Two weeks before the pandemic began in Boston, my boyfriend and I moved in together. It was really just a formality at that point—I basically lived at his place—but it was an exciting next step in our relationship. On a chilly, brisk Saturday afternoon in February, we popped open a bottle of champagne, took a seat amongst the boxes, and talked about our plans.
Neither of us could have predicted then just how much time we’d spend in this duplex. We couldn’t believe we had scored this gem of an apartment—under-budget and far exceeding our expectations. We also couldn’t have imagined how many issues would bubble up.
We had fallen in love with the character and the charm of this South End gem, but it was ripping at its seams. First, the dishwasher gave out. Then the roof leaked. Then the sink, causing an unfortunate mold issue. Next, the mice came—a dozen or so—and we borrowed a friend’s cat to take the case. Then, on the first above-85 degree day in New England… our central air conditioning had its last hurrah.
Fast forward four very hot, very sticky, very humid weeks later, and the part to replace the unit has finally arrived. To say it’s been stressful dealing with contractors, battling nearly triple-digit heat inside, and bickering over whose turn it is to hand-wash the dishes, is a significant understatement. But oddly, it’s brought us closer together.
We’ve had to become a united team to figure out solutions. We’ve been left with no energy, and yet, find a way to laugh about the ridiculousness. We adore our home so much… but admit it is such a hot mess. (Literally.) Without ‘proper’ date nights or a vacation to look forward to, we’ve had to come up with ways to create romance inside of a home that sometimes feels like it’s crashing down around us.
So, on another scorching evening when it was too steamy to stay indoors, my boyfriend suggested we bring our living room to our patio. We put together our outdoor furniture, layered it with pillows and blankets. We carried the heavy TV outside and re-hooked up our Roku. We brought out a side table with a lamp. We connected everything through long extension chords—and prayer it wouldn’t rain. We filled up the cooler with ice and drinks, and he grilled us a steak dinner.
It—almost—felt like we were somewhere else entirely. Perhaps, even on getaway far away from these four walls.
During this period of history that’s ripe with anxiety, uncertainty, and for many, disappointment, prioritizing the magic of your partnership is even more critical. While we may not be able to fly away to an exotic island, use our passports, or stay at a hotel, there are ways to create sparks from your quarantine. Here, therapists share their best advice:
Before the spread of COVID-19, it was easy to have a spontaneous date night or a weekend getaway. Rough day at work? Meet for dinner at your go-to spot. Crazy-amazing flight deal? Book it and go! But now, duos must intentionally re-create the intimacy and connection found on a vacation within your home. Licensed clinical psychologist Jessica Waldron, PsyD, suggests thinking about the steps you take when planning a getaway and following them for your staycation. Typically, you will set a date, book flights and accommodations, plan your outfits, and book any necessary reservations. Waldron says to sit down, discuss what you would like to get out of the experience, and assign different tasks to each party. Maybe you want to camp in your backyard—who will figure out the lights? The tent? Or, if you feel safe booking an Airbnb, who will select the right one on a lake, beach or countryside?
Learn something new together
Dream about the past vacations you’ve been on together. Maybe you learned how to snorkel and explored unbelievable-looking corals under the sea. Or, you took a tequila-making class or hiked with a guide through a rainforest. These excursions increase our feelings of excitement and highlight different sides of our partner’s personality that we don’t see as often, according to Dr. Jeanna Pagnotta, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at the Williamsburg Therapy Group. It’s harder to get out of your rut and challenge yourself to try something new when you’re on lockdown. But, it can be done!
“Even if you are stuck at home with your partner, you can recreate these benefits by learning a new skill or picking up a new hobby,” she continues. “Not only will this break up the routine of quarantine life, but it can be a great way to create new memories and engage in quality time with your partner—all of which can enhance emotional and physical intimacy.”
Channel your vacation self
We all wear many hats every day: our career-self, our friend-self, our family-self, our partner-self, our alone-time self, and the list goes on. But, there’s one super-fun side of us that only comes out rarely—our vacation self. As licensed professional counselor Crystal Bradshaw explains, part of the beauty of traveling is seeing your partner through a new—and often rose-colored—light. Seeing them navigate a foreign city, go skinny dipping into the ocean, get boozy and stay up all night dancing—these all enhance our love. “Such experiences can highlight the fact we don’t know everything about our partner, that there remains more to discover about this person, and this can fuel the desire for our partners,” she adds.
Pre-pandemic, Bradshaw challenged couples to bring part of their vacation selves back home and incorporate those characteristics into their daily lives. The same is true now, even if we can’t go anywhere. “Our vacation selves embrace pleasure, are undistracted, not self-conscious, completely relaxed, focused on each other, not rushed, and immersed in the moment,” she explains.
Make a list of the qualities you have when you’re away from the daily grind, and figure out how to invite that part of yourself into your life more often.
Create a cultural themed night
You can’t cross the globe to visit Japan and eat your way through the busy, winding streets of Tokyo or temple-hop through Kyoto—but you can make sushi at home. You can’t jet-set to the shores of Italy to watch the sunset over a heaping bowl of pasta, but you could learn how to make dough in your kitchen. As a fun way to go on a trip while still at your home address, Waldron suggests creating a themed night (or a weekend!). “Dress in the clothes you would wear for a night out there. Play the local music. Engage your senses in the sights, sounds, and tastes of your favorite getaway,” she explains.
Go screen-free for 24 hours (or more)
One of the reasons we look forward to getting away is leaving our everyday lives for something exciting. Or something relaxing. When you’re tuned-in to a city tour or nodding off between margaritas on the beach, you aren’t glued to your phone or email. This is healthy—and necessary—for busy professionals. That’s why Pagnotta recommends spending 24 hours—or more!—completely screen-free. Each partner should agree to turn their devices off the night before and not engage with anything digital—phones, laptops, iPads, TV, etc. for a full day.
“This detachment from the outside world can simulate the benefits of being on vacation by providing temporary relief from personal and professional obligations external to the relationship,” she continues. “Much like on an actual vacation, this creates more space to focus on your partner and think outside the box to come up with activities and entertainment. This can also break up the monotony of watching endless Netflix shows together or scrolling through social media side-by-side without engaging in meaningful conversations or spending true quality time together.”