Smells Like Quarantine Spirit

I’m a married 41-year-old lesbian. My wife and I used to work from home together. She recently got an important job, and she’s now gone all day, five days a week. I’m happy for her, and this is good for us in the long run, but I’m really sad and lonely.

— Isolated

Avoid any temptation to kidnap strangers lingering in your building’s lobby. “Are you going to cut me up and put me in your freezer?” the terrified UPS man will ask. You: “Uh, I thought we’d just hang out and have coffee, but whatever works for you.”

Healthier (and less felonious) forms of coping start with unpacking what loneliness is. The late neuroscientist John Cacioppo explained loneliness as a painful feeling of “disconnection” from others. He differentiated loneliness — the aching longing for human connection — from a desire for solitude, “the pleasures of sometimes being by yourself.” And he and his wife and research partner, psychologist Stephanie Cacioppo, noted that loneliness has been associated with serious negative effects on not just emotional well-being but also physical health, including an increased risk of heart attacks. (It seems heartbreak isn’t just a metaphor.)

However, as you’re staring gloomily into the void (the indentation in the couch where your wife used to sit during the day), it might help to understand that our emotions are actually our watchdogs. They rise up in us to motivate us to engage in the sort of behaviors that would help us survive and pass on our genes, like connecting with other people.

For example, we humans evolved to be cooperators — interdependent — which is to say we’re “people who need people.” Take author Henry David Thoreau, an icon for hermitude and self-sufficiency who put in big chunks of alone time out by Walden Pond. What few people realize, notes Thoreau expert Elizabeth Witherell, is that he was also a huge people person. In fact, Thoreau wrote in “Walden,” “I think that I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way.”

As for you, it’s possible that some of the feelbad you’re experiencing is the discomfort we often feel about change. But chances are you’d feel a good bit better if you could replace at least some of the level of daily human engagement you’re used to. You could, for example, go out to a coffee shop for part of your workday — the same coffee shop every day, so you can connect with other regulars there. You could also invite work-at-home friends over to your place to be coworkers. Volunteer work could be helpful, too.

No, it isn’t the same as having your wife there with you all day. But it should dial down your separation distress, perhaps even substantially. This should allow you to let your wife know you really missed her with a sexy kiss at the door. No guilt tripping, sadwifeface, or going man’s best friend-style — spending your day shredding all the paper products in the house with your teeth and then moving on to the drywall.


Love You Faux Ever

How do you know when a man’s “I love you” is for real? I’ve had men express their love to me with great sincerity, only to vanish not long afterward. Are all men this fickle? Manipulative?

— Upset

Why does a man say “I love you”? Sometimes because “Look, a ferret in a top hat!” doesn’t do much to get a woman into bed.

To parse whether a man’s “I love you” is just the later-in-the-relationship version of “You related to Yoda? Because yodalicious,” you need to consider context. The exact same statement can have different meanings depending on the context — the situation, the circumstances in which it’s made.

Not surprisingly, research by evolutionary social psychologist Joshua Ackerman and his colleagues suggests that men’s I-love-yous “are likely to be more sincere (i.e., less colored by the goal of attaining initial sexual access) after sex has occurred.” They also find that men, on average, start thinking about “confessing love” 97 days into a relationship — so, just over three months. Of course, an individual man may know sooner or take longer.

All in all, the best lie detector you probably have is context — racking up a good bit of time and experiences with a man and seeing how well the walk matches the talk. You might even wait till the three-month benchmark before concluding that the I-love-yous are likely to be for real … and aren’t, say, the best possible air bag forwhat might come shortly afterward: “I got you a little something on my work trip. It requires a short course of antibiotics.”


 

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