To think it all started with an argument about soap.
It was Sunday night. My fiancé, Tom,* and I were halfway through dinner when, suddenly, it was all too much, and I found myself yelling. He’d bought the wrong type of dish soap. Again!
“You know this one makes my hands itch,” I yelled.
He looked up at me mid-bite but didn’t say a word. For some reason this was even more infuriating, so I kept going. And suddenly, it wasn’t about soap anymore. Every single trivial injustice in our relationship was rapidly pouring out of me like a waterfall and I couldn’t stop.
“Your sister is obnoxious, and you never defend me when she makes her snide comments!” I shouted, pushing my plate away with a little more force than intended.
I guess I finally hit a nerve because then he started yelling too.
Our dinner lay forgotten as our screaming match moved into the living room. Leaning against shelves we’d bought together, his face flushed, he pointed out I never went to any of his office gatherings.
“That’s a ridiculous thing to be upset about!” I yelled back.
“You’re just selfish,” he said, angrily.
As years of grievances and anger poured out all at once, I barely recognized the man standing in front of me. And, honestly, I no longer knew who I was in the relationship either.
We both grew up in houses where our parents were constantly at each other’s throats, so it always felt like an accomplishment that Tom and I literally never fought. To me, this was the definition of a “perfect” relationship. But I never considered how much pent up anger that meant for the both of us.
What started as an argument about soap ended with me grabbing the Merlot off the counter and him whispering, “This is over.” I left the ring on the counter in place of the Merlot. I was done too.
If it wasn’t for the lockdown, I would have left that night to sleep at a friend’s place. And, if not forced to cohabitate in the days following the fight, it’s very likely we never would have had the conversations that ultimately saved our relationship and reintroduced me to the man I love.
The next couple of days we lived in chilly silence. We were both too prideful to try and make amends and, if I’m being honest, a little relieved that the engagement was broken. We had been running on autopilot, too afraid or too comfortable to let go of something so familiar.
Life had given us a jump-ship option and we were both all too willing to take it.
But when you go days living with someone and not having a single conversation, the silence can start to drive you a little insane. I was desperate for a conversation, any conversation.
Hell, I would have had an enthusiastic debate about football at that point. Still, I was too proud to be the first to break the silence. It would have been like admitting defeat.
So then one evening when Tom sighed and asked, “Weren’t we happy?” Boy was I relived to have a conversation with another human being.
“No… we cannot be what happy looks like,” I said. “we’ve just gotten good at playing our role as the happy couple. We taught ourselves to be content with pretences.”
I’d never said that out loud before. I hadn’t even had the words to describe it up until that moment. At first, he tried to disagree. But as we kept talking, the reality of our situation was too obvious to ignore.
We talked about how we fell madly in love when we were only 17. At that age, I was so willing to throw my entire being into a whirlwind romance. The possibilities seemed endless — I felt like I could conquer the world.
We talked about all the sacrifices we’d made so young and so early into our relationship. After high school, I was accepted into an ivy league school and so Tom gave up his dream college to be closer to me.
I paid him back by moving to another country for his job, rejecting amazing job offers along the way. I told him how this sacrifice took a serious toll. The truth was, some part of me blamed him for all the missed opportunities.
It became clear we’d both been hanging onto the resentment of having given up so much for the other. And the lack of communication around our respective resentment allowed it to burn a hole in our love.
Tom pointed out multiple times in our talk that I have a habit of obsessively controlling things. I agreed that I needed to believe our relationship was perfect to feel in control.
It was scary to acknowledge the hurt I’d caused him and the state our relationship was really in, but having it all out in the open made me feel lighter.
After years of thinking I was being too sensitive, here was Tom telling me he got it. He felt it too.
It hit me this was the first heartfelt conversation we’d had about our relationship. For the first time in a long time, it felt like we really heard each other.
That night I went to bed excited about us for the first time since forever. It felt like the nervous jitters of someone waiting for a second date. And we kept talking, being open and honest, the next day and the day after, and even more after that.
It was like every day I’d learn something new about Tom. Some of the knowledge felt ridiculous to not have known. A week earlier, I’d been ready to marry this man and here I was, finding out for the first time, that Tom spoke to my mother every morning before work.
For reasons I won’t get into here, the woman hated him. Because of this, she and I had been on bad terms for a long time. He’d been calling her in hopes that if he could get my mom to like him, there may be a way for me and her to salvage our relationship.
If there was a way to measure love, Tom calling my mom every single day for a year would be recorded as off the charts. I was overwhelmed with appreciation that someone would put themselves through talking to my mother for me. (I try to avoid conversations with her as much as possible.)
If I had to pick a particular point during self-isolation in which I knew Tom was committed to our future and ending the engagement was a bad idea, this would be it.
Pre-pandemic, it was easy for me to dismiss the effort Tom put in simply because I wasn’t there to see it. Staying home together all day everyday has made that impossible to ignore.
In the days since, I’ve noticed that our newfound communication didn’t only teach us new things about ourselves, it’s even changed the way we care for one another.
One morning, close to 2 weeks into self-quarantine I woke to find fuzzy slippers by my bed. I suffer from chronic pains that leave my joints stiff in the mornings. Putting my aching feet on the cold tiled floors has to be one of the worst sensations on the planet.
The fact he remembered to put my slippers by the bed meant everything. It was such a small gesture, but I cried. That night we watched Harry Potter into the early morning.
If it weren’t for staying at home, we wouldn’t have been forced to get vulnerable and openly communicate, which ultimately led us to meet the people we’d grew into and uncover such raw aspects of our identities.
The pandemic has meant a lot of horrible things, but I’m sort of grateful for it. I would never have met my fiancé without it.
*My fiancé’s name has been changed out of respect for his privacy.
Zee Praise is a content strategist and writer who focuses on self-help, lifestyle and entrepreneurship pieces. You can connect with her on Twitter or Facebook and read some of her work over at Medium.