03:02, July 21 113 0 theguardian.com

2020-07-21 03:02:05
Lockdown living  
 Is this really what I want? How lockdown made us question every life choice

Recently, the historian Jessica Otis wrote in this paper about how the plague of the mid-1600s led to behaviour among the populace that closely mirrored our own reactions to coronavirus. There were those who scoffed at the risk, those who had to go out to work anyway just to survive and those who felt vulnerable and practised extreme caution. Then there was a privileged contingent that upped and went to their country estates at the first whiff of rotting sea-rat.

Of course, taking a trip to the countryside out of mortal necessity isn’t the same as a mini-break, but the effect can sometimes be the same. You notice nature, you notice peace, you notice the air smells sweeter and you start to ask yourself a few questions.

For the very lucky few, lockdown has been an extended retreat – combined with a very long sequel to The Stepford Wives. Artists have always been good at this: hunkering in the bunker, and using the unstructured time to feel what comes next. But many other people are now also asking where they are in their lives and how they got here.

Coronavirus hasn’t brought out anything that wasn’t already there. Instead it has accelerated and clarified what was going to come up anyway, and the usual white noise of daily life isn’t there to blot it out. All but the very young are looking back on hopes foregone and choices made as lockdown keeps us in place and imposes a deep perspective on things.

Like Eminem, we are cleaning out the closet – yes, we’re fantasising about returning to our formative years and murdering our neglectful parents. A kind of raw, psychological tunnelling is happening. I have kept a diary and work notebooks since I was 15. Thinking, “what a fabulous resource,” I unearthed them and read them all this spring. Pro tip: don’t do this. There is no need to air out that filthy traumatised linen and wake up the sleeping dust mites of misery and pain to crawl round your home and corrode everything including your soul. Put those journals back in the box. Waking up old ghosts, triggering yourself and digging up every threat and trauma and perpetration? No thanks!

After that dredge through the horrors of yesteryear, however, a new hope emerges. You ask yourself if you really want to stay here, just like this, for the rest of your life. You realise this isn’t a rehearsal and you’re living with the sum total of your choices to date. The big life change you were fantasising about becomes a possible reality, just because you had time to stop and think.

It’s not uncommon for people – the old middle classes in particular – to execute a sharp left turn in their career in their early 40s. I know a fair few bankers who went into artisan baking or jacked it all in to sail around the world, but more often it goes the other way – towards deeper social engagement. The world is about to gain a few more painfully well-meaning doctors, human rights lawyers, teachers and a heck of a lot of yoga teachers and psychotherapists.

It is also going to gain some more happily single people. People joked at the beginning of the pandemic that there would be a lot of coronababies at the end. I don’t think so. There is nothing less erotic than being cooped up with your chosen life partner and their habits for six months that feel like all eternity. I can’t speak for men, because I am afraid I don’t know any. But I think there will be a fair few women for whom lockdown has clearly revealed the state of play in their central relationship and the next thing they will bring home from the weekly shop is some divorce papers.

Bidisha is a broadcaster, critic and journalist

Topics