What Does New Love Look Like in a Pandemic?

We saw each other throughout January and February, and into March. It hadn’t evolved into a full-fledged relationship, in part because we were both busy, I with my work and Jesse with not only two different jobs, but also with school — he was pursuing a degree full-time at a Manhattan college.

There were other reasons too, the dominant one being that there was — there is — a huge age difference between us: I’m 59. He’s 26 (soon to be 27, an April birthday I won’t be able to celebrate with him in person for obvious reasons).

I know something about age gaps, about so-called intergenerational relationships: After all, Oliver was 28 years older than me. But this felt different: it wasn’t just that Jesse was much younger than me; I felt I was too old for him — too used to my routines, to doing my own thing. To being alone.

The truth is, though, we rarely talked about our age difference. We’d see each other about once a week. We always had a good time, getting stoned, making dinner (and breakfast the next morning), having sex, taking baths together in my big tub, watching TV, hanging out, laughing. He made me laugh, and I him, which I loved and appreciated. I hadn’t laughed so much with someone in five years.

And then the pandemic hit.

In New York, the mandate to practice social distancing of at least six feet came in mid-March, so that made continuing a casual relationship such as ours challenging, if not risky. His college, where a few Covid cases had been identified in students, was shut down. On the same day, Jesse lost both his jobs — one at a downtown gym, where he worked at the front desk; one as a bouncer at an East Village bar, where he had to be in contact with hundreds of people. And for my own work, I’d often been out on the streets photographing complete strangers all over the place. We couldn’t know whether or not we’d been exposed somehow, could we?

“I don’t think we’re supposed to see each other, to be near each other,” I had to say to Jesse when he said he was heading over to my place that night.

“Nah, come on, we’re fine.”

“No, I don’t think we know if we’re fine, I don’t think we should, not yet.”

But gradually, with each text exchanged, my resistance weakened: “Okay, come over, but we can’t have sex.”

He agreed. But after doing our best to keep away from each other at either end of the couch, our willpower broke and we started making out.

I don’t regret it; on the contrary, I treasure it — that memory. Already, that seems like a different life, just five months ago. We didn’t know exactly what was going on, whom to believe, everything was happening very fast. Everyone was talking about handwashing (how many demonstrations of the proper handwashing method by celebrities did I watch on social media?). No one was saying anything about sex.

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