Worried that four days of lockdown in Ramadan Bayramı may be just the final straw for your already-struggling-under-curfew marriage? 19th century rules to counter Covid-19's potential damage.
On March 14, precisely four days after the official announcement of the first coronavirus in case in Turkey, my husband and I decided to go on voluntary quarantine, thinking two weeks or a month at home would be nothing but a dress rehearsal for our eventual retirement when we would be “just us two.”
Modern life offers couples plenty of opportunities to spend days and nights apart. Even the desk-bound jobs have annual conventions or congresses in other cities. Besides, most of our days are spent in separate offices. In more traditional households, women stay at home and men go out – but they are still apart most of the day. So when at a dinner party someone pops up the question, “who would you take on a desert island,” we all dutifully respond that it is our spouse, but none of us expect/wish/imagine that this would actually happen and we would have to bear each other full time.
Coronavirus, however, took us on this proverbial island. Most of us stay home now, between four walls, with only their spouse (some unfortunate ones with a few children) to talk, work, fight and flirt with. 24 on seven. No means to escape to office, shopping or drinks with girls/boys.
Now deprived of the distance afforded to us by the oh-so-mobile 21st century, let’s simply look at the 19th century to provide a formula to be and still remain distant. Hence, here are my Downton Abbey rules, modeled after the 2010 TV series that passes in a sumptuous British chateau, that would enable families – and especially couples – to survive the lockdown with as little friction as possible.
1. Wake up separately and don’t nudge your spouse awake – it is not as if you are going anywhere. Shower and dress. Meet your spouse – when s/he eventually wakes up – in the “breakfast room” and suggest “taking coffee together.” If you have children, task them with preparing and cleaning up the breakfast table if they want to have breakfast.
2. Around ten, “retire to the study” saying you’ll be out around noon for “luncheon” or a “picnic lunch” or that you’ll work throughout the day. Suggest s/he enjoy some physical exercise, ie. clean the balcony, organize bookshelves, iron. Remember: whoever comes up first with a legitimate excuse to work skirts actual work around the apartment.
3. Do household chores separately. Nothing creates an argument like loading the dishwasher together or getting in each other’s way while attempting to sanitize the same spot. A good friend once said that she would never live together with her boyfriend because their respective definitions of “clean” were far too different. Particularly in those corona days where rules of sanitization and hygiene are variable, just do not add to tensions by “cleaning together.”
4. Enjoy separate afternoons, napping, working, reading or exercising. Or just pretend to work and watch “Blacklist” – all seven seasons of it. (Raymond Reddington proves to you that the less you know about a man, the better.) Some of my friends suggest joint yoga afternoons. Wild horses would not drag me to it but everyone to their own way of recreation and togetherness.
5. Reinstate the cocktail hour. Emerge from what you are doing, put on lipstick/shave/comb your hair and take out your best champagne glasses. If you do not want to consume alcohol every day –use mocktail or good, fragrant tea in porcelain cups. Use the best stuff you have – it is uplifting, and God knows you need the aesthetic thrills now. If you have a garden/terrace/balcony, take drinks “outside.”
6.E-meet friends. Just as you would go out to dinner, organize face-time pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks. WhatsApp and zoom are great, but the rule is the same as an actual dinner party. It should be small and intimate enough to have a good conversation among all participants. My ideal number is three – at most four – windows open on the same screen. Never, ever underestimate virtual iftars – get the family on a screen where thankfully you cannot speak all at the same time.
7. Eat light -but have an entree and a main dish so there would be some movement around the table. If you are a good cook, yes, try a few new recipes. If you are not, please do not use this moment to experiment – life is tense as it is, without having to smile through a meal that would sabotage your insides.
8. Do not try to go to bed at the same time, unless you are planning to have sex. In the privacy-stripped world of quarantine, one spouse’s sleep is the other’s precious private time. If the quarantine continues any longer, I will consider setting my alarm to three in the morning, so I can be alone a bit more.
Stay healthy… and sane.