Third quarter phenomenon: the bacon wars
May 3, 2020 5:53 PM   Subscribe

"In studies of people isolated in submarines, space stations or polar bunkers, researchers have found there appears to be an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear." Welcome to third quarter phenomenon.

Rachael Robertson led a nine-month expedition to Antartica which she described "as a 'groundhog day' experience of monotony" - which explains the bacon wars.

Much of the research is behind paywalls, but Xianghe Zhu reviewed the evidence for and against the phenomenon from different types of isolated and confined environments.
posted by Athanassiel (50 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've found that about two-thirds of the way through any large knitting or crochet project, most stitchers get bored and antsy and often start a new project instead of finishing, so I'm familiar with this type of thing in another context. But I think anyone who thinks we're in the third quarter of this situation now has another think coming.
posted by rikschell at 6:08 PM on May 3 [60 favorites]


Third quarter? We're only maybe 2 months into this. Surely a third quarter would be like 7-9 months in, if not more?
posted by hippybear at 6:08 PM on May 3 [22 favorites]


I suspect it's often the third quarter because the situation has to end shortly afterwards due to everyone having murdered each other or freaked out and quit whatever it was they were doing. That's not going to be an option this time, so much. Maybe now we'll learn what happens in the 20th quarter, and the 21st, and the 22nd...
posted by lollusc at 6:10 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


Or maybe sports metaphors are kinda limitary.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:12 PM on May 3 [26 favorites]


The anticipation factor is what I think makes it the "third quarter", and they touch on that in one of the links. This is a psychological thing, and the third quarter mindset arises from the psychology of how people feel and act when "it's almost over", whatever the "it" happens to be, and however long "it" takes. Which means that if people feel like it's 75% over, they are going to start acting like it's 75% over. And that's not going to go so well if we're really at more like the 25% mark. If this has to go on till October, we are only at the 25% mark.
posted by notoriety public at 6:19 PM on May 3 [24 favorites]


If this has to go on till October, we are only at the 25% mark.

The fastest we've ever developed a vaccine for anything in the past was 4 years.

So... early days indeed.
posted by hippybear at 6:21 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]


I agree that we are not actually at the third quarter mark - but in some places (like, here in Australia) where things seem like they are getting under control, people are developing the hope that it is almost over and thus third quarter phenomenon is taking effect. I don't think that mindset is necessarily helpful or accurate, but I am (in no particular order) depressed, introverted and pessimistic so...
posted by Athanassiel at 6:28 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


> maybe sports metaphors are kinda limitary.

I was watching an ice hockey game by myself in a bar once (not because I'm a huge fan of ice hockey, but because it was on). Someone else there by herself, trying to make conversation, asked me how many quarters were in an ice hockey game.

So, not arguing with the above point, but maybe the concept of quarters is just hard.
posted by 7segment at 6:34 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]


If you answered “there are four quarters in a hockey game”, you would be wrong.
posted by sideshow at 6:38 PM on May 3 [16 favorites]


Someone else there by herself, trying to make conversation, asked me how many quarters were in an ice hockey game

The correct answer, for any curious, is six because ice hockey (being Canadian) is played on the metric system.
posted by nubs at 6:41 PM on May 3 [39 favorites]


For once, my lifetime of living alone and otherwise hermit like ways are coming in handy. This is hardly different from my normal existence. A little different, but not much. Welcome to my life, normies. I have found it helps if you have a long running (multi-year) project of some sort to work on.
posted by smcameron at 7:04 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


From the photos I've seen on Instagram, yeah people are thinking this is like 4th quarter, 20 seconds to go, opposing team is down 30 points and they have the ball.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:06 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


I suspect it's often the third quarter because the situation has to end shortly afterwards due to everyone having murdered each other or freaked out and quit whatever it was they were doing. That's not going to be an option this time, so much.

Not saying I endorse it, but everyone murdering each other is definitely an option.
posted by rodlymight at 7:10 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that "in the third quarter" is a slightly more encouraging way to say "made it half way".
posted by achrise at 7:24 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


When I heard 'quarter' I don't think sports or sports metaphors, I think 3-month intervals, but maybe that's because I run a small business.
posted by jordantwodelta at 7:37 PM on May 3 [15 favorites]


I assume by quarter they mean month 3 of quarantine. But sadly we are probably only at the very very beginning of this. Wait until we've been quarantined for years on end.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:43 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


But, a bunch of states relaxing their stay-at-home orders are still seeing increases in cases. So, I expect, they just started the second quarter. It's appalling.
posted by Windopaene at 7:50 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Oh for fuck's sake. There's some really interesting stuff in these links, most of it has nothing to do with the three-quarter point of anything, and none of it is making any kind of claim about when this will end.

It's a bunch of interesting stories about how people fail under isolation, and fail harder when relief still feels out of reach. Sure, one thing that can make it feel out of reach is knowing you've still got a quarter of your mission left. Another thing is having no clue how long things will last, which hopefully we can all agree is relevant?

Can we take a deep breath, pretend that Athanassiel chose a pull quote that wasn't total pedant-bait, and start over?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:24 PM on May 3 [94 favorites]


Yes it's clear from the article that third quarter is about perception, not about time.

And the article is super interesting.
posted by medusa at 8:29 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I was trying to focus on the perception angle but maybe didn’t do a very good job of it. Maybe I shouldn’t have been bringing specific percentage numbers into it.

The perception, and the management of expectations, is possibly the biggest single factor in how this all is going to play out. If the media just led with “no vaccine has ever been developed in less than four years, see you all in 2024”, that wouldn’t have played so well. Even if it was announced it was “only” going to be 12 months, there would be immediate rebellion.

The only reasonable goal at this point is to try to keep it all at a low boil, where there is a constant stream of cases at just about the limit of what the medical system can handle, and hope that we can do that for long enough. I doubt that we can, either here in America or even more generally in the world. People are going to give up, and stop distancing, and a few weeks after that, things are going to fall apart.

Please. Everybody. Prove me wrong.
posted by notoriety public at 8:41 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


But Rebellion against what? Against "the man"? Seems to be what the right is mad about. The virus doesn't care if you are red or blue. It threatens the capitalist system, where the 1% can pay for others to work for them, while staying safe. Of course, some taxes and a few less fighter jets could pay for a lot of people to survive, but, shhhh, that's socialism.

Even polled republicans aren't willing to go "back to normal", and until we have a vaccine, I don't think that number is going to change much.
posted by Windopaene at 8:46 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


"Rebellion" in the self-destructive sense of "no I'm not gonna stay home, even if it results in the preventable deaths of millions of people". I worry that the poll might currently be in favor of continuing quarantine, but after another couple of months, people give up and just let it explode.
posted by notoriety public at 8:58 PM on May 3


but everyone murdering each other is definitely an option

Got to have social contact for a murdering spree.
posted by lollusc at 9:25 PM on May 3


Got to have social contact for a murdering spree.

Last I checked guns can reach further than six feet. Unless we're going back to stabbings?
posted by madcaptenor at 9:34 PM on May 3


The correct answer, for any curious, is six because ice hockey (being Canadian) is played on the metric system.

Six is metric? Umm...
posted by Dysk at 9:39 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Tuckman’s work on Group dynamics is interesting here. I’m going to sleep so I can’t take the time to be eloquent about this, but here’s the Wikipedia page.

The idea is that there are stages of group formation and one of those stages is named ‘storming.’

Not exactly parallel, but I think related. And possibly mentioned in the link I didn’t read.
posted by bilabial at 9:53 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


You've hidden the notifications from a recently downloaded exercise app and you're no longer telling people you'll learn Italian

Heh, on one hand, I just started practicing Spanish more again, after a lull this winter, and did 40 sit-ups earlier, in the beginnings of some sort of vague exercise idea. (I don't want to get my hopes up too much so I'm not putting too much structure to it yet, just like with cooking or anything else. I'm trying to listen to when I feel like doing something and do it then. Today, I felt like I wanted my body back.) I was reading this and thought, I think the arc of at least those of us who have worked remotely for years and have been isolated before during recovery from injury is a little longer than this.

Then I read this.


"These are a first stage of heightened anxiety, a second stage of settling down to routine marked by depression, and a third stage of anticipation marked by emotional outbursts, aggressiveness, and rowdy behavior."

Yeah, OK, emotionally maybe I'm in the third quarter. The thing is, my timeline is a bit weird. Every morning these days, I read more and more articles about how this thing isn't going to be over for increasingly long periods of time, as I guess folks are easing us into the ongoing horror. I heard "36 months" earlier and cried a lot. But at the same time, some personal stuff is changing in about a month, as my partner will be moving with their parents due to the untenable situation in New York City. That's not anything I'm eagerly anticipating, but it might change my behavior a little bit.

Part of why I'm staying in so completely is that I'm doing my best not to get anything that might potentially infect my partner (and by extension their family or metamour), as they're all at risk. For now, I have at least one real-life companion in my immediate environment at least some of the time. But that's all going to change in a month, and I'm going to be by myself for real basically all the time. That's all going to make this both more and less bearable, I think. More bearable because I won't be caught up in when or whether my partner will be coming home, and all the frustration and drama surrounding that. Less bearable because then I really will be on my own, and this will reset the clock on that, as well as start the clock on something that has no definite end point, the timeline of when or whether I might see my partner again. They'll be off the grid for the most part starting around mid-June, it sounds like, so this really is going to be tough. I'm basically preparing myself to treat this like a breakup, and I'm already caring for myself as I would in that situation.

Not that when that happens, I think I should immediately start going out more in any case, because then I won't even have help if I get sick. More like I think I'm going to need even more support than I already am getting if I'm going to stay in and make it through this, and I feel like I'm already leaning on folks a bit more than usual now. I know the current situation is really getting to both of us now, and I see myself in the bit about "emotional outbursts." On some level I am looking forward to not feeling like having emotional outbursts on a daily basis; basically my partner being entirely out of reach is going to extinguish that behavior. I'll probably be more sad and less actively fighty, if past experience of like 3 years ago is any kind of indication. When there's literally nothing I can do about it, I'll probably move toward acceptance a lot quicker.


Through her work, she's found that those who have been through a period of isolation value the experience for what it has taught: They have a better idea of their personal values, and they're more committed to acting on them.

"When people have space to sit back and think it allows them to figure out what's important to them," she said.

She's found that, following experiences in isolated environments, men are more likely to use social support as a coping strategy compared to before they went in, while women have an increased trust in their own abilities.


Yeah, I did my time starting 2 years ago this month, when I broke my ankle and ended up stuck at home by myself much of summer 2018, while my then-partner was away for the summer in the rural area where I broke my ankle. Zoom helped a lot. Having mail and packages to anticipate helped a lot. I still get some of the stuff I signed up for back then. I see pros and cons to having been in something like this situation multiple times before. On the pro side, yes, I came away from that summer with a dramatically increased sense of self-reliance and a dismissal of and impatience with anyone who would get in my way or underestimate me after all I'd overcome. On the con side, and I share this situation with a friend of mine who had major hip surgery earlier in 2018 and was immobilized for a while as well, this whole damn thing is retraumatizing and triggering my medical PTSD.

It probably makes a difference whether, y'know, people volunteered for the isolation. I didn't volunteer in 2018, and while I'm volunteering now, I don't really feel like I have a choice in the matter, at least not if I want to stay part of humanity and stay alive.

The thing you have to know about me is that when I'm stressed and isolated, I become even more myself, which is to say, I write even longer comments. So there you go.
posted by limeonaire at 10:21 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


> If you answered “there are four quarters in a hockey game”, you would be wrong.

I'm pretty sure I responded, as diplomatically as possible: "there are three periods" and then broke eye contact and went back to alternately starting into my beer and at the game, or did something else to indicate that I wasn't particularly interested in pursuing further conversation with the individual in question.

Which retrospectively seems, like, weirdly ungrateful, given how difficult it seems lately, striking up conversation with random people in bars.
posted by 7segment at 11:23 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Maybe now we'll learn what happens in the 20th quarter, and the 21st, and the 22nd...

Oh no, we're playing cricket aren't we?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:40 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


7th inning stretch?
posted by mfoight at 2:37 AM on May 4


Someone else there by herself, trying to make conversation, asked me how many quarters were in an ice hockey game

There are zero quarters in hockey because possession is decided by faceoff skill rather than a coin toss.
posted by srboisvert at 3:28 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]


Oh no, we're playing cricket aren't we?

Seems reasonable - articles were written for an Australian broadcasting network after all.
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:40 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


These are a first stage of heightened anxiety, a second stage of settling down to routine marked by depression, and a third stage of anticipation marked by emotional outbursts, aggressiveness, and rowdy behavior.

I can see something of this in myself and in my friends. Not so much rowdy behavior, but people are definitely making choices to reintroduce activities that a few weeks ago they wouldn't have done.

Some of that is undoubtedly from the emotional cycle the article talks about, but part is also because in the first part of the lockdown everyone delayed or deferred a lot of things. Weeks later, people are starting to do some of those things that had been deferred; a lot of that is really low risk (going to the hardware store to buy supplies for household projects; going and getting takeout more often) but some of it is higher risk, like going to see older family members (like the AskMe question in the last couple of days about the child and their partner coming for a week-long visit).

There is just a limited time that you can realistically expect people to remain isolated, over and above the economic issues. Even if the consequence of that is a higher death toll (which it is), a lot of people are going to be willing to accept that tradeoff. And, with places starting to reopen economic activity, more and more people are having to return to work regardless of their comfort level, which brings its own emotional cycle.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:11 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


“Folks, this is your captain speaking. The tower’s telling us we should have to hold here for about fifteen more minutes. We’ll let you know when we get closer.”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:38 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]


“Folks, this is your captain speaking. The tower’s telling us we should have to hold here for about fifteen more minutes. We’ll let you know when we get closer.”

When I was home with three small children, and the days were long, I noticed that if my partner unexpectedly had to be half an hour late coming home from work, that last half hour was almost impossible. But if I knew from the beginning that he'd be late one evening, I was fine. It felt clear to me that I had an internal clock that set itself according to my expectations for when the second set of hands would arrive, and even a short extension felt devastating.

I was interested to read that people often look back on periods of isolation as having been fruitful. Again, in my own life, I have two periods of time when I was socially and emotionally isolated, if not physically, once when I had made an out-of-state move, lived alone, and was struggling to find a peer group; and another time, a few years earlier, when I spent a semester of college with no friends at all, and a roommate I was cordial with but had nothing in common with. In both cases, I was depressed and lonely, but I have always looked back at both times with a kind of longing for who I was, and how well I knew myself, and the places that loneliness and isolation took me.

This time around is not like that. I'm home in a small house with my partner and three of our four children, ages 19, 16, and 12. It is impossible for me to get privacy in the house, and we've had some challenges in the past few years that are ongoing and exacerbated by being at home—one important coping mechanism for most of us was having activities and connections outside the house.

Still, there are consolations. With no outside activities, we've found times when all of us can sit down for a movie together, for instance. That's going to get harder when things open up, and we've had a lot of fun revisiting some of the Star Wars movies in anticipation of today's online release of the Rise of Skywalker, which none of us have seen.
posted by Orlop at 7:17 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


I can't accept that it's over
And I will block the door
like a goalie tending the net
In the third quarter
of a tied-game rivalry
posted by slogger at 7:25 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


...
And solitude was beautiful
When I was sure that I was strong.
I thought it was a medium
In which to grow, but I was wrong.

The jays are swearing in the wood.
The lizard moves with ugly speed.
The flower closes like a fist.
The possibility recedes.

From The Possibility by James Fenton
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:44 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


To quote the late great Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:18 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


> So... early days indeed.

In terms of the long-term wait for a vaccine, sure.

In terms of how society is structured, maybe not. We had to enter pretty severe isolation because we knew very little about the virus, and it was spreading without control. Now that we know a bit more about it, and the cases are a bit more isolated and tracable (more available tests, better infrastructure for contact tracing existing or coming), we'll see a loosening of the tightest restrictions.

We're not going to return to completely free association and congregation immediately, but we'll be in some version of less severe restriction soonish, I think. Pick three other households to quarantine with, for example. Then maybe a good chunck of people back at their workplaces time. And so on. IDK what's happening where everyone else lives, but that's what's being talked about here.
posted by bonehead at 9:04 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


So probably just as well that I see this as stretching out indefinitely then and am firmly settled in the used to it/bouts of depression phase. Not looking forward to the third quarter when I get there and kind of appalled watching other people who are there now.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:58 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Based on what I am seeing in the news today and in my community, people are already giving up on staying home and social distancing. The Trump administration is projecting deaths to double in May but states are re-opening nevertheless. For a change of scenery this weekend I went to a park in another part of town and it was jam-packed. I was able to stay 6 feet away from all but the most clueless people but less than 5% of people were wearing masks. It seems like many Americans have reached the limit of quarantine, regardless of what the virus is doing.

I'm very afraid.
posted by zeusianfog at 1:34 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


I spent a winter in Antarctica. I can confirm: it gets weird.
posted by deadbilly at 5:03 PM on May 4 [7 favorites]


You sure that was the solitude and not just the chthonic monstrosities gibbering and howling at the door?
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:08 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]


Deadbilly, I'd like to hear a lot more about winter in Antarctica.
posted by medusa at 7:14 PM on May 4


We're not allowed to tell you about the chthonic monstrosities.
posted by inexorably_forward at 9:45 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


If they were to describe them to you accurately, you would lose your sanity in the hearing of them even while those telling lost their sanity in the recalling and relating of them.

It's simply best left alone.
posted by hippybear at 9:56 PM on May 4


I'm guessing the shit will really hit the fan in about two months in the USA due to inadequate testing and contact tracing. Red States that fundamentally do not believe in a role for government are going to be going ballistic.
posted by benzenedream at 12:44 AM on May 5


Quite honestly an isolated hut in the middle of Antarctica is sounding quite attractive right now.
Howling wildernesses where the real is abraded away to a thin veil have an underserved bad reputation. And there's always the many-angled ones to party with.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:36 AM on May 5


Quite honestly an isolated hut in the middle of Antarctica is sounding quite attractive right now.

Point of View; One Remove:

From the snowbank on a slight elevation above the shallow valley, I watch the Emperor Penguins huddle in a tight circle, a cooing scrum against the bitter, relentless wind. The Antarctic winter is upon the land. She holds their precious chick between her feet; she awaits the return of her mate, who brings food and relief.

While she waits, the Leopard seal at land's end changes her fate. Soon she won't bother to take her turn at the inner, warmer part of the circle.

I am not worthy to witness her grief. I am not tough enough to watch her chick die.
posted by mule98J at 9:55 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


This article rang true to me. Australia is in the third quarter. It may not be applicable to every mefite since it was an Australian article from an Australian news source posted by an Australian mefite.

I'm completely terrified since restrictions are being lifted. Far too soon
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:49 AM on May 6


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