It’s the beginning of Week 322 — I mean, Week 2 — of this new, close-quarters life.
Is it Monday? Or Saturday? The Era of Perpetual Sweatpants isn’t giving us a firm grasp of time in this new workweek.
For spouses fortunate enough to keep working — who are working together, from home — it’s also a new dawn of relationship discovery.
“A funny thing about quarantining is hearing your partner in full work mode for the first time,” tweeted Laura Norkin, deputy editor of InStyle magazine, who is learning new things about her husband as they work side by side in Brooklyn. “Like, I’m married to a ‘Let’s circle back guy’ — who knew?”
The jokes about intimate, hunker-down time usually fall into heh-heh sex giggles. The sex toy industry is reporting a burst of sales. Condoms and pregnancy tests are almost as scarce as toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
We love talking about blackout babies, snowstorm sex and hurricane birth booms. But I’m not convinced coronababies are going to be headlines come December.
“All this talk of baby booms 9 months from now? Maybe,” Lauren Cooper Jerle, who is finding a new rhythm in her Minnesota household as the hubs began working from home, wrote one of the first posts on social media with this foretelling:
“I’m wondering if the amount of divorce decrees will be even higher. Reason for divorce: COVID-19.”
Jerle’s prediction in that March 13 post was followed by scores of others who swore about the possibility of huge rise in breakups.
Jerle’s husband works for the state of Minnesota, and she’s now staying home because the floral and gift shop where she works shut down. Husband decamped to a home office, and now her goal is keeping the 5-year-old out of dad’s workspace.
“She knows he’s behind the door, it’s like she can smell him,” Jerle said. She asked her husband to maybe transfer the laundry during that time he’d usually spend on “water cooler talk.” That way, the kids won’t try to get into his office every time she walks by his door on her way to the laundry room.
“And he kinda looked at me, like ‘No. I work for the State of Minnesota and they have to know I’m actually working, not (messing) around’,” she told me, from a closet in her home and I could feel her eye roll.
So now she spends the day trying to transfer the laundry, keep the kids away from his office and fulfill the promise that two hours a day, she would leave the house with the kids.
This will probably be about more than bickering and being appalled by our spouses’ work faces.
The truth is, with babysitters, nannies, day cares, schools and, for some folks, their jobs, out of the mix, relationship inequities could be a lot more fraught than the game of whose-conference-call-is-more-important.
I’m lucky that our children are older and occupied by online classes most of the day. I couldn’t imagine doing this with little ones. But for me, the unsettling discomfort comes in the discoveries I’m making about a man I’ve been married to for more than two decades.
Like Norkin, I heard earnest corporate speak from my partner-in-snark when he was in work mode.
“Unpack that for me,” he said on a conference call. Twice!
There is a balance to hone. Just because husband is quiet in front of the laptop doesn’t mean he’s available to talk about the granular details of the grout in the kids’ bathroom when that problem popped into my head.
And when I’m on the phone talking to a survivor of an abusive relationship, he isn’t allowed to ask me — yet again — where the cream cheese is.
I remind him to put a shirt on for Zoom meetings, and he keeps the dogs in when I go out to seal myself in the minivan for phone interviews.
If we can survive these rules, we can survive anything.
Not everyone is so lucky. We stopped to visit some friends Sunday, and they reported the first covidsplit in their circle happened next door.
“It was a long time in coming,” the friend said. But so much togetherness was probably the last straw. They watched the husband move his stuff out of the house in a sad, public display of extreme social distancing.
In the United Kingdom last week, that nation’s top divorce lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, is expecting a spike in her business.
“The prediction amongst divorce lawyers is that following self-imposed confinement it is very likely that the divorce rate will rise,” Shackleton said during a session of Parliament dealing with international law.
“Our peak times are after long exposure during the summer holidays and over Christmas,” she said, according to British papers. “One only has to imagine what it’s going to be like when families are sealed in a property for a long period of time.”
Or, we can all take a cue from Mark Zinno, a radio host in Atlanta.
“Since most folks are working from home, is anyone else impressed w/ how hard your spouse works? How important they are at their job?” he tweeted, after seeing his wife, Staff Sgt. Amanda Citarella, a master recruiter for the Army National Guard. “You really never get as sense unless you’re sitting next to (them) watching them work. Really awesome to see my wife do her thing & kick a-- all day!”
OK, maybe put them in the baby boom category.