Confessions Of A Career Woman Trying To Survive Couples Quarantine
“How many of you find yourself bringing the best of you to work, and the leftovers home?”
When I first heard these words come out of Esther Perel’s mouth in her TED Talk, The secret to desire in a long-term relationship, my heart sank. It perfectly captured the reason behind many of my breakups. In my experience, it’s hard for strong, career-minded women to find love. We find comfort in control, independence and forward-planning, not the game of gratitude or give and take.
So, how lucky I am to have found my Mr Right. My partner James is kind, funny, and admires my grit. He doesn’t complain about coming second-best to my laptop most of the time. But he does have feelings and needs — and I sometimes forget this.
Travelling to the other side of the world and living together during a pandemic (while scrambling to keep my business alive at the same time) has certainly tested my patience. I’ve often thought it would be so much easier to be single… I could manage my time exactly how I wanted — coming up with new financial strategies, or checking my emails late at night without feeling guilty.
But determined not to leave James only with crumbs, I’ve made an effort to change my behavior. Here are a few things I’ve confronted in the past few weeks that other driven women might be able to relate to.
Even though James was ready for a change, he essentially tagged along with my plans to travel to America. This dynamic caused friction between us during lockdown because I often felt responsible when he was bored, unhappy or overwhelmed.
To be honest, I didn’t really want to deal with his emotions when my mind was elsewhere. “Oh, you should learn Spanish. Oh, you should call your friends back home. Oh, you should try that other running track,” I would say, to get myself some space. But my input didn’t always go down so well. He wasn’t a child — James was a mature adult, capable of making his own decisions.
Thankfully after a few arguments, he got into a groove doing his own thing, such as volunteering and an online coding course. Just because I wanted more time alone to think about work didn’t make it okay to push him into things that would make him go away.
Finding ways to be more present
I can’t remember the exact episode, but there’s an interview between Brené Brown and Tim Ferriss in which she explains how entrepreneurs struggle to maintain relationships because they’re too focused on the future.
This is very relevant to me. Being focused on building a business in the US means I’m always thinking about what’s next, rather than living in the moment. While traveling to America was my idea, James and I were on a journey together and I needed to appreciate that.
So I committed to switching off from work completely, and spending more quality time together. But the only way I could do that was asking for my own space during the day/week. I know time alone makes me a better person — and for this reason, I’m not afraid to ask to for it.
Being ok with who I am
As a woman that’s ambitious and outrageously organized, I can be very judgemental about how I spend my time, what I eat, and how often I exercise — just to name a few. For example, right now, I’m really feeling bleh and unfit. But over the last few weeks, I’ve realized I can’t give someone else love if I’m in a battle loving myself. Being down in the dumps makes me withdraw from James at a time we should be growing closer. So, I tell myself the gym will always be there when coronavirus is over (well, hopefully).
Laughing and winging it
COVID-19 is not funny. Neither is putting your life on hold and being cooped up in a one-bedroom bungalow under stressful conditions. The only way I’ve been able to maintain some kind of sanity is by forcing myself to get silly after work.
James and I like to dance to Anderson Paak in the living room, play board games, and get take-out two or three times per week. We don’t control what days of the week, though. A date night might seem like the only thing you can plan right now, but there’s no need for the pressure. I’ve found sometimes it’s better to go with the flow.
We’ve also tried to mix up recipes with what ingredients we can find near home. Check out an article I wrote for Virgin Active, Spice Up Your Life With New Pantry Staples.
I like to be in control. But in the last few weeks our plans have changed one million times. For instance, we’ve had 3 separate flights out of the country cancel on us (Air New Zealand, Norwegian Airlines and British Airways) in a matter of weeks.
I usually prefer to make decisions on my own, but having a partner in this wild ride has forced me to change. I’m starting to accept that it’s ok to give James the reins. COVID-19 has made me stressed, tired, anxious — all the things. By letting him research and make important life choices on our behalf, I get headspace for other stuff. It’s a challenge, but I should trust him.
Cancelling our wedding — but recognizing what’s really important
James and I were supposed to get married in a few weeks in Australia on May 30. But when social distancing became a thing, we received a notice from the Registry that our wedding would be postponed. We had to come to terms with the fact our travel plans were out the window, and promptly started cancelling venues, flights and accommodation organized for the big day.
This disappointment gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate what a marriage certificate really meant to us anyway. Yes, it’s an important document, but it doesn’t take away from what we have. A wedding could still happen in the future. We were just putting it on pause, not how we feel about each other.
Remembering life outside my bubble
I’ve made a special effort to stay in touch with friends and family over virtual happy hours and brunches. Hearing about other people’s experiences always give me perspective and gratitude, not to mention good vibes because you connect with others that care for you.
While being in lockdown with a significant other may be driving us crazy, it is what it is and I should be glad to be in a relationship during this challenging time. After all, if we can get through this, we can get through anything.
About the author: Natalie Khoo built her business in Australia off the back of the 2008 recession. Having made all the mistakes since day one, she’s passionate about sharing her learnings with other business owners on a similar journey. Natalie’s career highlights include taking a 3-month scuba diving vacation in 2019 and not checking her emails once. She travels between Melbourne, Australia, and Austin, Texas, with her partner James.