Things You'll Miss When Quarantine Ends

Missing something that caused frustration and anxiety is confusing.

Posted May 15, 2020

The novel coronavirus has changed life across the world in unspeakable ways. Orders to stay home have had social impacts on children and adults of every social demographic, and this post will focus on the experience of adults.

While the effects of the coronavirus on physical health and mortality are horrific (and covered extensively in the media), the psychological and emotional effects are more nuanced and complex, but worthy of consideration, too. In recent weeks, individuals have taken a more active approach to protest stay-at-home orders as individuals have been forced to live with restrictions for a crisis they had no previous experience with. And as challenging and overwhelming as stay-at-home restrictions have been, it's also important to consider some of the social benefits derived from this unique quarantine period.

For those who have stayed home with others, whether they are roommates, couples, or families, the quarantine experience has caused people to spend more time together then they have probably ever spent before. Though such concentrated time spent in confined spaces brings its own challenges, the time spent together also produces a sense of camaraderie and bonding. Because of the fear related to the contagion, random encounters with strangers at the supermarket or on the street have brought a strange dynamic that many have not yet experienced. Specifically, as people cross paths with others out in the world, there is the sense that others are unsafe and must be avoided. Interestingly, the inverse consequence is that individuals have come to see those with whom they quarantine as safe. This dynamic intensifies a bond between cohabitants that already existed.

Because of the limited timeframe of the coronavirus thus far, we don't yet have meaningful research on the social or psychological impact the virus has had on society or on personal or family relationships. But there have been anecdotal reports in the media, for example, about couples who had previously planned on separating or divorcing, and have begun to reconsider that decision. The change, of course, is likely due to a mix of factors, including finances, especially considering how many millions of individuals have lost their jobs. Yet the psychological effect of the virus on bonding and attachment should not be underestimated in understanding how some may have decided to try to stay together.

As frustrating and confusing as the quarantine process has been for people emotionally, it is psychologically understandable that there will be emotional losses when quarantine ends. At the same time, digesting the reality can be confusing. Is it truly possible to miss quarantine, even when you disliked or hated the process while it lasted? To answer this question, we must consider what ending the quarantine and stay-at-home orders will mean for people's daily lives.

For those who live with others and for whom the relationship is a loving one (e.g., family members, couples, close friends), the most primary emotional loss is the loss of close emotional and physical connection. In the past, while one came through the door from work, another may have been on their way out to the gym or a social outing. Given busy, hectic daily lives that were largely conducted outside of the home, people who lived together didn't necessarily see each all that much. As stay-at-home orders end, it's inevitable that the degree of time spent together will be lost, and everyone understands that there may never again be an experience quite like this which fosters such a deep sense of bonding.

In addition to the loss of time spent together, individuals who have been working from home will also lose a profound sense of autonomy when they return to the workplace. At home, there are no micromanaging bosses clocking your arrival time or the amount of time you took for lunch; there aren't the constraints of frustrating co-workers lurking around every corner. Working from home allows all sorts of comforts for those lucky enough to like the space in which they live, including choosing where you do your work (sitting on the couch, lying in bed) and wearing whatever you choose, because there's no need to conform to a formal dress code. These small freedoms have a major psychological impact, and people will have to mourn the less of going back to work structures that will seem more rigid and robotic than ever before. The following trope comes to mind: Ignorance is bliss.

Another reason why it's normal to miss quarantine when it ends has to do with the indoor recreational activities individuals have had many hours to pursue during this unique period. As an example, I've heard first-hand from patients and friends alike that they have never spent more time cooking for leisure and have never eaten better before. What's more, many of the more elaborate meals or recipes that people have had time to make have been enjoyed with everyone sitting down together to eat and talk, a practice that often got neglected in the harried, pre-quarantine life. Whether it's putting puzzles together, reading more, binge-watching your favorite shows, or something else, quarantine ending will bring a loss of the amount of time people have had to practice these types of recreational activities.

On a purely behavioral level, staying at home also resulted in new habits being created, and habits, we know, can be hard to break. Part of why some may miss quarantine ending is because they learned to like and value the new habits they created, and they may simultaneously question whether they can go back to their pre-quarantine work and other daily habits and feel happy or at least "OK" about it.

Finally, in considering how or why people may miss quarantine, it's important to note one essential point. There is an unquestionable difference in the experience of those who live alone versus those who live with others. While some people may be living happily and peacefully alone in quarantine, many men and women who live alone are anxiously waiting to reconnect with others. Again, while we don't yet have the research to support it, it seems likely that those who live alone and want more social interaction will quarantine less than those who are staying at home with loved ones and derive all of those associated social benefits.