I realised early on in lockdown that I was going to have to cut down on how frequently I said ‘Hi’ to my husband.
I don’t need to greet him every time he steps into the lounge. He doesn’t need me to ask if he’s OK every time he visits the kitchen. And I can let him have a bathroom break without requiring a life update from him on his way back.
But after shifting from ‘normal’ London life, where we were separated by long commutes and office hours and social lives, to permanent togetherness at home, there was a certain novelty to our situation. Oh look! It’s you! I like you! Let’s catch up!
Like so many couples, we suddenly became co-workers as well as life partners in Spring 2020. Our home is no longer just the place we return to to recover from interactions with the outside world. We do everything from here now. Work, play, shop, socialise…albeit from behind a screen.
It’s an intense way to live, even alongside your favourite people on the planet.
Of course, in many ways we’ve been co-workers since the day our daughter was born in 2017. Becoming a parent means taking on a massive full time position between you, alongside whatever else you do with your lives. And it’s up to you to figure out who does what.
We were a team before we became parents. But now, when our daughter is at home, we’re a team with hourly targets that have to be met otherwise all hell breaks loose.
Taking on this enormous, emotional and exhausting role together changes how you speak to one another. Day to day questions become more functional. “Has she had her milk?” “How much lunch did she eat?” Text messages are largely about groceries. And we mainly use WhatsApp to share speed-typed takeaway orders, written from a still-not-yet asleep child’s bedroom, or photos of her on a swing.
There are of course countless lovely bits. When we do get a task-free moment, we get to talk about the things that only we understand. How funny she is when she tells us what to do. That we can’t believe our baby knows how to spell her name. How terrifying it feels to love somebody this much.
Ever since she came into our lives, we’ve learnt how to work through each day and do the best job we can. So we had the foundations in place to get us through this time. (And thankfully very low expectations about how many nights out we’d have in a year.)
Nonetheless, it’s bizarre not having the option to spend time apart, or to socialise beyond our laptops.
As a couple we’ve always prided ourselves on having healthy lives, friendships and interests beyond each other. Our time together has been all the better for it.
But, like everybody right now, our independent selves only exist if we make space for them. Disappearing upstairs to read alone, or out for a walk with a podcast playing, gives us a little healthy separation.
I like to think that even though it’s odd being in each other’s space all the time, so much togetherness has brought about a whole new level of intimacy we might not otherwise have achieved.
I know from just a second listening at the door whether a work call he’s on can be interrupted. He knows what I look like when my work’s going well, and when I need a confidence boost. And I know precisely how many drinks and snacks he’s had each day from the number of cups and plates I clear from the office. (Sure, some of these insights I could live without.) It’s nice to feel connected on a whole new level.
I think this period has made us better at communicating too. We’ve lived in such close quarters for the past 12 months, we’ve had to be willing to just say what we think and need, or else make an already stressful situation harder.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, we’re only human after all. But when I look back on this time, I will see yet another stage of our lives that we’ve come through together.
It goes without saying that I am not glad this pandemic happened. It has been catastrophically awful. There are, however, aspects of the life we’ve been forced to live within its context that I want to keep even when it’s finally over.
I like feeling less alone with the rolling list of tasks that come with looking after a child everyday. I like that my husband sees our daughter every morning and night, rather than having to commute and missing out. And I like collecting her from nursery together. That used to be the stuff of dreams.
Though this has been an intense 12 months, it’s made me realise that we don’t need much of a break from each other. What we need more than anything is the option. The chance to look at a week and choose to pop a meal out with a friend in the diary. The opportunity to schedule a ‘big’ night out we’ll suffer for the next day. (In my case that would be one that involves a single sniff of alcohol and returning home after 8.30pm).
We also need the chance to spend time as people rather than parents elsewhere. To go out just the two of us in clothes without an elasticated waist. To eat food and drink drinks somebody else will clear away. And to do it all while our daughter has fun with the grandparents she misses so much. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I would pay good money to bring that day around sooner.
I went to a medical appointment recently and was gone about three hours. When I got back my husband said he’d missed me, and I was delighted. He hasn’t had the chance to miss me for ages.
I’ve felt flashes of worry about how one remains exciting to their partner in times like these, but then I’ve batted them away. This year has been about survival, slowing down, and doing what we can to help each other get through.
If we can do that and still want to carry on sharing more than just a Wi-Fi connection, that’s exciting enough for me.