My husband Jaime and I were cleaning up our plates after dinner last Tuesday. The scene resembled a typical night you may see on any given Netflix show: Husband and wife exchange light banter amidst deciding which leftovers are worth keeping in the fridge.
“Alexa, play Bill Withers,” I said, tossing our sweet potato in a container. Lean on Me began to play.
“Lean on meeee,” my husband belted out. Our dog wagged her tail excitedly. We’d come to realize she loves singing and clapping, a small detail we couldn’t believe we just discovered after nearly a year after adopting her.
This hadn’t been our normal routine before coronavirus. A more accurate picture would have been us on the couch with our plates, likely watching something we couldn’t agree to. Which meant Jaime was watching TV and I was on my phone next to him.
But on this regular Tuesday night, we had nothing in particular to do or watch. Since we decided to give up our evening vices and commit to dinner at the table, we are those people who can be seen singing in their kitchen and clapping vigorously for their dog.
Coronavirus seems like an inconvenient time to give up digital comforts. This was not a decision made on purpose—the timing happened to work out this way. Fate has a sense of humor like that.
Three weeks prior to the quarantine announcement, my husband and I were just getting out of a five-day “retreat.” That’s what I called it to my friends because I was embarrassed to sound like I had lost my mind or joined a cult or both. A more appropriate title would have been a five-day intensive self development training in which we had nearly zero interaction with our phones or the outside world. We were lightly screened before entering, asked the basic questions, like if we had traveled to Asia or been sick recently, but the threat was minimal then.
On the final day of the experience, I saw my husband in a new light, almost as if for the first time. We’ve been together for seven years and we were friends before that, so I’ve known this man throughout different stages of his life. And still, I never saw him more open to being who he really is than in those final moments of the training. That day, I became totally okay with being “those people” if it meant we got to experience what we did: a reawakening to ourselves.
It was a gift for us, so we wanted to go out and celebrate by having the fanciest dinner we could in Mooresville, North Carolina, the small town we had traveled to in order to take the course. The world felt different to us as we walked hand-in-hand through a charming downtown with the old brick buildings and hipster breweries that have come to define North Carolina’s aesthetic.
We bounced around a few bars until a local suggested a “fancy place” up the street. Perfect. We practically skipped to get there. When we arrived, the hostess station had a large canister of hand sanitizer and the restaurant was nearly empty.
Our server, who was dressed in those white aprons I associate with steak houses, led us to our table and thanked us for being brave enough to dine out.
“We’re celebrating!” I said as we gave each other a quick kiss on the lips and opened the menu. We hadn’t even noticed the strange comment. That night, we ordered a feast and in retrospect, I’m glad we did. It was the last night we got to go out. By the next day on our drive back home, the quarantine was officially announced and a new journey began for us: Stay home and sit with the radical growth we just experienced and make sense of this new normal.
The timing is another testament to the universe’s sense of humor. To go through an experience like that is to open a direct line to your heart and your innermost longings, experiences, feelings, and truth. Things continue to come up, and they did.
It took us some time but it was inevitable to conclude that our relationship had hairline fractures we had not seen before. We didn’t present signs of disconnection. We’re newlyweds who work on our relationship a lot. We’re affectionate and outwardly kind with each other. Ours wasn’t a relationship that felt heavy or dull or toxic. And yet, our relationship—like many Millennials who are plugged in—was marked with disconnection.
We didn’t disconnect at once or for any big reason. In fact, it was a hundred little reasons and seemingly small choices. A stressful day earned a night of watching Netflix as a reward. A desire to laugh together turned into us rewatching the entirety of How I Met Your Mother. Long hours spent laboring on home renovations meant we got into bed and were understandably tired, so we each pulled out our favorite vice to fall asleep to: Jaime had his laptop with endless hours of documentaries and I had my gossip blog, each one the perfect guilty pleasure, something that we didn’t have to think so much about. We earned it.
And that’s how we began to stop seeing each other. There are countless nights like this that play like a time lapse of scenes in my mind. How many hours had we sacrificed in the name of comfort? I felt like a zombie realizing it. Now, all we had was time at home with each other to let it all sink in.
Three weeks ago, I would have told you we had a nearly perfect marriage. In fact, for all the hours of our favorite vices consumed, there were also plenty of days spent together in love. But if I’m being honest with you, uncomfortably honest, even with all the joy, those hours of being zombies affected us.
We were slightly more irritated and lost our patience faster with each other. Instead of talking to one another about what was on our minds, we opted to reach for our digital comforts to soothe our anxiety. Rather than getting into bed and talking, we had been looking into a screen until we fell into a mindless sleep. Inches apart and yet miles away. None of those isolated incidents were alarming, but each one added up, and when I saw it all in perspective, it startled me just how disconnected we had become.
So, instead of tackling all that, we opted for a simple habit shift during coronavirus. For the next 90 days (hopefully surpassing the mandatory social distancing), we will not consume our favorite little disconnections. And as a bonus for us, we committed to eating at the table together at least five nights a week, including a special meal every Friday for date night.
It’s day 30 of our quarantine and our life together looks different. We fall asleep in bed giggling. A lot. We see each other for real. There’s been hard times too. Being that we are the only human contact we have doesn’t come without challenges. Oh, they’re there. We fight and we work through it. Feelings are fleeting and they pass. This time has been a gift to practice noticing that and letting go each time a little quicker and with grace.
What’s unfolded as a byproduct of this strange and unforgettable time is a deeper trust in the process and a knowingness that nothing could have been different. Everything happened exactly as it should have. Yes, even the years we spent unaware, the choices we each made that added up to get here, it was all perfect. Our timing lined up exactly when it should have, and I suspect it did for everyone else too if they’re willing to look. We’re all being called as a collective to make habit shifts in our lives.
And it’s okay, it’s all part of the process. It all really does happen as it should. We wouldn’t have created it any other way.