In late March 2020, when the first lockdown was announced in India, my boyfriend turned to look at my terrified face and calmly said, “We’ll be fine.”
I love him to bits. On most days, hearing him say this immediately puts my ever-anxious mind at ease. But, on some days, like the day we were being ordered to stay confined within our homes for god-knows-how-long because the world was being ravaged by a pandemic, it gets hard to have faith in his words of comfort.
It had been just a handful of months since we had moved in together. We hadn’t even gotten through that polite, short-lived period where couples get to pretend that they are “chilled people to live with” before slowly discovering each other’s pet peeves, dirty laundry, and pet peeves about dirty laundry.
And yet, all things considered, the fact that we were staring down months-long lockdowns within our first year of living together was quite on-brand for us. Timing had never really been our strong suit.
We’d been best friends in school, and when romance had first made a coy appearance, neither one of us had mustered enough courage to talk about it. Years later, when we finally did, we were headed to universities that were continents apart. It then took five years of long-distance dating, moving back in with parents, multiple job changes, and a teary reunion for us to even entertain the idea of ever being able to coexist in the same geographical location again.
For years, the tragedy of our relationship had been that there was too much distance between us; now, there wasn’t going to be any. How on earth were we possibly going to be ‘fine’?
Sure enough, within days, we had started feeling the cramp of our closed quarters as we were forced to become unwitting co-workers. There were no desks, no office spaces in our new home, just a small bed. My writer brain needed space and silence. His engineer brain needed activity and stimulation. There were squabbles, exchanges of annoyed looks, and frequent, loud, exasperated sighs from both sides.
But we both also understood that if we were to make it through a lockdown together, we were going to have to work with, not against, each other. It was true that our work-sleep-space situation left a lot to be desired. But it was also true that rent was going to be due, the bills were going to need paying, and at any point, either one of us could lose the job we were lucky enough to still have during an economy-upending pandemic.
So we took the route of the clichéd buddy-cop trope: we aired our differences, set them aside, and decided it was time to become real ‘partners’.
This meant that whenever one of us would notice how emotionally exhausted the other was at work, we would take a quick break to sneak in a game of cards or Battleship. One would do a goofy dance as the other tried to keep a straight face during one of those endless, pointless Zoom meetings.
It also meant that instead of letting our distinct work personalities put us at odds with each other, we used them to show the other what they were missing out on. He showed me the most efficient way of organising my workflow. I offered him my writing services to phrase his strongly-worded work emails, free of charge.
But most important of all, I finally, truly got a chance to understand what my boyfriend of six years does for a living. It’s one thing to have your partner tell you about their day. It’s a whole other thing to be able to become so intimately familiar with their work and their routines, to empathise with their daily challenges, to rejoice in their smallest wins, and to appreciate their relentless passion and enthusiasm for the professional world in which they live. It’s like discovering a whole new person inside the person you’ve loved for years.
If figuring out the chaos of workdays was important, preserving the charm of weekends was a non-negotiable priority. It was the one thing on which both of us agreed from day one. We were absolutely not going to allow our weekdays to invade the territory of our weekends, and even though it would have been nice to have some alcohol to help us along, we weren’t going down without a fight.
Every single Saturday and Sunday during the lockdown, you could find us pushing new limits of our desperate resourcefulness as we made the most of whatever ‘fun’ we had at our disposal. We gathered up our boring, staple groceries to try out new recipes and mess around with old ones. We welcomed home a giant crate of local mangoes. We dusted off long-forgotten musical instruments and uncovered old hobby kits. We crossed a huge milestone of trust when I let him colour and cut my hair. We celebrated our anniversary by dimming the lights, playing our favourite songs, singing ourselves hoarse, and doing silly little jigs in the cramped comfort of our work-sleep-space.
But even as our silly stunts and the weird penchant for celebrating weekends did their bit in keeping up our spirits, there were moments, and sometimes entire days, when neither one of us could escape the gravity of the ordeal the world was going through. Calls with family and friends would reveal stories of loss, grief, and loneliness. Going through the news together would remind us of how fragile life had become and how easy it was to lose the people you love – your entire world – in a matter of days.
In these moments, on these days, we would grip each other a little tighter. When I suddenly experienced what was to be the worst panic attack of my life, it was the feel of his hand in mine and his soft, “You’re okay,” that helped me find my way back. And despite our many housebound adventures, my favourite weekends ended up being the ones where we would just pick up our books, head to the balcony, and read together in companionable silence. Now and again, one of us would look up at the other, smile, and feel a giddy rush of gratitude.
When we had first moved in, it was because all that long-distance had made us desperately want to spend more time with each other. But I had been terrified of the lockdown because it was going to mean that spending time together was now going to be a necessity, not a choice. I feared it was going to drive us up the wall, lay bare all our flaws, and trap us in. It did.
But I hadn’t counted on the fact that I was trapped in with someone who can crack me up on my darkest days. Someone who finds joy in the same silly things in life that I do and will contentedly spend his days with me reading together in silence. Someone with whom I can not only imagine spending a lifetime, but more importantly, survive another goddamn lockdown together.
And maybe that is why I love my boyfriend to bits. He is (annoyingly) right about one thing – we’ll be just fine.