Love in the Time of Coronavirus

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couple with coronavirus masks

So I’ve been thinking about this virus going around. You know the one.

I’m scheduled to turn 41 later this month, and near as I can tell, this is the first real-time global health crisis during my lifetime with the potential to affect everyone.

The Covid-19 coronavirus doesn’t care how much money you have. It doesn’t care which language you speak nor what country you call home. It doesn’t care about your age or race or religious beliefs or education or politics or your sexual proclivities.

The coronavirus doesn’t appear to discriminate. If you’re a human being with a functioning respiratory system, it thinks you’re good enough.

True equality.

I’m not an expert in biology, infectious disease, nor medicine, so I don’t pretend to know where any of this is headed.

Health experts say this coronavirus doesn’t transmit as easily as the seasonal flu, but millions of people are inoculated or have built up immunity to the common flu strains, so maybe it makes sense that a virus no one has immunity to nor a vaccine for seems to be moving its way around the world rather easily.

I used to tell people that horror films—the supernatural, or monster, or slasher types—never really scared me. Which was true. Those stories were too detached from my reality to trigger real fear outside of a cheap jump-scare.

What did ‘scare’ me, I’d say, were stories like Outbreak or The Stand, which are based on apocalyptic pandemic scenarios in which everyone who contracts the virus dies. That’s not the case here. Not even close. There are radical differences between those stories and what has been happening in coronavirus-affected communities so far.

This story doesn’t scare me (in a health way), but this story does interest me because of its We’re All in This Together quality.

In Good Times and in Bad, In Sickness and in Health

Maybe this thing dies out super-fast for reasons I’m too ignorant to anticipate or understand. I’m currently operating under the assumption this probably gets worse before it gets better. I’ll be delighted to be wrong.

My cousin married his wife this past weekend. On Leap Day, February 29. He’s rock solid. An infinitely better man than I was at his age.

The ceremony gave me another opportunity to think deeply about the promises we make to one another when we exchange marriage vows. Beautiful promises.

But perhaps beautiful promises that too few of us actually keep.

A Common Break-Up Story

That’s what my divorce was. Just your average marriage coming to its inevitable end with a husband asleep at the wheel.

When divorce is the conclusion of a particular marriage story, common themes emerge—themes which were on full display in mine.

The relationship becomes strained. Not quickly nor obviously.

Slowly. Quietly. Insidiously.

If we recognized what was happening as it was happening, most of us would course-correct, since most of us legitimately love our spouses and want our marriages to succeed.

We’re not intentionally sabotaging our most important relationships.

We’re accidentally doing it. We don’t even know it’s happening as it’s happening.

They’re not bombs and gunshots.

They’re pinpricks.

They’re paper cuts.

These tiny wounds don’t kill us instantly or even make us feel as if we’re in mortal danger. And THAT is the danger. When we don’t recognize the threat, we never make the adjustments or preparations necessary to protect ourselves or others from the potential outcomes. These tiny wounds start to bleed, and the bleed-out is so gradual that many of us don’t recognize the threat until it’s too late to stop it.

It is during this poor relationship-health phase when it’s most fragile and vulnerable that an outside force can level an unsteady house on a weakened or absent foundation.

In a 2015 article in Health magazine, Dr. Elizabeth Ochoa, a marriage counselor and chief psychologist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in New York City, pointed to seven life events that commonly lead to divorce in an already-strained relationship:

  • Illness
  • Job loss / Financial stress
  • Childbirth
  • Living apart
  • Trauma
  • Empty-nesters
  • Infidelity

If you’re me, it can even be a neat combination.

I was a shitty husband during and after my wife giving birth to our son.

Not long after, I was laid off during consecutive rounds of corporate layoffs following the 2008 recession. I was a shitty husband during that time too, but mostly I just couldn’t love and respect myself after losing my job.

And finally, just as we were getting our finances back together and I believed things were moving in a positive direction, she lost her father suddenly. Out of nowhere the day after having a wonderful dinner with her parents.

Let’s call it the Divorce Life Event Triple-Threat.

We were finished even though it took me another 18 months or so to realize it when she made the decision to leave.

Like a child, I attributed my wife’s decision to end our marriage as a selfish action stemming from her inability to manage her emotions effectively while grieving her father’s passing. I resented her for allowing her grief to “rank higher” or “be more important” than our marriage.

I didn’t know that my inability to love and respect myself and step up courageously following my layoff had eroded her trust in me and our relationship.

I didn’t realize what a betrayal she experienced in my lack of showing up for her in the months leading up to our son being born. I didn’t realize that my failure to prepare myself to really love and support her proactively, emotionally and logistically, had completely broken the trust she once had in me.

I didn’t understand how my failure to respect my wife’s feelings over my selfish desire to change them throughout thousands of these paper-cut incidents had set the stage perfectly for a major life event to wipe away everything I thought we’d built.

The Coronavirus Test Kits

I hope and pray all of you will do everything within your power to take care of yourself and those you love in your efforts to stay healthy.

But I also know—whether it’s this virus, something else, or an unpleasant combination—that life is going to throw things at you indiscriminately.

These big, stressful, life-altering happenings are a threat to the very things that helps us weather life’s most difficult, most frightening, most painful moments—our most significant relationships.

While scary headlines and unusual life adjustments cause new stresses and inconveniences, please don’t lose sight of what was most important before they happened, what will be most important as they happen, and will be most important after they happen.

Love hard, please.

Yourself. Your loved ones. And those people over there that neither of us know.

Let’s please take care of one another.

It has always been all of us in this together.

But I’m not sure I ever recognized how much until now.

13 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Coronavirus”

  1. Hi, Matt.

    On one point, you’re off base. Statistics, those slick buggers that they are, are constantly changing, and you can’t always rely on them. But stats from South Korea, where they’ve had a fairly severe outbreak already, and where the government stats are at least somewhat reliable, indicate that the elderly, especially those over 80, are at the highest risk; about 7% fatality rate. Under 30, the death rate is quite low.

    At age 70, I’m not in the HIGHEST risk group, but I’m avoiding crowds. That’s easy for me to do; I’m retired, and I only need to go out to buy fresh groceries. (I can order anything else from Amazon.)

    Wash your hands frequently, and don’t touch your face. And we’ll all be fine.

    1. Great points, Ken. Just to add – don’t panic buy! It’s not the zombie apocalypse.

    2. One further point; in northern Italy, the elderly are again being hit hardest. And since the older generations are more likely to take cruises, the cruise ship lines are ALSO being hammered.

  2. I’ve read quite a bit of your blog, and I just have to say that my mouth fell open when you described how you resented your wife for “not managing her grief effectively” and ranking it above your marriage. I have never read a more perfect description of male entitlement, self-centeredness and cluelessness than that. Wow. Amazing.

    1. I was remarkably clueless and shitty, Kara. The greatest gift that woman gave me besides my son is the self-awareness I was forced to confront while seeking to understand my role in our failed marriage. (Turned out I was more “the reason” than simply playing a role in it.)

      I’m sorry for being that guy. And sorry that there’s so much that behavior out there making life extremely painful and difficult for the spouses and children subjected to it.

    2. It’s not uncommon though. Another “side effect” is men having affairs because they resent that their wife is focusing on her grief rather than them and so they go elsewhere.

  3. A really good book that explains the male side the female side and “the Move” how to move toward a solution. Insightful
    It’s (Mostly) His Fault: For Women Who Are Fed Up and the Men Who Love Them
    No its not anti male.

  4. It’s not uncommon though. Another “side effect” is men having affairs because they resent that their wife is focusing on her grief rather than them and so they go elsewhere.

  5. “It doesn’t care about your age or race or religious beliefs or education or politics or your sexual proclivities.

    The coronavirus doesn’t appear to discriminate. If you’re a human being with a functioning respiratory system, it thinks you’re good enough”

    That’s not true, older people are more at risk (esp in care homes), as are poorer people, as are those who are from certain ethnic backgrounds (esp those working on the front line re: health). If you were disadvantaged before Corona, you’ll be disproportionately affected not only by the virus itself but any lockdown measures taken to alleviate it.

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Matt Fray

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