Mondadori Portfolio/Electa/Bruno Balestrini via Bridgeman Images
Detail from Simone Martini’s Blessed Agostino Novello altarpiece, 1325–1328
One of the first things I read about China’s coronavirus outbreak were the divorces: the many couples who supposedly emerged from quarantine no longer able to tolerate each other.
These reports seemed apocryphal, or at best anecdotal—based on interviews with clerks in a few regional registry offices. (Apparently, the Chinese government only publishes national divorce statistics once a year.) They also had few explanations. Were the breakups caused by something grave, like domestic violence, or just the accumulation of ordinary irritations? Maybe there was simply a backlog of couples who’d been planning to split before they were quarantined?
But as the virus spread through Europe and the US—and we, too, were herded into an at-home lockdown in Paris—all those Chinese divorces suddenly seemed like a warning. What would happen when we were cooped up for weeks or months with what the French government was ominously calling our cellule familiale? Would being socially distant from everyone else make us feel closer to our spouses: a chance to reconnect over weeknight wine and home-cooked meals? Or were we each about to star in our own hell-is-other-people existentialist drama? Would confinement amplify small fractures in ordinary marriages, including my own?
I had reasons to be hopeful. Even under normal circumstances, marriage is a kind of quarantine: you’re supposed to live together, eat the same dinners, and sleep in the same bed.