The marriage didn’t last. And yet, not everything was terrible.
In February of 2020, I got married. Married! It was a surreptitious City Hall wedding. Hardly anyone knew, and I wanted it that way. But I was thrilled. This, honestly, was my dream wedding. From everything that I could see and know at that time, he was my dream partner. I was just about to start a new job. And with my 40th birthday on the horizon, I was hoping to start a family.
None of those things turned out to be my reality — well, except for the birthday part. Kind of unavoidable.
It would be possible to say that I “rushed” into getting married. Sure. That’s why I didn’t tell many people. But when you are 39, you’ve dated more guys than you’d like to acknowledge, you’ve even been engaged once and that didn’t work out, and you’re starting to get baby brain, well, it didn’t seem like rushing. It felt like “divine timing.” I will say that I did feel some type of urgency that I couldn’t explain. I had considered putting the wedding off for a few months. But something made me feel like it had to happen *now* (last February, that is). It was only about 3 weeks later that the lockdown started.
You might think that starting lockdown with a new husband would be like some kind of globally-imposed honeymoon. But as it turns out, our story would make a terrible plot for a Lifetime movie.
The New Job
I returned from a 10-day training from my new job on March 10th. I had flown there and back on an airplane with no mask, wondering if we should have had masks, looking around the airport and seeing only a few passengers wearing them. We had all flown in from different states and stayed in a hotel with a conference center for the 10 days of our training, portions of which involved visiting classrooms with young children because that, actually, was what the job was going to be.
At the training, and even before the trip, I had been asking my company: what should we do? Should we take precautions? Can we even do our jobs? At that time, we all knew so little about the virus, and it still seemed mostly distant and at least rare in the US. And so, I don’t believe my employers were in denial, but I think they were hopeful. At first, I got no answers at all and was told they would let us know if we should take precautions. But they didn’t. And so I didn’t.
One day at lunch, I was talking to a woman in my training group who had flown in from Seattle, where they were dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak in a nursing home. And that was the first time I felt concerned. Because even with what little we knew, there was some understanding that asymptomatic spread was part of the mechanism for how the virus got around. So, she didn’t look sick. She probably hadn’t been near any nursing homes. She said her family was fine. But could I — could anyone ?— know if she had met someone on the street who had been to a nursing home, let alone that particular one? There was just no way to know. I could only hope for the best.
I arrived home on March 10th. Lockdown began on the 11th. And it was only supposed to be for 2 weeks. Remember that? My employer was still hopeful. We weren’t supposed to start going into classrooms until April. So if the virus “went away,” then we could still do our jobs. I, personally, was not so optimistic. I felt, somehow, that we were in for a longer haul than 2 weeks, and that turned out to be true. But everyone was just winging it, of course.
Eventually, they did lay our team off, which at least made me eligible for unemployment — an incredible benefit that, while no one really “wants” to be on unemployment, it meant that I could at least pay rent while I looked for new jobs and waited to see what happened. And waited. And waited. And I’m still waiting, like the rest of us.
It’s OK. It can be my time now. I deserve this.
Before lockdown, before the training, I remember feeling so jaunty, so pleased with my life. There was only a slight twinge of guilt, knowing that Italy was struggling with Coronavirus cases, and that the world was on edge, waiting to see what would happen with this disease. But I’ve been through a lot in my life and a number of lean times that should have built a ton of “character” by now, and so I told myself, It’s OK. It can be my time now. I deserve this. But…
That seems like a silly thought, in retrospect.
My husband, unlike me, was a bit more in denial about the virus. When I asked if he was concerned about me traveling for work, he waved it off like it was nothing. When I said I thought it sounded like we could be dealing with this for two years, he said no way. When that 40-person “study” in France seemed to show that hydroxychloroquine could “treat” COVID-19, he insisted that we had found “a cure.” I don’t think that’s how that works, I told him. He disagreed. Eventually, he did wear the mask that I made for him, but every fiber of his being seemed intent on pushing the reality of the virus away, to the point where he seemed to want to “will” it away by saying that the world was “done” with Coronavirus — presumably, because he was, mentally. Again, pretty sure it does not work that way.
That turned out to be just one of many ideological differences that we had, none of which had been apparent before. No, if anything, we had seemed to be on the same page about nearly everything, previously. Maybe that was all an act. I can only guess. What I’ve heard is that marriage will bring out whatever is under the surface in a relationship and intensify it. COVID seemed to hasten that process by about 10x.
…marriage will bring out whatever is under the surface in a relationship and intensify it.
On the night of March 12th, had a huge fight over the fact that I had wanted to spend time with him, having just returned from my trip of course, and kind of assuming he might want the same, but he had stopped texting me mid-conversation in the middle of the day. When I asked why, he said he was “too busy” to text me back. And it wasn’t just the words that bothered me; it was the dark cloud that seemed to hang around him, and the fact that he was acting like he didn’t want to spend time with me at all.
A long and intense conversation ensued and at the end of it, even though he seemed happy with me, I felt disgusted with him. I see that night as the beginning of the end. And this year, with that date upon us again, and all of the reminders of the beginning of lockdown, I am reminded of the dark and painful feelings I had that night. Maybe the real beginning of the end for us was actually much sooner, but that was the night I saw and felt what could probably never be whole between us.
At the end of it, even though he seemed happy with me, I felt disgusted with him.
That night was incredibly stressful, some of which I would attribute to the virus and the fact that we must both have been feeling the uncertainty of what was happening and about to happen. I know that, out grocery shopping earlier in the day, the reality was settling into empty shelves and nonexistent toilet paper. Maybe he was still trying to deny it; I couldn’t. But even if he had been affected by the lockdown, that was no excuse for him.
Nevertheless, we were married, and I did not take that lightly. I was prepared to have whatever conversations needed to be had. And so, we continued to persevere amid the strangeness of everything and we even seemed to be making progress over the next few weeks. That is, until someone rear-ended his car at a stoplight in early April. That was the second beginning of the end.
And in “the end,” he finally wrote me an email in which he said the car accident had made him “re-evaluate his priorities” and his priority at this time is his life was making music and “being a DJ.” He “didn’t have the bandwidth” for a relationship — with me, or anyone else. I asked why he couldn’t do both. He just said that he couldn’t.
(Like I said, this movie plot would suck. Literally no one would approve the script.)
But this is my life now! It’s real! It happened!
I waited several weeks after that to be *absolutely certain* that things were over. And I even warned him that if this was what he wanted, then that would mean I would eventually have to date other people. He said that, yes, he knew that. “Eventually” happened sooner than I’d imagined. It went fantastically badly, and now I am aggressively single.
Also during the summer, my two best local friends, the ones I was spending the most time with in person, seemingly abandoned me. Was it “because” my husband had walked out of the relationship? Neither of them said so. But for both, it was a couple of months after that, and I felt that they no longer respected me. Whereas beforehand, they had been two of the first to know about my relationship — before my family knew, even. They were the people I could confide in, who were supportive. And then not.
So, to recap: before the lockdown, I had a new husband, a new job, & a social life I felt good about. Approximately 6 months later, the husband was gone, I was still getting unemployment, and my two closest local friends had essentially stepped out of my life.
But that is not to say I had nothing left. What happens in these moments is, you find out who is really there for you. Friends and family who weren’t local reached out and offered support. I spent time in nature, walking by the lake, listening to podcasts. And I’m so glad I have a cat, who wakes me up at night and sometimes falls off furniture. Her goofy antics and enthusiastic purrs have kept me sane.
Since I had the time and energy, I invested in myself. I found a therapist. And then I found an even better therapist. I joined various online communities that offered support. I journaled a lot and focused more on my writing. I invested in coaching and now monthly massages. I volunteered to make calls to elderly people in my community.
I am determined that, whatever my ex/husband’s intentions may or may not have been, no matter what my expectations were or how much I could have been disappointed, he’s not going to leave with my happiness. He didn’t give it to me, and my sense of self was never related to him. I may have, in the past, crumbled under the weight of heartbreak, but not this time. Heck, I’ve never even done a “rebound” relationship before, but honestly, even though it wasn’t “right” for the long-term, that helped me get through this, too.
Not Only My Loneliness
As an introvert, I am actually grateful for the amount of alone time I (we) have had, even though there were moments when the loneliness felt overwhelming. But I also knew that it wasn’t only my loneliness. I knew that there were patients on ventilators, some of them dying, whose families could not see them. I knew that many doctors and nurses had to sleep in tents, RVs, and garages to avoid infecting their families because of their work. I knew that older people were potentially even more cut off from others than I was. knew that there were people whose livelihoods were lost who didn’t even qualify for unemployment. Relatively, I was doing okay. And I wasn’t alone in my alone-ness.
My overall feeling on the Coronavirus is this — whether you have directly encountered the virus or not, it is here to shred, dismember, tear down and invert whatever idea about your life you thought you had. Jobs disappeared overnight. Even more long-term marriages than mine were tested and many of them broke. School no longer resembles what we all took for granted that it was. Families have come together and been broken apart.
Even New Zealand, which has done so much better at containing the virus, thanks to excellent leadership as well as, certainly, the natural borders of being a small island nation, has felt the effects of the virus. I speak with a friend there regularly, and even though they can, for the most part, move around as normal, their tourism industry is decimated.
I guess I am “lucky” in that my world has crumbled before. I mentioned that engagement. That year nearly destroyed me (something I hope/plan to publish a book about in the not-too-distant future). Seriously, I do not recommend that kind of pain. But I’m still here. And going through that experience, as disorienting and challenging as it was, it let me know that I can survive that and come through on the other side.
And so, I knew that my husband’s reversal on our marriage agreement was not going to break me. Weirdly, I was probably more surprised and upset by losing my friends, but I knew that that would not destroy me, either. My work situation could be managed; I’ve always been resourceful. The virus? Well, obviously, that’s a lot more unpredictable, along with the behavior of other people. All I could do was listen to the science and take the precautions I knew I needed to take, like masking and carrying my hand-sanitizer with me.
It seems so distant until it’s not.
You feel so safe, until you aren’t.
In a weird way, it almost seemed like all of the isolation that was being forced on me was kind of protecting me at the same time. So many others have not been so lucky. I have to acknowledge my privilege in that. For example, I don’t know why it is that, for me, my unemployment insurance claim was approved quickly with (almost) no hassles when others had to wait weeks or months with no lifeline. It is by chance that I happen to live in a neighborhood in a city in a state where COVID was taken seriously early on, and people actually have been mostly pretty good about wearing their masks in public. I haven’t been coughed at in the grocery store or berated for being a “sheeple.” No, I’ve gotten into the habit of masking anytime I go outside and I don't plan to stop, even after I get my vaccine.
No Simple Answers
It is INCREDIBLY HARD to live with uncertainty, and it seems to me that’s why people have struggled to grasp what has been happening. It is even harder when you can’t really see the thing that is threatening you. So many people — my ex/husband included — have resisted even knowing about or accepting this disease, caused by this enigmatic virus because the truths are so hard to confront. It seems so distant until it’s not. You feel so safe, until you aren’t.
Searching for simple, comforting answers, thousands of people have fallen down rabbit-holes of conspiracy theories. But although it might feel good, they aren’t finding the truth that they are looking for.
Coronavirus has destroyed all of our previous notions of what “reality” was and replaced it with an uncomfortable fact: that we are never really safe, and everything is uncertain, despite what you may think.
People love simple, easy answers, and Coronavirus strips us of that luxury.
We don’t have to like it. But if we don’t accept the reality of what it is giving us, we will continue to suffer, to be isolated, and to lose more of the people that we love. Some of that, of course, would have happened anyway. But as far as I can see, the not-so-novel-anymore Coronavirus will not be done with us until we are all inexorably transformed.