Must You Chew So Loudly?

Surviving lockdown with the man I love

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“When did his chewing get so loud?” my friend exclaimed as we took a socially distanced walk. She’s been happily married for 35 years but suddenly, the way her husband chews and smacks his lips when he eats is hitting her like nails on a blackboard. She can hardly get through a meal with him. “Did he always make this much noise?”

Yes. Her husband has always been a noisy eater. I know this because she’s talked about it for as long as we’ve been friends, which is nearly as long as we’ve each been married.

What’s different now is her inability to tolerate it.

The lockdown has confined many of us at home with the people we love most, including our spouses. But togetherness has its limits, and being sequestered together with no end in sight can test the best relationships.

Take my husband and me. After nearly three decades of marriage, I know every one of his habits. I know that he won’t tighten the cap on the pickle jar. I know that he will forget to turn off the coffee maker in the morning when the pot is empty, and that every night after he cooks dinner, the kitchen will look like a tornado plowed through. I know that he will leave his slippers wherever he last sat. And, I know that he will clip his beard right after I’ve cleaned the bathroom, leaving itty-bitty whisker trimmings all over the just-scrubbed sink, and the light on long after he’s finished and gone.

None of these habits is serious. Over time, they have even endeared me to this man who I have adored for so many years. Indeed, under normal circumstances, when I affectionately needle — okay, nag — him about not tightening the pickle jar lid, he assumes a hang-dog look, and we laugh.

But these aren’t normal times. Life feels uncertain, scary, isolated, and monotonous. I’m edgier than usual. I’m frightened, frustrated, and stir-crazy. I want to change the channel and I can’t. It’s All Pandemic, All the Time. And, after more than two months of sharing a living and now a workspace with the love of my life, the house is feeling suddenly small.

Of course, neither my husband nor his habits are at the root of my angst. It is being in lockdown with all the fear and stress that this pandemic has produced that is magnifying the tiny annoyances of married life.

On my office wall is a New Yorker cartoon that my ever-tolerant man gave me years ago: it shows a couple reading in bed and the woman matter-of-factly asking her male partner, “Do you have to make that breathing noise?” I look at the cartoon often to remind myself to find the humor in the things that drive me crazy, which is crucial now more than ever.

Andrea Kott is the author of the forthcoming memoir, “Salt on a Robin’s Tail: An Unlikely Jewish Journey Through Childhood, Forgiveness and Hope,” due later this month from Blydyn Square Books.

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