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Here’s the least surprising thing I’ve read in recent memory: In March, as China started to emerge from its coronavirus lockdown measures, divorce rates skyrocketed.
I’m not sure I’ve understood anything more, considering that as I type this, my 42-year-old husband trots into the bedroom where I am trying to work, throws his laundry on the bed, where I am working, and whines loudly about having to fold his clothes, like a child. (He doesn’t even fold the clothes properly; he just rolls everything up as if he’s in the army, which he’s definitely not because something tells me that an adult man having a mental breakdown about not being able to get a haircut for four weeks likely wouldn’t survive in a war.)
For anyone married, or living long-term with their partner during this much-longer-than-originally-anticipated lockdown, a higher-than-normal divorce rate is hardly surprising. Being trapped with anyone — let alone the person you know best, which means when he clears his throat, you know that it’s on fucking purpose — is an unbelievable strain on a relationship, and only made worse by the stress of this particular situation.
Even though my husband and I are healthy and employed and largely very fortunate, we’re still struggling to not pick at each other over things that absolutely do not matter.
It’s interesting how the constant, crippling fear that you or someone you love will fall ill from a virus that we don’t yet have a vaccine for while also worrying about the country’s dizzying lack of medical resources, record unemployment, and a president who seems to think arthritis medicine will cure this disease could maybe push a marriage to its brink. Even though my husband and I are healthy and employed and largely very fortunate, we’re still struggling to not pick at each other every day over things that absolutely do not matter. That said, if he leaves his hair goop out on the counter one more time, I will strangle him on a livestream so everyone can watch. Why is he even doing his hair anyway?? No one can see him other than me!!!!!!
Improbably, the thing that might actually rescue our relationship during this indefinite shelter-in-place order is our Nintendo Switch. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but he also initially didn’t want to get one because “you’re an adult, you don’t need a video game,” so who’s the fucking adult now, Scott? Give me all your golden nuggets!!!) After some cajoling from friends, I finally downloaded Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game that lets you build a world on a remote island where you’re allowed to be outside whenever you want. All I eat are peaches and coconuts, which is pretty decadent considering my real-world diet is mostly an instant ramen so spicy that it destroys my inside for three days. I’ve stitched together a colorful backpack made of “Bunny Day eggs” and live alone in a single room with a double bed, two vanities, a squat toilet (it fell out of a tree), an arcade, and a table made out of sand dollars. It’s like The Sims but even more wholesome: Nothing bad can ever really happen to you in Animal Crossing, and even though you’re perpetually in debt to a trio of raccoons, you’re never punished, you never die, and even getting bit by wasps only means you get new flooring for your house.
It’s petty of me to have started playing this game with the expressed purpose of getting away from my husband, but alas, I am a petty person. So when he started playing it too, I was irate: I bought this game for me and only me. As soon as he logged in, he landed on my island, started leaving garbage on the beach, got mad at me for not building Nook’s Cranny fast enough (give me your iron and I WILL), and kept bragging about making a straw shirt before I got the recipe to make the shirt myself. At least I nabbed the naming rights for the island we both live on: Butt Hole Island was supposed to be my private sanctuary, another place for me to silently resent his presence.
There are already plenty of helpful tips for how to keep your marriage from imploding as you share the same three rooms with the same person for yet another week, another month, with no clear end in sight. But I suppose the best advice I can give is you is to find little ways to offer kindness to each other, whatever that might look like in your little corner of the world.
I didn’t expect a video game where I dig up eggs and fish for tin cans would remind me of how much I love the person I chose to marry.
Though in person we swipe at each other like feral cats who need each other to survive, increasingly in the game, we’re romantic and gentle. One night, after a particularly hard Real World Day, I logged on to the game at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep. When my avatar exited her house, a gift was on her front stoop: It was a nail polish set. I can’t actually use it in real life, and this is a game where you don’t have any visible fingernails, but the gesture was enough to make me tear up.
There’s some comfort in being able to turn to your game-husband and see that he planted some new flowers around your house, instead of thinking too hard about your mortal-husband who got mad when Hulu stopped working for about 45 seconds and screamed, “Oh, so what, I just have to listen to my wife chew????” No court in America would have convicted me for his murder.
He often leaves me little virtual gifts in the mail or in front of my house — he made me a cherry blossom purse the other day that literally made me cry, and yes, I am still seeing my therapist, thanks for asking. Meanwhile, I send him supplies in the mail and leave him nice notes on the community bulletin board. It’s the only video game where we’re this sweet to each other; we’re both irrationally competitive in everything from Super Smash Bros to Mario Kart. But last week in Animal Crossing, I asked him if he would marry me again. He accepted, but only as long as he could “keep the fuck-pad,” which is what he’s calling his house in the game, and forget it, forget it, I don’t know why I asked.
I know I’m not my best right now. No one is. Two weeks ago, I woke up and my first thought was, Gen Z’s idea of vintage sunglasses will be the Oakleys my brother wore in 1999 even though he doesn’t ski. I haven’t recovered since. I’m easily annoyed and snippy and emotional. My parents are stuck in another country during the lockdown, the specters of both death and unemployment loom over us, and my husband and I are increasingly unsure about why we left Canada, a country that doesn’t have to argue about whether a COVID-19 test would cost you any money because of course it wouldn’t cost you any money. It’s hard to feel like I’m in anything other than survival mode, which means compassion, patience, and intimacy are in short supply. I didn’t expect a video game where I dig up eggs and fish for tin cans would remind me of how much I love the person I chose to marry. It’s there that I’m seeing anew how kind and selfless he can be. He even built me one of my two vanities in the game because he knows how much I like the real one he made for me when we moved in together years ago.
Never mind. He just put all his laundry away and left every drawer in our dresser open. There aren’t enough iron nuggets on the entirety of Butt Hole Island to make me forget this.
Nothing’s bound to improve all that much in the real world over the next few weeks, and every day, it gets harder and harder to stay upbeat in a dark world. But this little virtual world we’ve built is now a reminder that we’re not alone — in a good way. For now, it keeps us afloat, together. ●