The Emotional Evolution of Quarantine, as Told by My Instagram Bookmarks

Until two and a half weeks ago, my “saved” folder on Instagram told the indisputable tale of someone planning a wedding. It overflowed with images of long tables lined with colorful flower arrangements, bridal looks from old runway shows, hair #inspo, vintage stamps, registry fodder, no-makeup makeup, invitation suites, and candid shots of newlyweds obscured by a shower of petals. The last thing I bookmarked before the phrase “social distancing” became more commonplace than “hello” was a photo from a reception at a vineyard in Virginia: The couple set up a shelved trellis stacked with glasses in different shades of blue, so guests could serve themselves cold lemonade from an aesthetically pleasing dispenser.


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The same day I saved it, I received an email from a friend confirming that her dinner party was still happening as planned the next evening, unless that was crazy? Everyone assured her it wasn’t, that it would be fine, because at this point, fine was honestly how things felt. Our offices had declared working from home “optional” but not mandatory, restaurants remained open for business, face masks were rare–and besides, it was a small group, only eight people, minimal risk. So we all showed up, toting bottles of red wine as thank-you gifts, deciding we probably shouldn’t hug and teasing each other about it. It was one of those truly perfect nights when everyone gets just the right amount of drunk, when there’s enough bolognese to have seconds, when the suggestion of playing a game after dinner sounds genuinely appealing.

Like the wedding photos in my saved folder, this evening feels like a relic of another era. I’ve seen tongue-in-cheek tweets referring to the time before coronavirus as “beforetimes,” which is less humorous than it is appropriately dramatic. The distinction between then and now is stark to the point of seeming fictional, like some trick of the memory. My only evidence that I’m not losing it completely is the tangible line of demarcation that divides the wedding photos from what I started bookmarking next: memes. Corona memes, to be precise.


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the sacred texts @chillblinton

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If I were attempting to psychoanalyze our collective processing of the bizarre experience that is sudden isolation via social media–which I suppose, to some extent, I am–I would call the influx of corona-related memes and jokes the “denial” phase. Denial that we were grieving the loss of our old routines, and with them, the assurance that it was safe to exit our apartments, much less eat dinner with friends. Band-Aids though they may have been, the jokes were still entertaining: Venn diagrams about chillin at home, pleas for Apple’s screen time reports to be suspended, spot-on comparisons to Russian Doll, alignment charts, hand-washing quips… I bookmarked them by the dozen, each one an artifact of the mounting effort it took to maintain a sense of levity.


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But news of the virus and its impact evolved rapidly, and with it, my instinct about what variety of content was worth memorializing and revisiting. As quickly as quarantine transformed from possibility to inevitability, many iterations of corona-related humor shifted from uplifting to unsettling. So instead, I bookmarked a photo of a man holding up a sign at a hospital window thanking the emergency room doctors for saving his wife, a clip of Hoda breaking into tears on the Today Show after a conversation with a football player who donated $5 million to coronavirus relief in Louisiana, a video of nurses taking a quick yoga break, a video of someone leaving toilet paper and hand sanitizer for people making deliveries, a PSA about businesses collecting donations to help feed those in need so I could remember to contribute later–any sliver of content that made me feel less alone in my spirals of anxious uncertainty, anything to feel connected to something bigger than the confines of my apartment that I know I’m deeply fortunate to live and work in right now.


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I’m not sure what the whims of my saved folder will call for next during this strange time, but based on the recipe for bright, creamy corn pasta I just bookmarked, I have a hunch it’s likely to be cooking-related. I rarely cooked before all of this happened, but it is slowly becoming less of a chore born of necessity and more of a pleasure born of the desire to delimit the end of each day with something tangible, something nourishing. I scroll through the “explore” tab on Instagram and pause every time I see a photo that looks edible. I fantasize about baking a large casserole in the oven and freezing the leftovers. I squeezed sausage out of their casings for the first time last weekend, and it felt more meditative than anything I’d done in days.

For now, like many aspects of life as we knew it, my wedding planning is in limbo. I can’t get my dress fitted until the seamstresses who are making it can safely return to work. I can’t meet with the rector and organist at the church where the ceremony is supposed to take place. I might have to postpone the event altogether. I know these problems are minuscule in the grand scheme of what is happening right now–trivial, even–but they’re also a glimmer of what awaits in the aftertimes: celebrating together. Dressing up. Dancing outside. Sharing dessert out of the same bowl, all the sweeter because we had to wait.

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Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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