As many politicians push to reopen their states, a dangerous miscalculation that puts profits over people’s lives, millions of Americans remain stuck at home, sheltering in place in the hopes of stalling the coronavirus pandemic as much as humanly possible. It’s a life-saving public health measure, one that anyone who’s paying attention to the non-Fox News news right now understands will play a key role in lowering the rates of infection and death and keep hospitals from getting too overwhelmed.
That said, as important as staying home and social distancing from everyone except the people we already live with might be, such unprecedented isolation has proved maddening for many, shrinking the scope of the worlds they inhabit while amplifying what might normally be minor squabbles into full-on interpersonal warfare. Couples across the country are now coming apart at the seams over irritating habits they can no longer overlook now that they have to spend 24 hours a day with their partners. Others in relationships are discovering new, low stakes but still baffling habits that their partners partake in, ones they’d never noticed until they were forced to spend all day people-watching the love of their life.
Will a bunch of people break up over putting the toilet paper on the roll, wrong side up? How many boyfriends and girlfriends shall be torn asunder over a tying a knot to seal up the bread bag instead of using that little twisty tie thing it comes with? VICE spoke with 10 people living with their partners about the petty annoyances they’re dealing with in their relationship on top of a global pandemic.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Some names have been omitted or changed for reasons of privacy. All photos are courtesy of their subjects.
Kelly, 31, New York
My husband, who is unfortunately out of work, has been using this time to learn calculus online. That’s great! I admire that he’s not lying around drinking beer and watching Seinfeld, which is what I’ve been doing. But when he’s really focused, he spins his pen in his hand then drops it on the table at irregular intervals. It is driving me up the fucking wall! A couple days ago, I told him that if he did it one more time we were headed for divorce, which was very rude, but I was completely unable to help it.
Deidre, 31, Australia
My boyfriend eats almonds by slowly nibbling on the end of one, then shoving it gently into the side of his cheek until his face is bursting with them like a cartoon squirrel. I hate it! I hate him! It’s driving me insane.
Molly, 32, Maine
The tweeting is really out of hand. My boyfriend, Nick, has always been a very stoic, cool, not online person, but now, the second we had to spend all of our time together, he got a Twitter account, and now spends 90 percent of his time tweeting and laughing into his phone. It also sucks because I’m a journalist, so I have to be on Twitter as part of my job, but he is apparently much better at tweeting. It’s infuriating!
He also makes up songs about our dog, Bukka, and sometimes the songs are really bad. You know that Rage Against the Machine song, “Killing in the Name”? He does that one but like, “buck Bukka Bukka Bukka buck Bukka Bukka Bukka…”
But the keyboard’s the big thing. You know that tweet that’s like, “every woman working from home is doing so on a MacBook Air on the couch, cup of tea. every man is at a 3-monitor setup with the loudest keyboard he could find at best buy”? That’s basically what it’s like. I’ll be on my laptop trying to think deep, important thoughts for my job, and he’s just like, CLAK CLAK CLAK CLAK CLAK. He has this, like, big, “Fuck off!” gaming computer with one of those huge keyboards like he’s a 15-year-old in his parents’ basement. It’s like he’s attempting the moon landing every time he sends an email.
He’s looking at me right now. I don’t think he’s very happy.
Nick, 31, Maine [Molly’s boyfriend, grabbing the phone]
Molly is really grumpy all the time. I’ll be like, “Hey, Molly, want me to make you a nice lunch?” And she’ll be like, “Unghh, what’s lunch?!” It’s a pain in the ass!
Kyle, 29, New York
With my boyfriend, I have the best communication I’ve ever had in a relationship by far.
But his vaping.
He’s been vaping the whole time we’ve been dating, so it’s not like it bothers me that he does it. But I didn’t notice how much he actually vapes on a day to day basis until we were on top of each other every day. I’ll walk back into the bedroom after he’s been in there working, and it’s like a fucking cigar shop in there. So smokey! I don’t want to be walking into that!
I know it’s a stressful time, so it makes me feel like I’m trying to take away his favorite stuffed animal security blanket by complaining about it. But we’re also in the middle of a pandemic that affects how you breathe. It’s probably better to stay away from something that would, you know, affect your ability to breathe? Ugh, it gives me anxiety. I worry about him.
Sean, 29, D.C.
My partner’s work voice is driving me crazy. I wouldn’t normally have to hear it very much, but now I am subjected to it constantly. It’s butcher than his normal voice and folksier and all around makes me want to put pencils in my ear. We are gay. He works for a big corporation, and I work for a lefty nonprofit, so it’s kind of unfair for me to take issue with it. I mean, code-switching works! But lord, listening to him drop his G’s and masc up his voice for these calls is excruciating.
Daniel, 29, Pennsylvania
Sometimes, it feels like I’m in some sort of Truman Show reboot where my partner was cast specifically to make me go slowly insane.
I’m trying to remember to laugh at myself whenever I notice that deranged, paranoid thinking sneaking into our otherwise healthy relationship, but it was honestly shocking to discover that my boyfriend thinks plastic bags are recyclable. Like, why are there a dozen plastic baggies stuffed around our wine bottles? What are they gonna do? Become smaller plastic baggies?! How did he go his whole life thinking this was OK?
We’ve been together for over two years, and I never noticed that before. Or that he stores knives in the drying rack pointing upwards. I know that I’m fully a monster in my own ways, but what kind of monster does that? What did I do to be so personally and blatantly attacked?
Roy, 40, California
The big one is that he works 9 to 5 as a therapist on Zoom in the guest room and when he comes out at 5 he’s in such a great and chatty mood, but I’m still out here stewing, overthinking the pandemic, and I just resent him for polluting my precious solitude. He doesn’t clean up his cat’s vomit with enough expedience, and he never uses the toilet brush. I’ve told him all this directly to his face. No space for pulling punches!
Rich, 41, New York
Sheltering in place together has just kind of magnified the roles we already play in the relationship. We have kind of like a parent-child dynamic where, at its most fraught, I take on the role of the disapproving father and he’s the rebellious teenager.
The vast majority of the time we have harmony, except for the YouTube conspiracy theory documentaries. I never realized he was into those? I mentioned it the other day, and he told me he just thinks it’s hilarious to hear people talk about aliens and chemtrails and stuff. That was a relief. If he were legitimately a pizzagate believer, I would question whether we should continue being together when quarantine is up.
He’s also really bad at brushing the cat. When he does it, he does it way too delicately. He’ll brush the cat, and, like, only a couple tiny little strands of hair will come off. I’ll be like, “Gimme the brush,” and clumps will come out. It’s just his touch. He’s too gentle with the cat. Completely ineffective! Why bother?
James, 27, New York
I’m quarantined with my partner here in New York City, and we're for sure learning a lot about each other. One quirk I’ve noticed, though low stakes, is that their chewing is incredibly bothersome to me. I totally know it’s my thing to get over, but still a quirk nonetheless. Another thing would be how they love to make themself tea or coffee and then drink a quarter of the cup. Ninety percent of the time, that’s all they drink, and then they let the cup just sit there.
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