It’s been almost four months since my last “normal” public outing, which was working from my local coffee shop on Friday, March 6th. Here in the NYC suburbs, the news was starting to get serious and as I was easily able to stay home, I decided that weekend that I was going to start. Then things began to shut down quickly anyway, and the following Monday, March 9th ended up being the last time my husband traveled into Brooklyn to photograph a comedy show.
Logistically, we’ve been incredibly privileged to quarantine easily: we are able to stay home, we don’t have kids or parents to caretake, as long as one of us is employed we can keep our bills paid, and our 900 square feet with a backyard affords us more space than most of my NYC-dwelling friends. A home office with a door I can shut is a luxury I don’t take for granted. (Although I don’t want to talk about all the microwave dinners we’ve eaten while our kitchen renovation plans have been put on hold.)
But personally, we’re having polar opposite experiences.
I’m used to working from home; I’ve been doing it full-time for the past five years (and part-time for three more years before that.) I have the same two jobs as I did pre-pandemic, and though they now have the added stress of trying to keep small business afloat in 2020, my schedule and workload is essentially the same. I’m neither dealing with the quarantine “blessing” of oodles of free time, nor the variety of hardships that come with working extra hours, on the front lines, adapting to working remotely, dealing with no childcare, etc. Most of my closest friends live far away, so I was already used to constant texting with occasional marathon phone calls. Heck, even the coven I belong to has been hosting moon circles on Zoom since 2017.
Sure, I’ve had my moments of stir crazy, and missing “the real world,” and seeing people in it, but as an introvert, a 10-minute socially distanced chat with a neighbor or local friend has gone a long way towards filling my human contact quota. I have plenty of mental health issues and unresolved trauma that has flared up thanks to the intense times we’re living in, but I also have plenty of resources and coping skills. Some days I wonder if I’ll turn forty before I’ll feel comfortably getting on an airplane again, but most days I’m just grateful for the privilege of having my life be 80% business as usual.
My husband’s life, on the other hand, completely changed within days. He had already been recently laid off pre-pandemic, and while working on his portfolio and looking for a day job, he was volunteering photographing comedy shows in NYC six nights a week.
And then almost overnight, that creative and social outlet, which was starting to feel like his life purpose, was taken completely off the table. (Especially as he’s a member of the higher risk group.) And while he has that “blessing” of unlimited time (at least until unemployment runs out) to do any number of other things right now, the grieving for the thing he had already loved doing and been excelling at has been immense.
And honestly, it’s been a struggle to relate. I cope with stress by keeping—possibly too—busy, he copes by staying glued to the couch. On my worst days, the part of me that feels equal parts entitled and tired wants him to pick up the bulk of the household chores because I’m still working full-time and he’s full-time mining the depths of YouTube. Or, it feels impossible to listen empathetically to how he has no motivation to do anything, when from my perspective six months of the government and your spouse paying the bills sounds like a great recipe for finally decluttering the house and writing that novel.
On my best days, however, I know that we’re just having very different life experiences right now, and both are equally valid. I’m allowed to feel envious of his sometimes, and he’s allowed to feel envious of mine. During one of those ten minute socially distanced chats in my driveway, a friend told me how envious she was of her partner, who was working as usual, while she was saddled with the full-time care of their two kids, something she never thought she would end up doing. Which got me thinking: I bet it’s not just us, and that many couples are in two very different pandemic boats right now.
SO FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH PARTNERS, ARE YOU IN THE SAME BOAT OR DIFFERENT ONES? HAS LIFE CHANGED A LOT OR A LITTLE? FOR ONE OF YOU MORE SO THAN THE OTHER? HAS STAYING HOME ALL THE TIME LED TO MORE CONFLICTS OR MORE CONNECTION? DO YOU FIND YOURSELF ENVIOUS OF THEIR EXPERIENCE?