The Coronavirus crisis is not only one of the biggest tests of people’s physical strength but also one of relationship strength, marriage and love.
I wished I could have brought Coronavirus to court.
It was a week day in late February when my husband stopped going to the office for a while. He coughed. Those were the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic in America.
By the time he got better two weeks later, remote working became a must. Being a software engineer who used to a few screens at work, this new reality meant he needed a desk, for I had already claimed my own territory at our dining table for three years now since I became my own boss.
“Let’s buy a desk. I’ll let you decide whether you want to sit at this table or the new one,” he said. I said yes but, in my mind, the new desk was not a priority. Days passed by and I actually didn’t even remember about it. At the same time, the multiple items in my to-do list were begging me, “Me! Me! I am more urgent and more important!”
Well, my husband searched for the desk on Wayfair by himself.
“Hey, I have spent half an hour on this site and gathered a few options. Can you please finalize one? Should be a minute only.” I felt a bit annoyed as I was focusing on a critical project. “You can just sit here,” I thought. However, it was this lack of synchrony between our priorities that caused us conflicts before, so I snapped at my to-do list, “Hey can you stop nagging at me? This is now my priority. Indeed, saving my husband’s resentment and a potential cold war is my priority, not so much the desk.” This, I had learnt through hard lessons. Else, the desk would never make its way to my priority list anyway.
I looked through the options he pulled together but unfortunately, none appealed to me. “Let me do some research,” I said. I then spent one minute — multiplied by 60 — on the site and shortlisted a few ones.
“Hey, I’ve got a few really nice ones.”
He peered at my screen, wrinkling his forehead and made a firm statement, “I am not going to spend over USD 200 for just a desk.”
I disagreed, “Well, to me, a desk is not just a workstation but it’s a piece of furniture and it has to add some beauty to the house.” Honestly, this is where we have had a big opinion gap. Before, I had already resented him for buying a wardrobe at a discount compared with another that was in sync with the other furniture in our place. This discounted one after a few years now has its outer layer torn off and looks uglier than before. And since it’s at the entrance of our bathroom, I am reminded about that purchase every day.
“But I am not going to spend that much money on a desk,” he reinstated.
I breathed. I was aware if I spoke anything at that moment, I would be reactive and it wouldn’t lead us anywhere. Well, actually somewhere that ever regretted.
I breathed again.
Then I went to the kitchen and prepared lunch. Breathe and wash. Breathe and cut. Breathe and marinate. I was still mad. The oxygen inhaled was not enough yet to rescue my emotion brain. “This is very disempowering. If you have more say in spending, then I will get back to a full-time corporate job and I will be able to buy whatever I want! I want to be equal!” A little voice in my head said, as if I was talking to my husband.
For a moment, I realized that voice. So. I. Breathe. Breathe. And. Breathe.
Big emotions and negativity bias no longer ran the show. My logic brain was back in full power.
Indeed, even if I have lots of money, should I lavish myself? No. I have to spend wisely too. And my husband indeed never puts any restrictions on me. He even encouraged me to make decisions without having to ask him. No other husband could support a wife in her career so much as he does. The reason why my business is doing well is greatly thanks to him for being a tireless cheerleader and total believer. This incident actually distorted the whole picture. These thoughts in my head moved from behind the screen to the front stage. Then their good friends joined them telling me to find a solution that could meet both criteria of aesthetics and budget.
I told my husband who glued to his screen, maybe as a way of dampening down his own emotions, “Well, let me ask a friend. I know she could buy gorgeous furniture at great prices. They may be second hand but they look anew,” I said, my voice like a calm stream of water.
He didn’t say anything and I took it as agreement.
The moment I said it, I remembered an option of a really good-looking and high-quality desk that was priced slightly over USD 200 from my list, after over 50% of discount.
I came and showed him. He also realized that with the amount we would pay, the desk was of great value. He liked it and handled the rest while I was back to the kitchen and brought food to the table. The shrimp and avocado salad had never tasted better.
As the desk topic was done, we talked about a house. We had been viewing houses to have some idea for future purchase. Having seen a number before, we had a quite clear idea of what we truly wanted in our home. One option came up in the market and I fell in love right away. It had everything we dreamed of: many big windows looking out lush trees and bushes, neutral theme with some style, a nice garden, wooden floor, etc.
“But it’s over our budget,” he said.
I thought the desk topic effect was over. In reality, it was not.
In my head, I thought we could borrow from the bank and he should look at our long-term earning meaning in 2 years, my business would catch up with my full time job in terms of income while I still enjoy flexibility and balance with truly fulfilling work. Also, if we buy a house that we don’t like, it’s not just about the house but about our happiness, energy and time. I heard times and again about couples buying houses in which they had to fix so many things for so long that they were exhausted, broke up or could never sell it again as it was a big mess. And if I was to trade my time, I would choose transforming lives over arguing about the toilet floor!
Anyway, we didn’t talk much.
The more I inhaled, the more I found myself detached from the conversation and soon I felt like I was looking at us as a third person.
“Well, I think it’s all about trade-off. We have visited houses and we clearly know what we must have.”
He didn’t say anything.
He looked at the house again and made a statement which was like music to my ears, “Let’s view it. I love it too!”
We contacted our agent who said we could have a view over the weekend. On Sunday, we all hopped on a rented car, feeling so excited. After driving for about 45 minutes, our agent called and said, “I am so sorry. The landlord’s agent had just told me they no longer allowed viewing due to the Coronavirus situation. They said they have a baby and they just want to be safe. I told them that’s understandable but they should have informed us earlier. I have tried my best.”
If only he would have agreed with me earlier, I thought.
We still drove on as we were only 15 minutes away from that house just to see it from the outside at least. As he drove, I took deep inhales and exhales.
Parking the car on one side, we got off and peeked over the courtyard. I was imagining my children play and giggle around the slide and myself read a book under the shade while my husband is making a treehouse one summer day when a woman was craning her neck over to talk to me, her voice a loudspeaker.
“They are really nice couples with 5-year-old twins. The house is very clean,” she shared.
“Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate it!” I said, while in my mind, I took a mental note, “New concept: being 5 years old is a baby.”
“I was in your shoes half a year ago. This is my house,” she added and pointed at one across the street with a warm smile.
I thanked her again and we left for a park nearby.
The honeyed sunlight generously sprinkled all over the grassy land and its neighborhood. Sparrows were joyfully chirping and dancing on bare tree branches boasting tiny green buds. Kids were running, jumping and sliding. We had some snacks, raced against each other, played a so-called “island” game and laughed out loud till our stomachs twisted.
I decided not to bring Coronavirus to court for creating the need of a desk that led to our tension and for putting the house view on hold that may have us stonewall each other for a while. Letting sun rays pour on my face, I thanked the virus instead for bringing up our “underlying” relationship conditions so I learn to choose understanding over resentment more. “Just remember to take deep breaths”, I heard it whisper in my ears through the songs of the birds.
We left the neighborhood without a view of the house, but with a full buckle of love.
Back home, my husband was asking for some disinfectant spray to clean up the car. He must have thought I stocked up some in the house, but I didn’t.
I thought he did…