My wife's laughter used to light up the room. Now it is a witch's cackle that haunts my dreams. In lockdown, it has become nails drawn down a blackboard. It puts my teeth on edge. Before our isolation, I never realised just how annoying she could be.
The main issue is the enforced office share. BC (before corona), we worked long hours, mainly apart. She travelled extensively, affording me the luxury of several nights a week on my own, in peace. Reunion was always fun and a chance to reconnect. My days are office-based and the office is my domain. Quarantine changed all that. Thankfully, we are no less busy and still work long days, but we share the same 10ft x 10ft space now, which she reconfigured, placing me at the back while she sits by the door.
Her days are a carnival of high-energy virtual meetings and phone calls. She is upbeat and positive, so each one is punctuated with witty anecdotes and laughter. At first, I chuckled too. But now I've heard the jokes a hundred times and instead of smiling, I simmer with bored resentment, imprisoned in my corner of the office, unable to pass and go to the toilet without appearing in shot. I read out loud to blank out the sound.
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The corona virus has chiselled schisms into our impenetrable marriage. Our lifestyles, interests and tastes are largely the same, but differ slightly and those differences, which we formerly celebrated, have become festering sores in lockdown.
We are both fit and enjoy exercise. In our BC lives we were members of the same gym, which we attended daily. In quarantine we do circuit training in the garden, often together. This involves a series of exercises using different pieces of equipment in a serious of timed rounds. The timing is set to her standards, not mine, and whereas normally I'd exercise to a playlist of aggressive metal, industrial techno and hip hop I now find myself pounding the punchbag to a soundtrack of uplifting female inspired power pop anthems. It feels somewhat uncomfortable doing roundhouse kicks when you're thinking of how much Heather Small's voice annoys you.
The divide spans across the home entertainment spectrum. This weekend we had a movie night. Our choices were car movie Ford v Ferrari, the whodunnit, Knives Out, or the chick flick, Judy. Everyone knows that the best unisex compromise would have been Knives Out, but my wife would not budge, and so we had to watch Judy. I loved it, but that is irrelevant. It is the principle that matters.
Then there is food and drink. I enjoy the occasional glass of wine. I make sure I have several non-drinking days a week and never overdo it. My wife hardly drinks at all. She never discourages me, but I can tell that she disapproves when I'm reaching for the third or fourth glass. To make lockdown more bearable, I ordered a range of drinks and mixers and a set of cocktail-making equipment, hoping that we could both enjoy a new interest. My efforts fell flat and while I have embraced this new hobby with gusto, my wife has been uninspired and sticks to her sparkling water, while I fib that the afternoon Negroni sipped in the garden in the sunshine is pomegranate juice.
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And despite the restrictions, she also still insists that every week we have a vegan day. As if quarantine is not joyless enough!
Of course, I realise that these are minor irritants which will not cause lasting damage to the marriage. We have also laughed a lot together and are honest with each other. We talk about the annoyances. Indeed, I was surprised recently when my wife freely admitted that before quarantine, she never realised how annoying the sound of my breathing was, and that now she resents my respiration. She made this confession loudly to the audience of a virtual conference she was hosting while I was sitting in the same room.