With many American families temporarily confined to their homes, couples are suddenly spending more time together than ever before. As nerves fray and relationships are tested, here are a few modest suggestions to keep your pandemic romantic.
1. Spend time on your appearance, even though you never leave the house. This crisis may seem like the time to stop wearing undereye concealer or see if you can grow a beard down to your waist. Resist those urges. If you live with another person — or even a sensitive plant, like an orchid — strive to look reasonably attractive, causing your partner to think, “Wow! I’m pretty lucky.” Not, “This disgusting slob is using all my precious toilet paper.”
2. Check in with each other often. Between working remotely, homeschooling, and watching the news, it’s easy to forget to ask your spouse, “So, what have you been up to in the 20 minutes since we saw each other?” The answer may surprise you — “I’ve been curled in a fetal position under my weighted blanket” or “I found an expired can of chili, so I ate it, out of the can” — and bring you closer.
3. Don’t overshare. Though you could announce every random thought to your domestic co-prisoner, this is not recommended. When asked a question, aim for the breezy summary, not the Russian novel.
Compare: “How am I? I . . . I feel like the walls are closing in. The children’s voices are like nails on a chalkboard. I’m experiencing a strange compulsion to drop the cat out of a second-story window to see if it lands on its feet. What, we don’t have a cat? The dog then. Any animal, really.”
With: “Pretty good. You?”
4. Break the rules once in a while. Tap into your inner Rebel Couple, like the outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, and sneak out of the house on a non-urgent day trip. Park the car in an abandoned street and sit in it together, taking in the view. If a police car drives by, duck down in your seats: What you’re doing is now illegal in eight states! Enjoy the frisson of being “bad,” but do not get out of your car. (Seriously, please don’t.) Now drive home again.
5. Serve your spouse a romantic dinner in the privacy of your walk-in closet while the kids watch Frozen 2. Then do whatever comes naturally, like (finally) tidying up the closet. After 1 hour and 43 minutes in there, the house will seem much bigger than before.
6. Renew your wedding vows after updating them for 2020. In a ceremony broadcast to family and friends via Skype, hold hands in the living room and intone:
“I, Brad, promise to honor and cherish you, Melissa, without ever leaving our home because you will not let me go buy groceries, claiming I don’t ‘do it right.’ Please, Melissa, I need to get out of here once in a while. I’m a human being.”
“I, Melissa, promise to stand by you, Brad, in sickness and in health, even if I’m half in the bag because I’ve been drinking wine all day out of sheer boredom. Can you go to Safeway and get more wine? Never mind, I’ll do it.”
7. Cuddle up on the couch and watch movies together. It’s the perfect shelter-in-place date. What could go wrong? Just make sure your film choices aren’t subtly passive-aggressive, like House of Flying Daggers, Unforgiven, and 10 Things I Hate About You.
8. Allow one spouse to move into the basement, where he can work remotely, read books, eat, and sleep without disruption. The remaining spouse can pretend her husband is away on a business trip when she is visited by a rugged stranger like Clint Eastwood, who woos her while photographing the bridges of Madison County. After their torrid affair, the mysterious stranger rambles out of town, i.e., returns to the basement for the next five to seven days. Repeat.
9. Read the bestselling self-help book, Mating in Captivity. Published in 2009 by therapist Esther Perel, this popular book offered a metaphor for the challenge of long-term monogamy. Now revised to account for actual captivity.
10. Try to remember the big picture. Though it feels like you will be stuck at home forever, this too shall pass. And when it does, you may even miss it a little. Oh, you won’t miss your spouse’s insane competitiveness at board games or the loud sounds they make while chewing, but it may make you sad to hear, “I can’t open that pickle jar for you / sew on a button / make you a sandwich / give you a backrub / take the kids outside for twenty minutes. I’d like to help, but I’m back at the office, remember?”
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