iThink | Love in the time of coronavirus

It’s Valentine’s Week, and once again I can see the great divide between the haves and have-nots everywhere, including my office.

Our ages range from early 20s to the early 40s and our relationship statuses also vary: We have the long-married husbands with kids, a committed bachelor, a newlywed wife, one in a very long engagement, one in a fresh, months-old relationship, several in established pairings, several singletons, and one newly-affianced to her long-distance partner.

As a guy who’s been making marriage work for over a decade, I know the effort and commitment it takes to keep going. After all, a relationship involves two imperfect individuals who are trying, every day, to build a happy life together.

Which brings me to my team member who has been in a long distance relationship for the last 10 months with a Malaysia-based European expat she met while backpacking solo in North Vietnam. They recently got engaged and make what may be one of the most challenging set-ups I’ve ever heard of look manageable and enjoyable.

They’re both in the 30s, level-headed, financially secure, and absolutely enamored of each other. One might say that it’s the ideal partnership, except for the fact that they are literally 1,500 miles away from each other.

My colleague, an inveterate jet setter, hops off to visit him in Kuala Lumpur every two to three weeks – flying off after work on Friday nights and rolling in straight to the airport on Mondays so they get to see each other regularly without taking time off from their busy careers.

I know she already has flights pre-booked for most of the year, so I asked her how this whole novel coronavirus situation is affecting her travel plans. Some of the executives in our bank have cancelled work commitments abroad out of concern for the risks involved in global travel.

Her short answer: “It’s not.”

This piqued my curiosity. This girl is rather germophobic and is known to be a bit of a health nut. So why is she literally flying in the face of a near global pandemic?

“I’ve assessed the risks, and I’m basing my travel decisions on the advice of credible sources: The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and my brother who’s an intensive-care pulmonologist in the US,” she said.

“I try to avoid sensationalist news and social media posts because they seem designed to create paranoia and panic. I’d rather keep a clear head and stick to the facts. For as long as the flight routes stay open, I’m keeping calm and carrying on.”

She has a point. I recently saw a meme showing the “breaking news” graphics of several local media outfits and each of them look designed to trigger an immediate emotional response.

Many of us, myself included, rely on our social media feeds to see the latest news. I like it. It’s efficient and the analytics seem to have gotten my areas of interest and preferred sources correct. But maybe it’s time we stopped relying purely on bots to sort through the information for us and have the diligence and patience to do our own research?

Even government officials are not immune to believing and sharing “news” and information that have not been vetted and, sometimes, turn out to be fake. All the misinformation has resulted in the panic buying of masks by people who don’t actually need it (resulting in shortages for health care workers and the sick who really, really need it), the misuse of said masks (wearing it with the wrong side out), false claims of magic herbal cures (I’ve seen garlic, sesame oil, and buffalo horns being touted as magic cures), shades of Sino-phobia, and billions in losses for the travel industry.

Perhaps this is yet another drawback of the untrammeled stream of information that we get from our smartphones and social media feeds. It is so easy to believe the things we see online, especially if it’s being shared by someone we know and trust.

So what should we do?

Well in this instance, I think I’ll take a page out of my research-happy teammate and take the things I read with a grain of salt, take a few deep breaths when I see a particularly upsetting headline, and have the diligence to verify things with authoritative sources.

Let’s all keep on loving and living in the time of coronavirus.

The author is the vice president and head of corporate affairs & communications of BPI and is concurrently the executive director of BPI Foundation

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