By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

My husband, Chaim, and I have been extremely careful over the past 10 months regarding COVID. Aside from running out early in the day for groceries, we stayed home. We saw no one, not even family members. It was a decision we made together and both felt good about. Thank G-d, our efforts paid off. We got through these terrible times and remained healthy, and I felt that we were both doing OK emotionally through it all. We were both able to work from home, and because we had each other, we remained relatively sane, as much as anyone could be in spite of all the deprivation.

Recently, both Chaim and I were fortunate to get both doses of the COVID vaccine, and our 14-day waiting period is up. I assumed that, for a while, life would continue similar to the way it’s been, until more time passes and we know for sure that we’re safe. I figured I would start including some extra activities but still remain vigilant since there are reports about new strains of the virus and uncertainty whether the vaccines protect people as much as we would like to believe.

Chaim, on the other hand, is off and running. He told me he plans on going back to shul and to his office, resuming his weekly dinner get-togethers with his old buddies, and, frankly, aside from wearing his mask where he is required, he intends to go back to his former life. He says he’s had enough of this deprivation, can’t take another minute of it, and feels totally confident about his decision.

I’m just not on the same page as Chaim. I think he is being reckless, and if he is putting his own life in danger—which is bad enough—he is also putting my life in danger. I don’t want to think that we took all these precautions for 10 months, only to blow it all now. I’m still not feeling safe.

I guess with all of our planning, we never really talked about what life would look like after the vaccine. I also never really realized what an impact the last 10 months were having on Chaim. Apparently, unlike me, who felt OK being locked in for so long with my favorite person in the whole wide world, Chaim was suffering greatly and not really sharing with me how much he was suffering. Right now, he wants his freedom back more than anything in the world.

I’m asking Chaim to hold off a bit for my sake, since I’m still feeling really frightened. He thinks I’m being selfish and wrong in my assessment of the level of threat that still exists. We managed to get along so well this past year, even while, from what I’ve heard, so many spouses were at one another’s throats. I was very proud of us and our relationship. Now, however, it’s become a war zone in our home, with constant fighting and finger pointing—whose life should matter more, who is being sensible, and who is being ridiculous. We can’t seem to agree on anything right now and it’s becoming unbearable.

So we decided to ask for your opinion. No one knows for sure how safe a person is after the two doses of the vaccine; not even the top doctors seem to be able to agree on anything. But is it fair for Chaim to resume business as usual, exposing himself and me to possible risk? Do I have a right to ask Chaim to limit activities so that I don’t feel he is taking any risk that really isn’t necessary, in order that I can continue to feel safe and protected?

Frightened

Dear Frightened,

There are so many lessons we have all taken from this past year of COVID and lockdown, representing the loss of so many tangible and intangible parts of our lives. It was a year like no other, and we have all changed as a result of where our personal journeys have taken us. The loss on every level is staggering, from the loss of a job to the loss of a loved one. How we are responding to this new chapter of our sagas—thankfully, post-vaccine for many—is as personal as every other aspect of our journeys.

But what has become clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is how little control any of us have over our destinies. If we ever thought we had some control, that idea has been viciously knocked out of us. You and Chaim were hyper-vigilant from the start and, thank G-d, stayed healthy. But we’ve all heard many stories of people who were just as cautious but nevertheless came down with COVID, with varying outcomes. So COVID has served as an absolute reminder that we are not in charge—and not only when it comes to COVID. For those of us who tend to extrapolate to other areas of our lives, it has become abundantly clear that life is fragile, we do the best we can do, but at some point we have to put our trust in the master plan and live life fully, whatever that means for each individual.

Chaim’s decision to reengage more fully with life probably triggers in you feelings of fear about how vulnerable we all truly are. And this might not only be in relation to COVID. It may be opening up for you other areas of nervousness, as you reassess your life and see clearly that maybe we’re not really in charge of much. That is a lesson that some of us spend our lifetimes trying to run away from—without success.

Another issue that may be coming up for you right now is the idea that while being home alone with Chaim all this time has been “enough” for you, apparently Chaim hasn’t shared with you the fact that he has been antsy and craving more. It might be feeling personal for you, and though it seems that way, it could have very little to do with you and much more to do with Chaim’s need to spread his wings. We all have different thresholds for feeling like we just can’t take one more day of quarantining. Sounds like you haven’t reached that point yet. Some people reached it very early on. But it’s personal, and we all do our own risk assessment as we decide for ourselves what makes life worth living at this stage or any stage.

You’re right—I know no more than anyone else whether or not we are totally safe and good to go after taking the vaccine. I do know, however, that we all have to decide for ourselves what to believe in since there are no absolute truths being dangled in front of any of us. It is a personal choice and we all must be respectful of what others are choosing to do. Chaim is choosing to believe that it’s safe to see people again in all the places that he probably sorely missed over the past 10 months. There is enough data to suggest that he has the right to do so. And clearly enough people agree with him, since they are all turning up as well.

It doesn’t sound as though Chaim is forcing you to step out of your comfort zone or questioning your choice to continue staying at home, though I’m sure he would love for you to come out with him and enjoy some of the activities that you’ve enjoyed together in the past. It seems that he is allowing you that space. And I believe you have to accord him the same respect and acceptance. Perhaps there are things the two of you can decide upon that might make you feel safer when Chaim returns home from his outings. I don’t need to list specific ideas; I’m sure you can come up with some on your own.

For now, we’re all in survival mode. We are all trying to feel more present and alive than we’ve felt for a long time. How we do so is a personal choice, and as long as no one is acting recklessly, I think it would be an unfair hardship for you to insist that Chaim continue his pre-vaccine COVID-lockdown life. Ultimately, it’s about being respectful of one another’s choices and needs. The two of you have done so well until this point; it would be a shame to ruin that loving atmosphere.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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