What Just Happened?
Covid hit us over the head like a predator devouring its prey. It goes without saying that people in every single age group and circumstance were affected emotionally, physically and financially with the exception of the very young. We were, at first in denial and then in shock. We were in it for the long haul, like it or not. Life as we had known it, came to an abrupt halt.
The people who seemed the most frightened were the Boomers. Yes, remember us? The revolutionaries of the 60s and 70s? That super cool group of people who changed the world…its music…its politics…its mores and values? We never thought we would get old, become uncool and thought of in many circumstances as ummm… dinosaurs (technologically of course)! Now, the so-called experts told us that we were in the high risk group; the people that were at the top of those never before thought of, now annoying, age group check- off boxes! That group, that in our wildest and most unrealistic dreams, we would never be a part of, even in our old age!
I had to find out how other people in our age group were feeling and thinking; people who were in or close to our situation. How were they coping? What were their fears? Their wishes? What accommodations did they make in their relationships for the current situation? I decided to create a survey and put it out on social media to see if and what kind of responses I would get. Within a few weeks, I collected responses from twenty-eight couples who generously shared their challenges and joys during the quarantine. Yes, I said JOYS, because there was definitely an upside for many of the respondents.
The 28 Couples
The respondents were married/together between 10-54 years, with the average being 36 years. Their ages were between 52-74 years with the average age at 65.5 years. Some were working and others were partially or fully retired. Most were empty nesters, with a few having college age or working adult children living with them. The majority, were just the two of them living in a house or an over 55 adult community.
The couples experienced a loss of freedom, impacting on their social lives, travel and a sharp decrease in intimate family connections with children and grandchildren ( some newly born, whom they had to wait to meet or still have not yet met due to distance). A number of them were also worried about aging parents ( the senior seniors) and their needs. The uncertainty of not knowing how long this was going to last was a daunting concept to many. For the majority, this was the freedom they earned through hard work and years of dedication to their careers. For those couples who had rich individual aspects to their lives and friendships outside the marriage, the frustration was even deeper. They were challenged into finding creative ways to maintain their independence within the confines of a much smaller world- their homes. Many needed to create or recreate new environments, intimacy, schedules and virtual social lives, within a restricted and fear-filled environment where this invisible monster and life stealer (the virus) lurked outside of their now locked doors to the outside world, for many feared for their health and safety in varying degrees from concerned to extremely aware and vigilant.
Though many couples were a bit daunted at 24/7 togetherness, they began to adapt and recreate their lives. Not surprisingly, the introverted couples or individuals within the couples, adapted much more easily because their natural proclivity is to receive energy and stimulation from their inner world of ideas, thoughts and reflection. The situation was now in harmony with a conducive environment to embrace their authentic selves. The extroverted couples or individuals faced more frustration because they receive their energy from the outer world of people, places and things. The couples whose relationship was primarily based on the playmate model of relying on mutually enjoyed outer world activities, had the most challenges recreating their new norm because of the confining circumstances.
Creative and Resilient
How do couples deal with all of the upheaval, turbulence and the new norm? What effects would it have on the relationships at this stage of life? I have to say, as I was compiling the answers to my survey, I ended up being totally shocked by how many pages I had to scribble my preliminary notes on with all of the positives that were emerging . The salient and repetitive theme that struck me was that there was a new- found appreciation for their partners that emerged when the smoke cleared and they entered into some kind of routine. One respondent said, “We’ve been enjoying our favorite activities together like when we first met. We’ve been relaxing together and laughing a lot.” Laughter, jokes, bonding over cooking, making videos, and talking about anything and everything were common responses. People started redefining their parameters as to what caused stress- many of the outside stressors, other than Covid of course, were dissolved. Their relationships were stripped to the bare essentials. Partners who traveled, could now work from home. There was time for games such as Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, ping-pong, pickleball and puzzles that couples put together as a team. There was time for separate hobbies such as knitting, reading, singing, making music and home projects and organization. Deep, meaningful conversations were taking the place of quick and partially listened to verbal exchanges. One couple, mindmates, bonded deeply mentally while working on a writing project they were doing together. People got into joint exercise routines walking, biking, hiking, and swimming. Fishing, kayaking and road trips (both car and motorcycles) were some safe outdoor activities the couples enjoyed. Some respondents also enjoyed further bonding time with their adult children and their family when they escaped from the city and began to live with their parents on a part time basis in the suburbs. Couples dated again. One couple used to take dance classes. They improvised by setting up YouTube to give them instruction. This pair also decorated their patio, put on their vacation clothing (which had been purchased for some cancelled trips) and enjoyed a glass of wine in their newly decorated outdoor environment. Another couple made their never used yard into a tropical paradise with all the trimmings of a new above ground pool, garden, cozy floats, outdoor carpets, and a fire pit where they enjoy their daily dates and made a new and interesting space to hang out together. Another couple also bought outdoor furniture for a backyard which was bare and rarely glanced at. They both felt that they were not spending money elsewhere, so why not indulge in fixing up unused spaces? Another respondent loves to get creative. She stated, “I pretended that the kitchen and menu were restaurant style and movies were in a certain theatre environment.” She said that they are natural homebodies, so it really worked well for them. Another couple bonded in a very unique way. She said, “We have been more involved worshipping together via Zoom. Prior to quarantine, I would often attend services alone. This has been an unexpected benefit for both of us!” Zoom and Facetime played a major role in most couples’ social lives. Not only were they doing this with friends and family, but they were reconnecting with relatives and friends who lived distances and were even from around the world! All of these activities engendered a new bonding… almost a renaissance of these long term relationships.
This situation is unprecedented, shocking and life changing. There is no doubt we want it to disappear immediately and go back to our normal (if that’s possible) way of life. More than answers, this experience is leaving us all with questions. When we rewind, will we be more cognizant of our way of life and what causes us stress? What about all the superfluous things we needlessly spend time and money worrying about? Will we reprioritize the hierarchy of our relationships, friends and needs? And lastly but most importantly, what are the essential components and moments of a couple’s relationship? The journey continues…
We will soar again…