Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My long-time boyfriend and I live together. Thanks to COVID, I am working from home, and I am as busy as ever. It’s hard to get out of bed each morning but I’m making sure I’m getting my hours in and I’m pretty busy all day with conference calls and work.
Before COVID, my boyfriend was usually out of bed before me (my hours are more flexible) and went to work every morning on time, sometimes even staying a little late to stay on top of things.
My boyfriend was furloughed. He now sleeps in almost every day — I mean, a few hours later than me. He then spends nearly the entire day playing online video games. We barely talk because he’s always got the headset on. He’s eating more than he was and even though I try to just order healthy groceries, he’s ordering pizza and other unhealthy takeout and I swear he’s already put on a few pounds. He’s also drinking more than normal — nothing crazy, but noticeable.
I miss my hard-working, focused partner, but when I’ve tried to bring it up, and talk about this, he just gets defensive and shuts down. What can I do?
Give that man a job! And by that, I don’t mean make him go back to work. I mean, give him some work to do in your home.
Many of us draw self-identity from our jobs. Work helps us feel valuable and gives us a sense of purpose. For some, it runs even deeper. Think about professions like firefighting, or the military, or teaching, and how these disciplines instill their employees with specific values and ideals. Being part of a team with a mission works the same for all of us, allowing us to feel like a part of something, and framing our days with meaning.
Take that away and it’s normal to feel lost. Take it away amid a pandemic, and it feels even worse. In a time where we all feel helpless, layering uselessness and boredom on top of that is just plain debilitating.
Sit down with your dude and frame it like this: you’re so busy with work that it would be amazing if he could take on some heavy lifting at home. Charge him with meal-planning, grocery pick-ups and other essential errands. Give him a short list of home projects that he’s uniquely skilled to complete. Come up with some meaningful activities you can do together — like doing some online classes or workouts, making dinner together, or go old school and haul out some card games and puzzles. Basically, get him away from the virtual games and back into the real world, and help create some structure that will ground him there.
Well, he hasn’t made any cameo appearances in his tighty whities with a slice in one hand and a brewski in the other during your Zoom meetings with the team, right? Can’t be that dire.
I understand that you’re confused and adjusting to a world turned upside-down, like we all are. And that your man’s difficulties to accept his own new normal isn’t making it any easier for you to soldier on. But as much as you’re battling to keep it together, his struggles are probably deeper and more intense. On top of everything crazy going on, he’s also been dealt significant loss that would create a funk in the best of situations. The loss of his job and purpose, the loss of his routine and normalcy, and the loss of his connection to coworkers, friends and you, who can spend your hours focused on waking up, working, and so many things other than what's happening outside the safety of your home.
Is he doing well dealing with these losses? Not especially, as his mourning approach is total avoidance: slumping into video games; numbing his pain with a few midday cold ones; eating his emotions with delicious pizza.
While Wanda’s Epic Quarantine To Do List will certainly give him new ways to fill his days, it’s also important that you show some empathy and understanding before telling him to do his chores. Expressing how hard you’re working and how you’re dealing with it all while he isn’t even trying is not an acceptable icebreaker. Balance the conversation with compassion and concern for him, a reminder of how important it is that you both take care of one another so you get through this with your partnership and sanity intact, and a promise that you both will have him back and better than ever when it’s clear to jump back into the job market.