My friends, Tom and Mary (names changed to protect identities), are headed for divorce after thirty years of marriage, and it is because of Covid! I know this sounds crazy, so let me explain. The tension began with the lock-down, and like many couples stuck at home for several weeks, it was not easy. They are both strong personalities and need their space. Things got worse, however, when Mary announced to Tom that she received a mask exemption from her doctor. Due to a traumatic event in her childhood, Mary can not wear a mask without it evoking this memory and associated panic attacks. Tom understands the circumstances and respects Mary’s exemption, but navigating without a mask has been a real challenge.
After the lock-down ended, they resumed their weekly date night and the sparks would fly as soon as they exited the car. Mary refused to enter any business or restaurant that would not honor her mask exemption and would be sure and give them a piece of her mind as well. This turned date night into an angry scene with Mary repeatedly protesting and chewing out business owners. Tom was not allowed to sneak into a shop to look around if maskless Mary was not also welcome. “They are not going to get one penny of our money,” Mary shouted at Tom as he sheepishly turned around when he thought for a moment he might check out a sporting goods store.
Date night has become all about Mary preaching to Tom about how unjust she is being treated and whether she should get a lawyer to sue the businesses that turned her away. Tom took on the role of awkwardly walking into restaurants and shops explaining that his wife can not wear a mask and asking whether she could come inside. When he returned to share what was usually bad news, Mary killed the messenger. “Did you tell them I have a letter from a doctor?,” she shouted. Patiently, Tom explained that he gave them the same presentation that he always does about the mask exemption and they said no.
On more than one occasion Tom advocated so strongly for his wife he almost got into a physical altercation with the business owner. These date nights became so miserable for him that he suggested that they just stay home, to which Mary became enraged. She told Tom that he just doesn’t understand what she is going through and that he needs to be more compassionate.
When it came time for a summer vacation, Mary told Tom that she would not fly due to airline mask requirements. To keep Mary happy, Tom agreed to a driving vacation. He was also tasked with screening the hotels to see what their mask rules would be and then report back to Mary. Once a hotel was agreed upon Mary warned Tom that there would be hell to pay if the hotel made her wear a mask after saying it would not be enforced.
After two more driving trips, one at Christmas, and another at spring break, things between Tom and Mary continued in a downward spiral. With thoughts of a trip of more than a 1,000 miles to see their son, the topic of a flight over the summer came up. Mary told Tom that he needs to determine what airline would allow her to fly maskless with her exemption letter. She also told him she would only fly through smaller airports so she would not have to deal with any long periods of mask enforcement in any major hub. Tom ultimately told Mary that he wants to vacation separately from her this summer. In fact, he privately told me that he thinks his marriage is over.
This last year has been a living hell, but Tom feels like he has seen something in Mary that deeply concerns him. They are both in their fifties and he wonders if the treatment he is receiving portends the future. That is, if he ends up as Mary’s caretaker in their twilight years, will he face similar abuse? Is Mary the person he has known for thirty years or have these circumstances revealed her true character? Tom, understandably, feels battered and abused and simply wants to create space from Mary. On the one hand, I don’t blame him. But should he throw away a thirty year marriage? After Covid has passed, will he and Mary be able to go back to the good old days? One of many stories I have heard about people splitting up due to Covid.
Question to readers - Is Mary a bully, or is Tom just not compassionate enough? Do you think there is more going on here than the Covid mask restrictions?