Dating in Place
How to Maintain or Improve Spousal Relations in the Age of COVID-19
Our family of four humans (two middle-aged parents, two teenaged boys) and eight pets (dog, cat, frog, gecko, chameleon and three snakes) have been sheltering in place for eleven days now. The early days of anxiety and uncertainty are behind us; we’ve downgraded to mere worry and boredom. Overall, things are going better than I expected. There haven’t been any tears or massive arguments. We are lucky that our house is large enough that we can spend much of our days in our retreats.
Back in the old days (before March 14), my husband and I used to go on dates occasionally. They weren’t super-regular; in 17 years of marriage, there have been several years when we only went on one or two dates. But for Christmas, my husband gave me a 2020 calendar which had two dates scheduled for each month. He had even made reservations at restaurants for the first six dates of the year.
We had a date night scheduled for March 19 but the restaurant canceled our reservation with an apologetic phone call. My husband promised them we’d order take out for our “date” to help out their business.
Long story short, my husband and I have figured out several ways to “date” while we shelter in place. As a consequence, we are pretty happy to see each other when we bump into each other in the kitchen at lunch, and again at dinner time. Our camaraderie has extended to the kids. They aren’t fighting with each other, and aside from their belief that manners are expendable in this crisis, they’ve been really good with us too.
Here are my tips on how to “date” your live-in significant other. These tips won’t help people in the singles dating world; I know nothing about that these days. But if there’s someone who you’d care for if they got sick, I recommend having some good times with them before they catch this nasty bug.
Make Your Dining Room A Restaurant
This is what we did last Thursday. We fed the kids dinner on the early side and told them that we’d be on a date after 7. We set the table and lit candles. My husband made us cocktails, which we drank in the TV room. He then set out dinner on serving platters and opened a bottle of wine. Music played.
I’ll admit that after a lovely couple of hours talking, we watched the season premiere of Top Chef, but we would have done that even if we left the house for the evening, so don’t judge.
Host A Virtual Happy Hour with Another Couple
Two nights later, we set my iPad on a tall stack of books and had a drink with my brother-in-law and his wife. It was 9:00 pm their time, 6:00 pm our time. They had just put their kids to bed and were still wearing “fancy outfits” they’d worn for Dress-Up Dinner with their one- and three-year-olds. My husband and I snuggled close so both our faces were in the frame, and his brother and his wife did the same. Cocktails only last thirty minutes but it was fun to see them and catch up together. After we hung up, we wondered why we didn’t do a happy hour with them more often.
Go Grocery Shopping Together
We never go grocery shopping together. It’s a chore that is usually somebody’s “turn” to do, although I do the shopping more often than my husband. I don’t completely mind. I believe that I’m more efficient a shopper than he is. (My “belief” in my shopping skills benefits him, I acknowledge.) We decided that given the insane lines and an interest in being in public for as short a time as possible, it would make sense for us to shop together by splitting the list and getting out of Safeway in half the time. We got to the store at 7:45 am on Sunday and it was busier than it usually would be but not as bad as it had been the prior week. We saw another couple we know, and from eight feet away, the wife said loudly, “This is how we date now, I guess.”
It takes a special effort to make grocery shopping into a date. My first instinct is to be bossy, volunteer for the harder aisles (produce), and get impatient that my husband doesn’t follow the same route or employ the same tactics I use. But I put those aside in the name of love and patience, and we worked together on a strategy. He kept the cart and took a picture of the list. I took the list and did the aisles, returning each time my hands were full. We check line lengths; I hopped on a line with the cart when we were three-quarters finished while he finished the list. We were done in twenty minutes (the line was another twenty), and after we got home and washed our hands, we did a big high five for what a good team we are.
Walk, Walk, Walk
This is obvious; one of the few ways to get cardio and fresh air is to leave the house and walk or run in a direction that keeps you at a socially acceptable distance from other people. My husband and I run at different paces so that’s out of the question (I’m not sure he can even run as slow as I do). And so we walk and talk, or not talk. The best topics of conversation are noticing spring come alive around us and gratitude about what is missing from our lives. Mainly, the best part of this is how much less driving we have to do, but we also reflect on our time together. Inside the house, we can worry about disease, economic catastrophe, and our children’s limitless boredom and restlessness. But outside, there are trees and birds and it’s quiet because no one is driving on the highway.
I worry (inside) about what this Shelter in Place Order is like for other couples. There are people whose marriage was already frayed and unhappy, and some that were abusive and awful. I don’t know how to fix that. I can only concentrate on the marriage I have, and work to keep it healthy even when the world around us is struggling with illness and fear. Even if you are trying to work from home and home-school your kids and pushing away these anxieties, consider taking the hours you are saving from not commuting or carpooling and putting them towards your marriage, so that it’s the healthiest thing you’ve got.