I have been mostly confined to my immediate circle of family for nearly three months – a quarter of a year. Lockdown seems a harsh and imprecise term for my life this quarter, because I have been out and about a few times, either to pick up carryout food or collect a work laptop. I have a spacious home and an expansive yard into which I can disappear as needed. My husband and I play Zoom euchre with my sister and brother-in-law every week. I spent a Saturday kayaking, and one blustery day I biked to my sister’s house to drop off the photographs I culled for her when I decided to go through my mother’s box of pictures. (It was a cold ride, and my husband was right that I should’ve worn gloves.)
Still, it’s been an odd and confining three months, and I don’t know very many people who haven’t struggled in one way or another. Today on Twitter I witnessed a frustrated parent bluntly proclaim her lack of empathy for kid-free folks during this time. That was all it took; the brawl was on. Single people rightfully took to her mentions to note that they hadn’t been in the company of another individual for months, a circumstance posing a good deal of psychic discomfort as well.
I know two things. First, that empathy is not an easily summoned commodity right now. Empathy is so much easier when we have what we need. So it doesn’t surprise me that Twitter Mom can summon none for someone in a circumstance that looks like it holds none of the realities that are making her miserable. But I also know that no matter what your interpersonal situation, there will be difficulties.
I have what should be the easiest arrangement; a nearly grown child who needs little of my supervision, and a spouse. I am not in solitary confinement, nor am I minding toddlers and school-age children. My marriage, before the pandemic, was solid and fulfilling.
It’s still solid, but admittedly, it’s on autopilot for both of us. Our relationship has always rested on ample amounts of space and emotional fresh air. We used to enjoy going out into the world and bringing pieces of it home to one another. Now there is none of that.
About six weeks in, I woke up one morning, looked at him and said, “it’s me again!” We laughed, but the reality is that it can be very difficult to stay open when you’re running up against your partner’s stuff all day and all night, for three months in a row, with none of the refreshment that comes from the outside world. And when you are not open, connection is elusive. So I find myself in the pungently ironic position of missing my husband. With whom I’ve been in close quarters for a fourth of a year. Go figure. For my part, I’m lucky I can articulate these things to my partner. He gets it.
But there it is. One can be lonely with people, and lonely without them, and the flavor is probably different for everyone. These are hard times all around. I hope Twitter mom can take that in, but I’m afraid everyone else on Twitter is as drained of empathy as she is, and so she has probably had a rougher day than she anticipated.