Studies indicate that large scale catastrophes like the one we are experiencing now with the Coronavirus pandemic, have a profound and lasting effect on relationships. Life-threatening events motivate people to take significant action in their close relationships. Perhaps it’s the stress that comes with danger and uncertainty that sparks something primal in us. Or maybe it’s the fear associated with loss that spurs our emotions to higher levels. Whatever it is, it moves us to act in many different ways. So, when a stay-at-home advisory accompanies the said disaster, things can get volatile. If you put stressed-out people in close quarters with no escape from each other, the proverbial shit is going to hit the fan. Producers of shows like Big Brother and The Real World understood this dynamic and leveraged it well to create drama that entertained people the world over.
Making the Best Of It
For John and me, this period has taken us to the depths of despair and returned us whole again. When reports of the virus first surfaced, we honestly thought it would blow over. Like the Swine and Avian flu outbreaks of the 90s, we expected some minor inconveniences but nothing more. So when California issued a stay-at-home advisory, we treated it like a vacation. John and I were happy to have some time together with nothing on the itinerary. Usually, if we are off at the same time, we are traveling. So this would be a nice change, we thought at the time. We were excited to work on all the projects that we had lined up for our new house. It was going to be a staycation! The first week was great! We slept in (well, I did. John never does), took walks on the beach daily, and did whatever we wanted. One day we would watch an entire season of a show, and the next day we would make margaritas at 3 pm and dance to our favorite playlists. It was awesome. Unfortunately, the fun didn’t last.
By the second week, the magnitude of the outbreak was becoming apparent. The virus was spreading quickly, and the death toll was staggering. What had started as a precautionary stay-at-home measure had quickly become compulsory, punishable by death. That is when something shifted in our relationship. We were watching the news more and playing music less. John’s usual commentary of the news subsided, we now watched in silence, exchanging bewildered glances. That’s when I started to see the change in him. It began with what I thought was a quest against misinformation, but I quickly realized that John was obsessed with Pandemic data and the latest reports. Every TV screen in the house was tuned to a news channel. He has a screen in his office where he streams stock prices; this now displayed the latest statistics from Johns Hopkins – it was insane! I was over-saturated with COVID-19 news and quickly burnt-out. That’s when the fights began.
All the reports on the virus painted a bleak picture. Consuming this gloomy outlook non-stop, turned John into a full-blown doomsday prepper! He started buying survival equipment and stocking up on food and water. I put up with all these eccentricities but could not stand the overexposure to news reports. My anxiety was through the roof, and I needed a break. John did not understand this. He took my aversion to COVID-19 reports to mean that I did not recognize the danger. We fought about that. Then when I convinced him that I fully understood what was at stake, he decided that I did not appreciate the magnitude of what was happening. It was exhausting and was even, unescapable. His solution to my lack of appreciation of the issue was to share more horrifying statistics. By this time, we were past being mildly annoyed at each other. Our virus-related interactions had become full-blown arguments. On one side, John asserted that I was taking this whole thing too lightly. On the other hand, I thought he was doing too much. “This morning, you manually tallied the global death toll, this seems rational to you?” I remember asking. “Yes!” he yelled back and said something about keeping score. “This is not a fucking football game!” I retorted. It got worse.
Silence Speaks Louder Than Words
By about week three, the arguing had stopped. John had suddenly stopped shoving news stories down my throat. Well, actually, he had all but stopped talking to me. Usually, I try to break down tensions between us, but this time I was willing to take the silence if it meant I didn’t have to see another doomsday news clip. John can be moody, and I am used to it. If some stock or business thing doesn’t go his way, he will sulk for an afternoon, and I will give him his space. He always comes around soon enough. This time was different. Days went by, with us barely exchanging more than two sentences. He spent all day in his office glued to the computer and tv screen, and I stopped leaving the bed. I felt depressed. John and I had never been through such adversity, and I didn’t like what it had revealed. Our relationship had gone through a lot over the years, but this felt different. He barely looked at me; it was so unlike him. This was the most time we had ever spent together in a stretch, yet I felt the furthest away from him. I did not know what to do, but I knew I could not stay in this house any longer.
We Need To Talk
I walked up the stairs to the loft where John’s office is and said the dreaded words, “We need to talk.” He didn’t answer, just stared at me over his rimless glasses. “I can’t continue like this anymore. I am going to stay at my brother’s place for a while. Clear my head.” He had obviously not expected to hear this because he shot up with agitated astonishment and exclaimed, “what!?” I explained to him how his quest for information had deteriorated into an all-out obsession. An obsession that had turned him into somebody that I no longer recognized. As I told him all this, the tears flowed freely down my face. As I sobbed through a litany of complaints, John tried to interject and argue his justifications. I could feel the discussion turning into another argument, so I turned to leave. I was too worn to get into another fight.
This Thing Called Love
As I turned away, he grabbed my hand, then pulled me towards him. Initially, I resisted, I was determined to be done. But I quickly gave in. I hadn’t been close to him in days, so his touch dissipated me. By this time, I was inconsolable, barely standing on my own strength. He was hugging me, and I felt him tremble. Was he crying? I thought as I pulled away. He was trying to suppress his emotions. He placed his hands over his eyes as if trying to physically stop the tears that were now dripping over his fingers. “Can’t you see?” Can’t you see?” he repeated emotionally. “Can’t you see, I am doing it all for you? I can’t lose you!” he half yelled. My dismay had halted my crying, and in a moment of realization, I glanced at his computer screen. On it was a recently published article that examined underlying health conditions and their effects on the virus. At that moment, it was all evident. The obsession with gathering information, the attempts to scare me straight, were all an attempt to protect me. You see, my pre-existing health conditions and treatments make me particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. All this had been his reaction to that fear, the fear that I was going to die. My vulnerability to the disease had weighed heavily on my mind, but despite myself, I pitied him. I have never loved him more than I did at that moment.
Please share your pandemic experiences with us in the comments. We love hearing from you!