Welcome to Love Lockdown: a weekly column about how people are navigating romantic relationships in the time of coronavirus. This week, London-based freelance writer Coni tells Sadhbh O'Sullivan how her relationship with her paramedic fiancé Mike has been impacted.
"Mike and I have been together seven years and we're getting married next summer. On our first date, he was a bit lost and I was straight in with the big questions. I asked: 'What do you want to be?' He said he’d always been interested in being a paramedic and shortly after that he began researching and doing his training. I've been through that whole journey for him.
I used to work in business development and marketing and now I work for myself so whatever I've been doing, it's always been fairly trivial compared to him. He doesn't make me feel like that but [I’m always aware that] he's dealing with life and death on a day-to-day basis and I'm definitely not. Sometimes I feel bad about moaning if I've had a bad day and I know he's been up since 6am, working a 12/14 hour shift dealing with trauma. He's very good at making me not feel that way: he always gives me space to feel my feelings – I'm grateful for that.
One of the main reasons that I went freelance was so that I could work around his hours more. When I was working Monday to Friday, nine to five, there were weeks where we were ships in the night. Now, we can have our weekend midweek if we want to and spend that time together, and if he's working weekends then I might jump on and work too and fit around him. The biggest strain was finding time with other people: he only gets one weekend a month, two on a good month, so you end up trying to cram all this time [in with friends and family]. He misses birthdays and parties and I go to a lot of things on my own. It can be really tough.
I've always had a deep appreciation for what Mike does, that's only grown through this process.
The day that it got announced that lockdown was happening, we were at my mom's in the Midlands in central England. We had this big, quite dramatic conversation where he said: 'You should stay here with your mom, I want you to be safe, I'm worried about you.' We went back and forth for a couple of days and eventually I won and said: 'No, I'm coming back with you.' He has built up a resilience to things that many of us can't even imagine, even before this pandemic. That first weekend when we were at home, watching the news, we lost that perspective. But when he goes to work and he sees it and he understands it, then he can digest that and be quite calm around it. So when he got back to work, even though that was when he was physically at risk, it reduced anxiety for both of us. He's still seen a lot of scary things and seen people struggling with coronavirus, but it's not the same as watching a 24-hour stream of the worst things that are going on in the world.
I've completely stopped watching the news. After that first week [of daily government conferences], I felt like it was not bringing me any value. I pop on the BBC news website maybe once every other day just to see what's going on, [but Mike is] dealing with it all day, every day, so when he comes home we want to create a space separate from it all. We don't have the news on in the evening, that's not what our home is for now: he's seeing it with his own eyes. We're trying to have a cutoff point in the evening, when all laptops go away and we have a bit of screenless time.
The first week, Mike had a cough and we both had a cold so he wasn't allowed to come to work and he felt awful that he wasn't helping. He hasn't been tested and wasn't offered a test at that time. He was eager to get back to work and I was not eager for him to go but I could see that he wanted to be there. It was harder for him being sat at home, watching the news saying how short-staffed and overwhelmed places are and feeling powerless to help.
Now the pressure to see people and do everything is no longer there, we don't have any commitments and we're actually spending more time together. I even got to help him with this charity initiative he started. For PPE to work you have to shave your beard off, so he's got a new moustache (which I'm not loving but I'm going to live with!) and he and all the paramedics that also have these new moustaches are raising money. They've raised £1,000 in a week for a charity that supports the mental health and wellbeing of ambulance staff and I helped him with copy and graphics. Not only is he doing an amazing job day to day, but then funnelling positivity into doing something further. I think people have now decided, 'Okay, how can we come away from this with some positive story?'
I don't feel he got much respect for what he did until now. While it's amazing to have this national outpouring of appreciation for the NHS, what about the rest of the time? This is a global pandemic but these people are doing this all day, every day. When you think about people that have been impacted by Brexit or wage cuts and they're not being paid what they deserve... I really hope that as a country, we remember this and things change moving forward: that those people are given the respect and that they deserve.
I've always had a deep appreciation for what Mike does, that's only grown through this process. It's given us both a bit more insight into each other's lives and given us some perspective. You don't need to go out for dinner three times a week and double-book with other parties to enjoy life, which is a nice lesson to learn. Despite everything that's going on, there's good things that come from it."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.