Self-isolation could stretch marriage to breaking point.
I read this article by Celia Walden in the Telegraph.
There was an image in the papers at the weekend that is haunting my dreams. The image was of Gary from Liverpool looking out from his home – a home he and his wife Leanne have been imprisoned in for ten days, after coming into contact with the Coronavirus. And it’s the expression on his face I can’t get out of my head.
Gary’s mouth is set in the grim line many husbands will recognise as a coping mechanism for situations of extreme boredom, like the extended Westfield frock-buying trip they were forced to accompany their spouses on in the January sales. Relax that jaw even for a second and who knows what vitriol might spew forth?
Gary’s eyes have acquired a numbness every wife will recognise from the kind of five-hour Stansted delays that make you question not just your wedding vows, but being born. It’s a picture of a marriage at breaking point – and how many of us will reach that point over the weeks and months of co-isolation to come?
I ask because over the past three days two sets of figures have been published. There were the Office for National Statistics’ upbeat divorce statistics – which revealed that the UK divorce rate is now at its lowest level since the early 1970s (9,205 divorces were granted in 2018, down from 20,765 in 2008) and that the majority were “civil”, with 50% less blaming a split on adultery. And then there were the marriage registration office statistics from China at the weekend..
These were not upbeat. In fact the figures show an unprecedented rise in divorce appointments since the offices re-opened after Coronavirus quarantine on March 1, with limits of 10 “divorce appointments” a day being imposed in some provinces after “demand” proved “overwhelming” – and officials claiming the reason behind the rise is “couples spending too much time together.”
I won’t bother asking whether it’s possible to spend too much time with the one you love. There is one single word which tells you all you need to know: Christmas. Corona co-quarantines – whether total or semi, like the self-imposed ‘social distancing’ we have been encouraged to adopt – are fraught with many of the same issues as Christmas, from financial worries to magnified personal tensions. And all signs point to this period of enforced intimacy lasting a lot longer.
Already there are shades of Gary in my own husband’s face, I fear, as I return from a health food shop (that is still open at the time of writing) with a crate of utterly useless hand sanitisers made from plants and good intentions – “But the man said eucalyptus is a natural anti-microbial” – yet forget to stock the fridge.
Already there’s the occasional eye-roll as I ricochet between underreacting and overreacting in a way that might be considered annoying within a confined space over an extended period of time, and channel all my anxiety into confirming the trope that women never, ever stop wittering.
“Who knows if it’s going to be months? It might be months. And that means Paul’s 60th will be off, and Julia might cancel the wedding. Do you think Julia will cancel the wedding?” You know it’s bad when your other half hasn’t just rolled his eyes but actually closed them – and is emitting a continuous one-note throaty lament with the unmistakable meaning: “Make this stop.”
Then again at least I haven’t started stress chewing every time Matt Hancock appears on screen. And yes, there comes a time in every marriage when the words “can you chew less loudly?” are blurted out, but this is off the charts. Proof that anxiety and fear up our annoyance capacities considerably.
Add to that the cacophony of domestic noises you were never at home long enough to notice before – the hum of the fridge and beeping of the tumble dryer – and the escalation of the argument over whether or not you did “clear [the] airwaves”, to the point where you’re tempted to cram that fistful of dryer lint down his throat, and you have yourself a bad case of corona cabin fever.
Only here’s the weird thing: while Google, ever the fatalistic messenger, informs me that although divorce rates actually decline after man-made disasters like 9/11, they increase after natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, I’m feeling closer to my husband than ever, bonded as we are by the overwhelming mutual hope that our loved ones will stay healthy. Three friends have reported the same thing – and one of those was close to divorce before Covid-19 erupted.
Maybe we haven’t really been tested yet in the way that poor Gary has been. Maybe many of us will be able to successfully recalibrate relationships because of this enforced time together. Either way, one thing is certain: there will be a lot of boredom-induced babies being born come Christmas. And just imagine what a breed ‘the Coronials’ will be?
And what will Isolationship bring to you?
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