I met my quarantine boyfriend in early March, right before everything went down in New York City. Or possibly I met him years earlier when our children attended the same preschool, where they enjoyed playing near but not quite with each other, as toddlers do.

Sometimes I lingered at pickup with his then-wife so the children could wrap up their business. She and I talked a little, and I learned that, like me, she married late in life, had a child almost immediately, and was trying to navigate a well-established career without going back to the office full time.

“What does your husband do?” I asked.

“He’s a touring musician,” she said proudly.

I had dated my share of musicians in my younger days and was grateful for my solid 9-to-5 spouse, but I nodded and smiled.

Two years later I ran into her again at swim class, where her child paddled nicely in the deep end while mine remained planted on the top step of the ladder, clutching the railing with both hands. She offered supportive words as I mused aloud about how much money I was losing per minute.

I have a dim memory of my quarantine boyfriend lingering nearby in a black jacket, but that may be apocryphal. I don’t recall being formally introduced, but several years and two failed marriages later, I was idly swiping left when I happened upon him. I recognized the name and his face wasn’t entirely unfamiliar, so I paused to study his profile. He seemed sharp and funny, so I sent a message.

[Sign up for Love Letter, our weekly email about Modern Love, weddings and relationships.]

Our first date was at a coffee shop and lasted less than an hour. He and I talked a lot and had trouble sustaining eye contact. When I reported this to my friend Rachel, she blamed nerves and suggested I give him another chance.

He texted the next day, asking if we should get together again. We met for a drink, and this time he was more relaxed. He told interesting stories and made me laugh, and at my apartment he gazed at me. When the silence grew a little too long, I leaned in.

“It’s getting late,” I said. “I don’t want to keep you. But I kind of want to keep you.”

He blushed, and within minutes we were kissing.

Scant but consistent texting transpired over the weekend as he entertained his child and I prepared for a trip out west. People in New York were starting to get sick, but everything was still status quo. When my plane landed, I turned on my phone to find him checking in, even though it was 1 a.m. his time.

“Did you have a good day?” I typed.

“Not really,” he replied. “But we don’t have to talk about that right now.”

His split was less than a year old, and he was still hurt and bewildered. He still used “we.” And he was very angry.

Over the course of the week, we texted a lot. There were sexy texts and funny texts and exchange-of-information texts. On my second night, he was upset with his ex-wife and asked if he could call me. We talked for nearly an hour, and I offered what counsel I could, most of which took the form of, “It won’t always be like this.”

The next day he thanked me for listening and said I was easy to talk to.

We texted, talked, traded stories of our children. His went to Boston to flee the virus, and I returned home a little early with mine. I saw my quarantine boyfriend right away. We were heady from all our speculative texting, but real life, as always, was more awkward.

Afterward we lay quietly, then he said, “Let’s go do something.” We spent the next seven hours walking and talking and eating a lovely Italian meal.

And then the city shut down, and my quarantine boyfriend lost everything.

It started when his ex-wife announced that she was staying in Boston until she felt it was safe to return. He was frantic to see his child, but there was nothing to be done; his divorce lawyer said no judge would rule in favor of returning to the epicenter. Then all his recording work was postponed, his spring and summer gigs were canceled, and a major fall tour seemed dubious. Like so many other working musicians, he suddenly found himself with an abundance of time and no income or prospects for earning.

Beyond that, my quarantine boyfriend was no longer allowed to visit his mother, and her health began to falter. A longtime colleague of his ran a fever and was admitted to the hospital. My quarantine boyfriend made grim predictions about losing his mother and his bandmate at the same time. He struggled to occupy himself. He watched his savings dwindle and worried about losing his apartment. He longed to see his child and fought with his former wife.

As a result of all this, my boyfriend was not well equipped to be a boyfriend. He was overwhelmed and fearful. But I had a small safe circle that included my child, my ex and my quarantine boyfriend, and twice a week, being as careful as possible, I went to his house, where we sat knee to knee at the kitchen table, eating and drinking. He mostly talked, and I mostly listened.

A few weeks into it, on a particularly miserable afternoon, he told me he was aware of his limitations and sorry he couldn’t be more emotionally available. He said under normal conditions he would be moving toward a relationship, but he couldn’t allow himself to do so when everything was so fraught and uncertain.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


“If this were real life, I would say we were dating,” I said. “You’re not my boyfriend.”

He agreed.

“So we’re dating,” I said. “Let’s see what happens. It doesn’t have to be so dramatic.”

Inwardly, I was less sanguine, possibly even hurt. If this were real life, I would have ended it, or at least started looking for someone else. But I decided to try something new: I would be patient and see what happened. If the times were unprecedented, I would be too.

My quarantine boyfriend and I are very different. He spends his money on quality goods, and I am content with a mash-up of antiques and particleboard. He craves fine food and drink, while Goldfish crackers are a mainstay of my diet. His home is full of muted tones and white dishware, and mine is a dizzying mix of colors and patterns. He watches television, and I ceded mine in the divorce and didn’t buy a new one. I stopped drinking nearly seven years ago, and he enjoys a cocktail or two every night.

But we make each other laugh. He plays me music and I loan him books. I offer cooking tips and bought him a decent pair of kitchen shears, and he puts out snacks and pours me glass after glass of flavored Perrier. We are both firm but loving parents. We kiss a lot, and he cups my face when we do. He tells me he is grateful he met me, he likes me very much, and I make him happy.

Despite his insistence that he has little to give, my quarantine boyfriend and I are growing attached. Although nothing has changed, he is settling into his unwanted circumstances. His anxiety is easing. I go to his house about twice a week and we sit knee to knee at the kitchen table. We eat, drink, talk, listen. We kiss across the table, and I feel it in my stomach. Later, he plays a few chords while I watch his hands. We hold each other’s eyes and smile. We are starting to love each other.

Tomorrow is not promised, and I have no idea what it will bring. I never did, but the pandemic has stripped away any remaining illusions of control or stability. My quarantine boyfriend and I may not last much longer, or we may part when we are allowed into the world at large.

Logistics could intervene if our work and parenting schedules do not dovetail, but perhaps he will be my boyfriend beyond this crisis. Maybe he and I can be companions for the duration, whatever that may be. There’s a lot to be said for shared food and drink, kisses and company, sympathy and laughter.

I want my quarantine boyfriend to have his life back, or to be able to start it anew. It’s getting late. I don’t want to keep him. But I kind of want to keep him.