marched through the wilds. Unlike the penguins, I wasn’t trekking for sex or food or those things that every boy who deployed evolutionary biology bored you about. It had no hard, sharp edges, the instinct that put me first in a rickshaw and then in a Metro and then in a bus to see my curly-haired acquaintance. A couple of weeks ago, another curly-haired woman and I stood on two sides of a tree one afternoon. The skies had opened up a few minutes into our much anticipated, socially distanced walk. It rained and rained while we talked. We, our clothes and masks, were totally soaked but we really needed to do this impractical, unnecessary thing. I asked myself back in 2007, and frequently afterwards, what it is about human beings that we are prepared to make so much effort to meet people.

This week, 239 experts opposed the World Health Organization view that the coronavirus is transmitted through large respiratory droplets and said that the virus can linger indoors and infect you through airborne transmission. This means that during all the occasions we thought we were okay just with physical distancing, we weren’t, and we need masks too. This news makes everything more dangerous and more tedious but in some ways also less complicated. Masks all the time except for the people you are living with. My friend Sopan once showed me videos of the mountain bike rider Danny MacAskill riding his bike across the crazy rocks of the Cuillin Ridgeline in Scotland and the spikes on the top of iron fences and the decayed rooftops of an Argentinian ghost town. Sopan said to me, “I imagine his brain sees surfaces like no one else." And it’s true I was dazzled by that thought back then but now we are all Danny MacAskill, see surfaces all around us, like the graphics from a bad sci-fi movie, every waking hour to see if it will be the virus-laden one that kills us.

We never knew our future though once we had the hubris to think we did. But we didn’t live in this endless anxiety outside our homes. We were taught not to talk to strangers but we knew a stranger had the endless potential to become an unforgettable encounter or a slow-burn friendship or just a funny story. A stranger could become our unknown future.

So I miss the primping at mirrors alongside random women in the loos of bars and in the changing rooms of public pools. It is unlikely that my household will ever make a dance video, being pro-dancing but anti-coordinated steps. But I miss dancing and being in cramped house parties where you get to know someone when your patented hook step knocks into someone else’s patented hook step and you apologize while roaring and giggling.

It’s possible that I miss you but we haven’t met yet.

Cheap Thrills is a fortnightly column about millennials, obsessions and secrets. Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger.

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