ROME—You can spot them a mile away: the smiling spouses whispering into their phones when they walk the dog or take out the garbage alone. You can easily hear the type of coy giggle that is most definitely not meant for the husband or wife they’ve been locked down with now for more than nine long weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when Italy lifts restrictions on movement Monday, allowing people to visit family members, in-laws and those with whom they enjoy “stable affection,” it is not yet clear if that includes extramarital engagements, too. Teens are not going to be allowed to cross town to canoodle with their high school sweethearts, but of Italy’s somewhat substantial cheating class—a recent poll suggest 50 percent of married men and 45 percent of married women have indulged in infidelity—there may be loopholes that allow for clandestine trysts.
The new regulations in Phase II of Italy’s response to the pandemic specifically list “congiunti” or kin as “relatives, partners in civil unions and those who are linked by a stable emotional bond” which for all intents and purposes would surely include lovers. But numerous questions to the government have come up with rather mixed responses, in part because many parliamentarians are likely wondering about this as well, without wanting to give too much away.
The Daily Beast has been told by a government spokesperson that the new self-certification form needed for all movement within one’s region will not require the name of the person one is going to visit, undoubtedly sparing the police the duty to ask if “Aunt Maria” or “Uncle Giovanni” is indeed a real person. Instead, they will rely on responsible citizens to do the right thing and “not abuse the privilege” of these new freedoms.
The proposed new decree originally laid out certain degrees of relationships, from immediate first-degree family members to fourth-degree, which included in-laws and those with whom one does not have blood ties, creating a barrage of amusing memes.
But those proved equally hard to define and the government has since nixed the need to prove the depths and degrees of affection because so many relationships are hard to put on paper, including those among same-sex couples for whom marriage is still not allowed in Italy. As such, those in any type of recognized union—from same-sex to heterosexual to de facto—are said to be able to meet now if they live in different regions, which until Monday had been prohibited.
But even some of those unions are complicated, as are what are defined as “de facto relationships” which cannot be recognized for legal purposes because of Italy’s lengthy divorce process, which complicates remarriage even if spouses have been separated for years.
The government has not made it clear just where these couples fit into the new rules, and whether they will be allowed to meet. It is also unclear whether allowing get-togethers by those who are not legally tied will indeed create a loophole for the lovers who certainly would not want to declare their links on paper.
The draconian lockdown in place since March 10 has not been easy on many couples. Domestic violence rates have soared and divorce filings have ramped up. But it has not been the cold shower that many might expect. Memberships at online dating apps are booming, especially on those like ‘Once’ that cater to “slow dating” rather than the fast hookup. The site has around 1.2 million users and membership in Italy has increased by 40 percent since the lockdown, a spokesperson confirmed.
It's also true that the lockdown has not stopped determined lovers from connecting in person. A whole cluster of COVID-19 cases in the northeastern town of Rovigo is attributed to a married man who secretly met his mistress, who happened to be an asymptomatic positive COVID case. The man infected 11 people, including his 13-year-old son who was very sick. The affair was discovered through contact tracing to try to determine how the family, thought to be locked down, contracted the virus.
Luciano Tommaso Ponzi, president of the Italian Federation of Private Institutes for Investigations, Information and Security, says that private investigators have been working overtime to uncover affairs conducted under quarantine. He says in one case, his team was hired by a wife who suspected her husband’s late-night dog walking was in fact more than it seemed. Thanks to satellite tracking of the man’s cellphone, the wife’s suspicions were indeed confirmed. “We found the husband and his lover inside a cemetery,” Ponzi says. “He got his wife drunk and she passed out at home so he could meet his lover in the graveyard.”
Whatever happens on Monday with the lifting of some restrictions, everyone is still required to keep safe social distancing—exactly as they'd do if they were meeting Aunt Maria or Uncle Giovanni.