Notes On A Marriage In A Pandemic

How does a relationship survive when it has no place to go?

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There is a nationwide shortage of Grape-Nuts and I’m positive that this will save my marriage. Let me explain. My husband loves Grape-Nuts. And I fear that if I hear him eat Grape-Nuts one more time — that unmistakable crunch, like someone stepping on crinkled paper, the clinking of his spoon in the bowl, getting out the last few, godforsaken Nuts — I will be forced to murder him in his sleep.

For a couple under some duress, we’ve done well this year. We’re raising two small children while both working from home. It’s a two-bedroom apartment; everyone is always just… there. We are tolerant of each other’s Zoom schedules and taking over parenting duties when the other is too busy. My husband cleans more than I do but I organize our lives more. We eat dinner together every night and while there’s not much left to say, there’s still the occasional funny work or kid story that the other hasn’t overheard in the background. We don’t see anyone else. Like, anyone. And we haven’t yet killed each other.

Yet. The other day I was listening to a New York Times podcast in which the writer Sam Anderson talked about how spending time with endangered rhinos had made him appreciate the little things in life, like having coffee every morning with his wife. You might think: How lovely! All I could think was: But the slurping. The slurping. Does his wife not slurp? My husband slurps his coffee. Every morning I ask him not to. And every morning he says, "The coffee is hot, I have to sip it like this,” and then he wanders off into the bedroom to do a Zoom. My coffee is also hot. I do not slurp my coffee.

Grape-Nuts are the new toilet paper. And I’m here for it. I’m willing to bet there are thousands of spouses around the country celebrating with me.

Before you start to think that I am certifiable, know that I am. I have that disorder, misophonia, in which the sounds of loud chewing, or slurping, or other — ew — mouth noises, trigger an outsize physiological response, like increased heart rate and sweating. According to research, it is an actual brain abnormality, probably not my only one, but certainly the one that causes the most tension in close relationships. When I was a kid I would get so aggrieved that I’d eat alone in another room during dinner; my brother and sister liked to torture me by purposefully smacking and chomping. Into adulthood, I’ve mostly outgrown this phobia. By necessity, but also because I choose to surround myself with people whose chewing I can stand. That used to be my husband! He has wonderful manners — he is British! I did this by design.

Reading the news that Grape-Nuts, his favorite cereal, the loudest cereal on Earth®, was plagued by shortages due to “supply chain constraints and higher-demand … amid the pandemic,” made me inordinately happy. About a month ago, he’d special-ordered two gigantic boxes from Amazon, each roughly the weight of our 3-year-old son, because he couldn’t find any in our local supermarket. Apparently Grape-Nuts are a quarantine comfort food for many. Now those weirdo fans will either have to buy boxes on the black market or pay jacked-up prices on Prime and wait months for delivery. Grape-Nuts are the new toilet paper. And I’m here for it. I’m willing to bet there are thousands of spouses around the country celebrating with me.

These are things I’m working on. Why do I have to work on them? Why can’t I just do them? I do not know.

I’m sure — I’m sure — I do many things that make my husband want to kill me. You cannot exist and parent together in such a small space, 24/7, without getting on each other’s nerves. I do not close caps of bottles tightly, and I’m positive this bothers my husband, as I’ve heard him cursing about it as he yet again spills seltzer all over the kitchen floor. When I asked him, in the name of research, what I do that annoys him, he said, dryly, “You threaten to murder me for chewing, but if you actually did, you’d leave my body on the floor until someone picks up after you.” These are things I’m working on. Why do I have to work on them? Why can’t I just do them? I do not know. The same goes for his chewing. Why can’t he just be quieter? The other day he said to me, “I’m just a person! I am eating! Leave me be.”

I need to leave him be. We used to be able to say, “Goodbye! See you later!” when the other was at his or her breaking point. Go run some errands, have dinner with a friend, escape to the office. But I can’t. I’m stuck in this f-ing apartment with him all day. And I have a brain disorder.

My parents, aged 70 and 71, have been married for 43 years, and have been quarantining together like everyone else. Every FaceTime conversation with them begins the same way.

Barbara: Hi, Emma! [To my dad, offscreen] Scott, stop speaking to me, I’m on the phone with Emma.

Scott: Barbara, I’m talking.

Barbara: I know, I’m telling you to stop. I’m talking to someone else. I’m talking to Emma!

Scott: I know, I’m talking to her, too!

And on. And on. My mom made a dark joke the other day — now that they’d both received the vaccine they’d live longer, she said, but that comes with the double-edged sword of having to spend even more time with my dad. (He laughed.)

We all find ways to cope. Some people, like my husband, swallow their irritation until their partners ask them — in the name of research — to talk about it. Personally, I choose to find joy in the national shortage of a cereal. My husband has half a box left and I will cheer every time he finishes a bowl. By the time he’s able to buy more, I’m hopeful our lockdown will have ended. I love him. He will not die by my hand. And I will love him more when we can leave the house.