Saturday, April 4, 2020

MAKING LEMONADE IN A PANDEMIC

Maybe it takes a pandemic for me to forge a relationship. At the very least, COVID-19 is helping things along.

At this very moment, I was supposed to be sitting at Vancouver airport, waiting to board Icelandair with a one-way ticket to Stockholm. Maybe Daniel would have dropped me off, maybe I’d have insisted on taking Skytrain. Why prolong the goodbye? Fling flung. Time to look forward to afternoon fika (the Swedes’ beloved coffee break), strolls through the streets and public squares of Södermalm and jogs along Lake Mälaren.

But—not exactly a spoiler alert here—Stockholm must wait. As must Tallinn, Helsinki, Prague, Lisbon, London, Dublin, Reykjavik and the other destinations I was to happen upon over a three-month European trip of a lifetime. Turns out pandemics can really make a mess of things.

Toronto must wait as well. It was to be my new home after the adventure wrapped. I can’t chance driving there now and falling through the cracks of the medical system during the three-month wait for me to become part of a different province’s healthcare coverage. A pandemic and all of its related tweets and posts can make even a stubborn old(er) fart like me question his invincibility.

Life goes on, even in pandemics. As stay-at-home pleas ramped up, so did my relationship with Daniel. Suddenly my workaholic boyfriend had no commute and a lightened workload. Our weekends-only visits evolved into several times a week and then daily. Having sold my condo and with the move out date quickly approaching, we talked more about me living with him “temporarily” though the invitation seemed to have an unwritten tag of “indefinitely”. It was a generous and genuine offer on Daniel’s part and there were moments when I romanticized the situation. Still, I knew it wouldn’t feel right. I’m always worried about what other people think and it didn’t take much to imagine Daniel’s friends viewing me suspiciously, casting me as someone who was just using him, ready to flee to Ontario when COVID-19 becomes something we’re finally looking at in the rear-view mirror. I had my own feelings of guilt as well. I told Daniel on our second date I was moving to Toronto and the plan isn’t canceled, just postponed. Daniel’s offer continued to float.

I tried not to stress. With the landscape of what we can and can’t do continuing to change, planning anything more than a week ahead suddenly seemed ridiculously premature. I told myself Airbnb could be a fallback. Maybe I could swing a deal and, if not, the extra expense was hardly anything to whine about when others were gravely sick and/or out of work. I’d live a little longer with uncertainty.

One night last week, I awoke to an anxiety attack. In my groggy state, I mistook the shortness of breath and the pressure in my chest for a case of coronavirus. It got me! I had eight days to live! Cue an even heightened state of anxiety which I read as an aggressively escalating affliction. I tossed and turned in bed, flicking the light on for a moment to see blood on my pillow and my sheets. Not a symptom I’d read about, but worrisome in its own right. I am prone to faint at the sight of blood so I panicked further until I touched a splotch of blood to see how fresh it was. Thankfully, I had a smidgen of reasoning intact to know that blood is not supposed to be sticky. I shall never again eat anything with cherry jam in my bed. That moment of levity stopped me from hauling myself to Emergency.

Then, in the light of day, I was COVID-19 symptom-free and I chastised myself for not having the wherewithal to take one of my anxiety pills. But I also realized I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty of where I’d be living in a week’s time. I knew I couldn’t move in with Daniel, nor could I accept the sofa-surfing offers of a few friends. I needed a real plan.

Vancouver is normally a hot market for renters but with some April 1st rentals likely falling through, I had options. Twenty-four hours after beginning my search, I had a small one-bedroom condo to move into, only a mile away. When the guy heard of my canceled plans, he amended the standard one-year lease to six months. I had peace of mind without feeling too trapped in the city I was so intent on fleeing.

And now there is more time for Daniel and me to find our way. We are officially moving beyond the fling zone. Yesterday, as we took a midday walk along nearly empty Jericho Beach, I broached the subject: Are we seeing each other exclusively? It was only a technical question. My New Year’s plan to be sexually liberated ended after a single encounter on January 2nd. Another abandoned resolution. I’m not wired to play around when I’m seeing someone, even when it’s only supposed to be a fling. Daniel, as a serial monogamist, is the same. We’ve formalized our status quo but it was a symbolic step. Daniel smiled broadly. Turns out he’d wanted to have the same conversation.

All of a sudden, we’re two months into a relationship. I’m well aware that the first months aren’t all that challenging. Conflicts don’t usually arise that early. But because of how this started—something casual—I skipped my typical fretting. Why hasn’t he texted back yet? Is he into me? Why does he act that way?

I let things be. I let me be. I let Daniel be. I let whatever we were be. Turns out that’s a healthy foundation. Now it’s time to see what does or doesn’t develop.