Navigating Love and Romance as During a Pandemic, As Told by Essential Workers
As we approach a full year with COVID-19, the depth in which our lives have changed is almost immeasurable. But it’s important to note that without the tireless dedication and bravery from our frontline workers, we’d be in a far darker spot than we’re in today. For those essential workers currently in a relationship, protecting strangers while also protecting the lives of their loved ones became a balancing act, and for them, life looks a bit different than it does for most.
They’re the ones who, not only, see action every day, but have to somehow keep everyone they surround from the path of harm. Plus, when both people in the relationship have high-risk jobs, the stakes are even higher.
How do they do it? How do they manage to enjoy some resemblance of a normal life while balancing the stress on their shoulders?
We spoke to 6 couples navigating love and romance in the age of COVID-19 and found out how the pandemic has affected their relationship. Here’s what they had to say:
The Stress Can Be Constant
“For Klint, knowing he could get me sick was certainly an added stressor that made it impossible not to bring work home with him,” says Elisabeth Liu, 29, LMSW, a clinical manager and psychotherapist of her partner who works in a hospital. “During the early months of COVID, when we knew little about transmission and side effects, the fear of the unknown was particularly tough. He was careful to wear PPE all day from the moment he arrived at the hospital until he left. Because we live together, it also meant that I was completely isolated from my own friends and family.”
Elisabeth Liu, 29, LMSW, clinical manager and psychotherapist + Klint Smart, 28, MD, anesthesiology resident
“A big reason we got into the arguments was that she didn’t trust I was doing everything I could to limit exposure at work,” says Scott, 35, a correctional officer, about his partner Dana. “She would also not believe me when I said I was ‘safe’ and instead acted over cautiously which was frustrating. She was right to worry and I don’t blame her, but it certainly is annoying to be constantly reminded to do things you are already doing, especially in a setting she has never been in.”
“We are both vaccinated now, but we’re still constantly washing our hands, and double masking when appropriate,” says Bowie, 29, a pharmacist, of her and partner Kyle, a dentist. “I’m also tested up to three times a week through my job.”
Spending a Lot of Time Together Can Be a Double-Edged Sword
“It has been a nightmare! Pandemics suck,” says Thomas, 36, a civil servant. “There is no space to get away and chill, with the baby as well! Because I’m working from home my office is now my home as well so there is no separation of emotions.”
His wife, Ann, a 37-year-old carer, shared something similar: “I think having a baby during the pandemic and the trauma of birth has impacted our relationship negatively. Since we can not rely on family to help out when needed.”
Prepare to Be in a Relationship With PPE
“My girlfriend gets tested weekly at her job, which helps,” says Josh, 35, a living skills specialist in a relationship with 25-year-old Natalie, a student. “But the most helpful is meeting the bare minimum of surviving this pandemic: staying masked at all times, washing our hands constantly, and not inviting anyone outside of our social circle into each other’s homes.”
As for Scott, he says he sports scrubs on a daily basis to “easily contain the clothes to one closed laundry bag.”
“At work, I wear the gown, gloves under the gown, gloves over the gown, an N95 mask with a surgical mask over it, and a face shield,” he continues. “On days I see patients in the morning I don’t come home for lunch, and after work, I put my worn scrubs in their bag and immediately shower. I have been exposed to people who tested positive and we wore masks at home until I tested negative.”
Amber, 31, audiologist at the VA + Jake, 30, engineer at an MEP firm
Amber, 31, an audiologist at the VA, has to wear a mask and goggles for her work shift — a long 12+ hours. “I wear gloves when interacting with anything that is touched frequently by others. Every morning I sanitize my workstation (and sanitize my hands throughout the day) and pay close attention to anyone that coughs or sneezes. Where I work social distancing is very difficult. If someone seemed sick I would keep my distance and worry constantly.”
You Eventually Get Better at Cohabitating
Amber and her partner Jake, an engineer at an MEP firm, spend more time together than ever before. “Jake was huge into live music before so he would go to shows a lot either by himself or with friends,” says Amber. “We also used to do a weekly brunch with friends. Now it’s just us. Jake works from home now, so he literally never leaves. He worked from home before when I was in grad school but he got to leave to go to coffee shops or to go have lunch.”
The stove is getting plenty of use for Josh and Natalie, as he says it’s “less dining out and more home-cooked meals.”
“And a lot more dumb movies and TV shows to fall asleep to at 10 pm,” he adds, “but we’ve always been lame like that before the pandemic, so not much has changed there.”
As for Kyle and Bowie, he claims the pair “were both always very career-driven, but when the pandemic coincided with the birth of our baby, it really made us reflect on what was important to us.”
“We’re soaking up every moment as a family and making the most of every day,” notes Kyle.
Elisabeth and Klint went the pet route, adopting their second feline which they say “provides constant entertainment.”
“Since the pandemic, we have been more intentional to make home a haven from the chaos of our day-to-day,” she tells AskMen. “We cook more, we spend quality time watching good movies, and we do more indoor hobbies like salsa dancing!”
You Learn to Focus on the Good Stuff
“It’s all about communication,” explains Josh, “especially if you’re not going to be seeing that person’s face for a while. Plus, you have to be grateful for each day you’ve stayed alive during these crazy times.”
As for Kyle and Bowie, he says he “never thought of our relationship of having to survive anything.”
Our promises were for thick and thin, so no matter how bad the pandemic was going to get, we were going to get through it together no matter what,” adds Kyle.
“We have always been a pretty good team, but now we make a lot more effort to check how each other is doing and communicate our needs more effectively,” notes Amber of her relationship with Kyle. “We give each other a lot more grace and we are constantly reaffirming how appreciative we are of the other person. So I’d say healthy communication of both the good things and the bad things is what gets us through each day.”
Relationships should be viewed like the Constitution: a work in progress. It’s safe to say that no one (save for a few infectious disease experts) knew what 2020 had in store for the world. Not a lot of couples have the foundation to survive a pandemic, yet others took on coronavirus as a means to strengthen their bond.
No matter what happens next, the relationships that make it to the end of this dark time will know the extent of what their bond can handle.
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