The Best Policy?
“I’m sorry I’m so sick of you,” I said to my husband Saul the other day as we settled in to watch TV.
“I’m sorry I’m tired of hearing you breathe,” he replied nonchalantly.
Psychologists say honest and clear communication is key to a successful relationship. Apparently after 20 weeks of quarantine, Saul and I are pretty successful.
I had no idea when I wrote How to Stay Married During a Pandemic in the middle of April, that Coronavirus would not only still be around but thriving in July.
My husband and I aren’t those people who decided we were sick of the virus and drank ourselves silly in crowded bars without masks. We stay behind closed doors together except to walk our dog and grocery shop.
So now we have to dig deeper. We are in unchartered territory. How do we stay happy in a year that is trying to kick our ass? And how do we keep our marriage fresh?
We aren’t experts. But we have done a few things to keep the police from showing up at our door.
Improve our surroundings
I recently read an article that most people doing home improvements during quarantine have actually made their homes worse.Luckily Saul and I are smart enough to not try to add another bathroom or second floor balcony or third floor skylight.
We are proud enough when we figure out how to replace the filter in our our microwave. Who even knew there was a filter in a microwave that needed replacing?
Saul needed a space at home to do his artwork since it’s next to impossible to work with paints in the dining room, living room or bedroom and I took over his “art room” and made it my home office. The dingy low-ceilinged basement of our 1850’s house was the best option — but not very appealing. We climbed down the rickety wooden stairs, cleaned the clutter and cobwebs, ordered fabric to hang from the walls and rafters, threw down some old rugs we’d been storing down there, added a lamp and desk…and voila!
We now have what we lovingly call an “art bunker”. It’s colorful and quite cozy. Not only can Saul paint there, but during the air raids and tornados that 2020 will surely bring, we can live out our days in a nicely decorated space.
Do good for others
Saul and I marched in the local protest for Black Lives Matter. We were definitely out of our comfort zone even though we wore our masks and did what we could to stay six feet from every other peaceful protester. It was the most unsafe we felt since the pandemic started but we felt it was too important not to do.
We needed something more our style. There were signs popping up in the front yards of our town that we loved, and we found out we could purchase them from a local artist for 8 dollars. It read:
Black Lives Matter
Women’s Rights Are Human Rights
No Human is Illegal
Science is Real
Love is Love
Kindness is Everything
We picked up our sign and walked home feeling good about ourselves. In our small way we were adding positivity to our little town.
A woman stepped out of the car as we neared our block. She didn’t have a mask on, so we made a wide circle around her.
“What’s that sign?” she called out with sugary sweetness. I turned, smiled and held it up proudly for her to read and see what amazingly compassionate and tolerant people we are. She took an inordinate amount of time to read it.
“How about ALL lives matter?” she finally blurted out. Her sugary tone had become suspicious and belligerent.
In less than a second my compassion transformed into murderous rage.
“What? What??” I said — my eyes narrowing. “What did you just say???” I began approaching her menacingly when I felt Saul gently grab my arm.
“Ignore her. Let’s go.”
I hate when Saul is the rational one. I like to cast myself as the calm one in the marriage and many people believe this. Saul thinks I have them fooled.
I stormed away but was boiling. I wished I could have said to her something smart and rational like, “No one is saying all lives don’t matter. We are saying black lives and other POC have mattered less in this country for centuries and we need to finally acknowledge and truly address that.”
What I really wanted to do was hit her on her head with my new sigh, but i was pretty sure that KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING line wasn’t written ironically.
Travel to Faraway Places
Saul wanted to find a nice little house on a private beach to rent. For cheap.
“What universe are you living in?” I asked.
“I’m just going to do a quick search on Airbnb,” he insisted.
Here is another quick tip about marriage: You have to let them find for themselves that their idea is wrong.
After researching the costs of those “cute little houses on a private beach” in the time of Covid (who would have guessed they would be so expensive?), we decided to instead go on a day trip to New York City to see our doctor for Lyme and Covid tests. Maybe not as fun or faraway as the ocean, but it was a start.
We arrived a few hours before our appointment to walk around the city we both love. Saul was more nervous than me and I had to convince several times we weren’t going to get sick from someone not wearing a mask walking on the other side of Seventh Avenue. We were excited to visit Saul’s favorite little tea store in the village, McNulty’s — but found it closed up and dark, and had to settle for Starbucks takeout instead. We did order delicious tarts from the sidewalk in front of a small bakery, but they weren’t as delicious as my husband makes at home.
But I guess that was the whole point of the trip. It gave some perspective and appreciation for our life back home.
When we walked in the front door that evening, our dog Alfie was over the moon with joy. He had not been alone more than 45 minutes since the middle of March. I think he might have needed the perspective too.
Nurture Furry Things
I don’t know what people do without animals.
Caring for Alfie, who has a limp that will not go away but who anxiously licks our legs if we don’t exercise him enough, certainly keeps our lives interesting. Having cats that constantly want to go outside and when we let them out constantly jump over the fence no matter how many times we tell them not to gives Saul and me a common interest.
The latest animals to come into our lives are bats.
I climbed up the ladder to our attic the other day to look for an old book and discovered to my horror something flying around my head. I had seen enough vampire movies to know what it was and what would happen if it bit my neck.
I rushed down the ladder yelling for Saul.
My husband finally went up two hours later. “I don’t see any bats,” he said with what I detected as a bit of dismissiveness. I suggested we lock Saul up there for the night just to make sure.
A few days later Saul had to go back up into the attic himself. He came running down a few minutes later.
“There really are bats up there!” he said with surprise. I was annoyed he questioned my sanity enough that he actually thought I might have been imagining them.
We called a bat man (as opposed to Batman, which would have been much cooler) and found out you can’t really do much. You can’t kill bats because they are endangered, which we wouldn’t have wanted to do anyway. You can’t even evict them during the summer when they are raising babies. In September you can install some contraption where they can fly out of the attic but not get back in — but that seems kind of mean. Where would they go? Who wants to suddenly get locked out of their home?
We decided to let them roost up there until they leave in the winter to hibernate in a cave. There aren’t that many, and the bat man wasn’t concerned. As long as they don’t bite our necks and give us rabies or vampirism we should be fine.
But on hot days like today I think about bringing them up something to drink like water or blood.
I’ve also gathered a potpourri of advice to keep things happy at home. I read somewhere that you can’t stay angry if you open your eyes really wide. It’s some kind of physiological thing because a person narrows their eyes when they are mad about something. So now whenever one of us gets pissed off, the other one shouts “WIDEN YOUR EYES! WIDEN YOUR EYES!” Surprisingly it works more often than not.
I also heard from my friend who is studying to be a therapist that the longer couples stay together the more they skew to a negative bias towards each other. I suspect quarantine has quickened that phenomenon. To counteract this, you are supposed to say five positive things for every negative thing you say to your partner. We try that too. Although it can get kind of tense when you get stuck after listing only four positive things.
Oh, and caftans–we each order a few caftans for ourselves online. Trust me, they make living in lockdown together a lot more fun.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman lives in Lambertville, NJ with his husband Saul. He loves to write in the mornings, although lately he has had the urge to lie inside a wooden crate deep in the art bunker when the sun begins to rise.