What the Coronavirus Brought Relationships: Clarity

September 7, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

This article by Ashley Fetters in The New York Times is interesting.

Move In? Get Divorced? The Pandemic Forces Couples to Decide

Romantic partners are emerging from quarantine with a newfound sense of clarity.

As everyone who’s ever been a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or a spouse or a lover or a partner or even a friend with benefits — that is, anyone who’s ever liked or loved anyone — knows, it can take a long time to muster the courage to say exactly what you want.

Telling the truth about your hopes for the future of a relationship (or situationship) can be terrifying: I want us to see each other more, I want us to see each other less, I want us to stop being this way to each other, and I want us to stay this way forever are all easy enough combinations of words to string together, but the hard part is finding, or creating, the right moment to say them.

But when the coronavirus pandemic took hold this year and upended life as we know it, many couples suddenly didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the right moment.

Widespread social-distancing policies meant many couples had two choices, neither particularly appealing: They could smush together into close-quartered, 24-hours-a-day cohabitation, indefinitely, or be apart with limited in-person contact, indefinitely. Each choice presented its own challenges, and each one required couples to figure out exactly what the terms of the arrangement would be — quickly.

But as the country reopens, a number of those couples are now reaping the benefits: They’re emerging from quarantine with a newfound sense of clarity, about both the future and where they stand in relation to each other. In other words, if ever there were a scenario that could disabuse us once and for all of the notion that the “right moment” is a prerequisite for having an important conversation, look around: We’re living through it right now.

James Henderson, 29, who uses the pronouns they and their, and their boyfriend had just celebrated six months as a couple when the coronavirus arrived. Based in Austin, Texas, the pair had planned on waiting until they reached the 18-month or two-year mark to move in together.

“But then all of this happened, and it just sped everything up,” Mx. Henderson said.

Mx. Henderson moved into their partner’s house in early spring under the assumption that the arrangement would be temporary. Instead, over the course of a few conversations, the two recently decided it was time for Mx. Henderson to move all their stuff in permanently.

Initially, Mx. Henderson was careful to set boundaries. They wanted to ensure that both they and their partner could count on having ample space and alone time every day. But after a few months of cozy 24/7 hangout time, Mx. Henderson said, the two just became even more inseparable. Their job teaching at a ceramics studio started back up in May, “and even after being away from each other for a day, we both laughed about how it was weird that we missed each other.” Plus, in a time when cash flow to any business or individual seems less dependable than usual, it made little sense to Mx. Henderson to continue renting an apartment where they never slept anymore.

Indeed, across the globe, multitudes of people are either in precarious financial situations or bracing for them. And many, like Mx. Henderson, are moving in with their partners — partly for love, and partly to save money.

“I feel like the party line has always been that everybody should ‘decide, not slide’ into cohabitation,” said Alexandra Solomon, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University and the instructor of Northwestern’s Marriage 101 course. “What I have realized with the quarantine is what a privileged position that is. It’s a privilege to make very mindful, thoughtful, intentional choices about when to move in together.”

Of course, involuntary home confinement and financial strain against the backdrop of a global health crisis do not add up to domestic bliss for everyone. Joel Velez, 42, was quarantined in Florida with his wife of 18 years and their four children for about a month before he lost his job, for which he worked nights, in a layoff.

For the first time in years, Mr. Velez and his wife were on similar schedules, but their new abundance of time together confirmed something he’d suspected for a while. “We seem to have lost any kind of common ground besides, you know, where we live and our kids,” he said. Last month, Mr. Velez suggested they see a counselor. According to Mr. Velez, his wife suggested they split up instead.

Mr. Velez wondered aloud whether, if the pandemic had never happened, his marriage might have limped along for another 15 years, neither party ever rising to the task of asking for a change.

“This whole quarantine situation has forced us to face the problems that we’ve been experiencing,” he said. “To stop hiding from each other through work, or through our different schedules.”

Robert Falconer, 29, and Julie Fisher, 28, live in Calgary, Alberta, and when their city began to shut down, they, too, had to immediately address a matter they’d been putting off: They had been talking about getting engaged, but there was always just a little too much going on in their lives.

In mid-March, Mr. Falconer’s parents, who were living in Asia, decided to come and live with him. Mr. Falconer and Ms. Fisher realized they would have to forgo seeing each other in person for a while to minimize exposure risks for their families. All at once, they had to choose: throw together a proposal straightaway, or wait until they could be together in person again, whenever that might be.

“I was like, ‘We’ve got to rip the Band-Aid off and just do it,’” Ms. Fisher said. The night before Mr. Falconer’s mother flew in, Mr. Falconer and Ms. Fisher drove out to their favorite spot (a lookout with a beautiful view of the Canadian Rockies) during a snowstorm. They couldn’t see a thing.

“There were so many things working against us,” Ms. Fisher said with a laugh.

“It was not romantic at all,” Mr. Falconer added.

Frightening, dangerous times — like a war, or the aftermath of a natural disaster, or a pandemic — can be occasions for people to reckon with their own mortality, with the fact that everyone gets just one precious life and has to decide what to do with it before it’s over. According to Dr. Solomon, this may be one reason couples living through the coronavirus pandemic have fast-tracked conversations they may have waited to have otherwise.

“Crises end up being turning points,” Dr. Solomon said. “We get clear on what matters.”

As the nation reopens and many of us cautiously resume some of our daily lives, perhaps that’s what we should strive to remember: Waiting for a perfect opportunity is a waste of time.

This month, Mr. Falconer and Ms. Fisher will marry. On their pre-wedding to-do list is getting Ms. Fisher’s engagement ring resized. In his hurry to propose, Mr. Falconer was unable to get adjustments made to the family heirloom he presented to Ms. Fisher the night of the snowstorm.

The ring belonged to Mr. Falconer’s grandmother, who got engaged to his grandfather just before his grandfather fought in the D-Day battle at Normandy in 1944. His grandparents, Mr. Falconer pointed out, also made a commitment in a frightening, uncertain time, and had to decide in a hurry whether they wanted to build their futures around each other. Ms. Fisher’s engagement ring may not have fit her finger when Mr. Falconer first presented it to her, but it was a fitting reminder for the occasion: The best time to start creating a future is not at some yet-to-materialize “right” moment, but at the present one.

Source: Move In? Get Divorced? The Pandemic Forces Couples to Decide (The New York Times, July 17, 2020)

What the Coronavirus Brought Relationships: Clarity was last modified: September 3rd, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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