Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.
It’s 2020 and we’re social distancing now. Since both my partner and I are working from home and we’re unable to really spend time with anyone else, we are spending exactly NO time apart.
Our apartment is itty bitty, too, which doesn’t help one bit. If we had ever planned to work from home, we would’ve gone for a bigger apartment but unfortunately, we live in a glorified closet. As of this writing, we’ve basically been in the same room, without interruption, for a week.
I love this human being so much, but I can’t deal. I’m starting to miss my crazy coworkers, the strangers at my gym, the weird smells of the bus – ANY HUMAN BEING OTHER THAN MY PARTNER. Having FaceTime dates with friends helps, but it’s hard to find privacy and I end up feeling guilty for excluding him from the conversation when he’s so close by.
Am I a jerk for wanting a break? How do I form social connections while social distancing? What even are boundaries in the age of coronavirus?
Love, Socially Distant, Romantically Suffocated
First of all, thank you for taking social distancing seriously even when it is difficult. Living amidst restriction highlights anxieties and fears, and the loss of interpersonal connection feels akin to hunger for many. This is bound to bring up confusing and contradictory thoughts and feelings. You are far from alone in this, which is precisely the problem sometimes. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, and time with your partner definitely falls under that umbrella.
Desire thrives in space and mystery, which means that close quarters can really cramp its style. Under normal circumstances, a healthy relationship is a balance struck between individuality and togetherness. The two parties may live together, but they both have time independent from the other—different jobs, friends, hobbies (and sometimes partners depending on your relationship structure). They’ll wake up, go out and live those lives and come home to reconnect. It’s similar to what we do as children while building attachment—create a secure base, explore, and return back when the world becomes too much.
But during a quarantine, the mystery is diminished. There’s no telling each other about your day because the whole dang day was spent alongside them. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision and notice all the weird little things they do and to FIXATE. Y’all need 10CC’s of distance STAT. Which brings me to crux of the matter: how can you create emotional space in tight quarters?
A real mark of relationship health is adaptability under duress, so get creative! If possible, get outside for a little bit. Going on a walk, jog, or bike ride is still safe in most areas, so long as you’re not gathering with others (and you’re not in an area that has a shelter-in-place mandate, of course). If the weather sucks or you can’t physically leave the house, you can still create distance by doing something for your own self-care like taking a long bath, reading a book, or listening to a podcast by yourself. If you’re an artsy-craftsy person, see if there are unfinished projects you could dust off.
A real mark of relationship health is adaptability under duress, so get creative!
The trick with creating space for yourself is to articulate it in a healthy way. Waiting until resentment festers and fixating on something small and blowing up about it will only lead to conflict and resentment. It’s likely that your partner is feeling something similar, so if you take the lead on making individual time, they might look for their own thing, too. The danger arises if they want to hop on All the Things with you, in which case it’s paramount to gently let them know that you just need a couple of minutes to be in your own head.
I also challenge you to examine and communicate the guilt you feel for FaceTiming your friends and family. Has your partner made any noises that this makes them uncomfortable? If you approach this like it’s a problem to be solved together, you may be surprised at the solutions you come up with. This crisis is an opportunity to refine your communication, negotiation, and compromise skills. If you put the effort in, I promise you that your relationship will be better for it. This is a trying time, but your adaptability will see you through it. As Ralph E. Blum writes, “when in deep water, become a diver.”