I woke up on day one of official work-from-home quarantine full of optimistic hope. I stretched, got out of bed and walked into the kitchen ready to make coffee and take on the day. That was where my optimism ended. The previous evening, after I had made dinner, my partner had said he would clean the kitchen while I went to bed. What he should have said was “I’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher and forget to wipe the counters so in the morning you’ll see 12-hour old food sticking to the counter”.
I considered my options. It had not been above me to take photos of the scene so that I could provide evidence when I “calmly” brought it up with him later. It was also not past me to give the cold shoulder when he woke up because how many times have I told him how important clean counters are to me? I probably would have done one of these options except for then a third thought hit me. We were stuck inside together. All day. And the day after that and the day after that…for the foreseeable future. Was it possible that the best thing to do, not only for my relationship but my general happiness, was to….be nice?
The day before I had been chatting with friends that being stuck inside with our respective partners would be the true test of our relationships. Was it also possible that this also could be the best thing that could happen to our relationships? Could the mere fact of removing the option of “arguing and dashing” make room for remembering the peace-keeping lessons we learned when we were younger: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, “Treat others how you want to be treated” and sometimes the simplest of all “silence is golden”.
When my partner did wake up a few minutes later I went over and kissed him.
“Thank you for cleaning up,” I said earnestly, without even a hint of sarcasm. “Juuuust a friendly reminder to wipe counters in the future,” I cooed, not one bit of bitterness in my voice.
“Sorry,” he replied softly. “Did I forget?”
In the past, he had explained to me time and time again that if I just said things in a nice way, in a playful way, he would be more receptive. My “cold shoulder” attitude when I was displeased didn’t work for him. But we, like many other couples, were sometimes our own worst enemies — following the same patterns over and over, making it impossible for us to get out of our own ways. Could slowing down our time together give us the space to think about how we could be more forgiving, more sympathetic, more kind?
The fast pace of life we live is reflected in everything that we do. The need to constantly be moving on to the next thing, stressed out by how much we’re missing even when we are already on the go, can leave little time for reflection. The quick ways in which we move, speak and act can affect the way in which we react to situations — our reactions can be brash and without thought. Having the gift of slowness allows us to reflect on what we say and how we say it, and grants us the literal time to ponder — is there a better way?
For those of us worried about the strain that too much time together might put on our relationship, I’m with you. But maybe once we rid ourselves of the anxiety of a fast paced life, we can see that life doesn’t have to be fast to be full and our interactions with others can be compassionate above all else. Maybe you talk loudly on the phone, maybe my arm gestures have a habit of knocking things off the table, maybe you leave old socks on the couch, maybe I leave hair in the sink. But will those things matter in an hour, tomorrow, in a year? Probably not. So sit back, relax into your new at-home rhythm, maybe dance together around your kitchen to Elton John, and remember: kindness is key.