When the pandemic started, my focus was on keeping as much consistency for my kids as possible, from their education to their extracurricular activities. That’s still at the top of my list, but one thing I didn’t realize was just how much pressure the pandemic put on my personal relationships. Before COVID-19 struck, my husband and I tried to make time for date nights and occasional getaways. We knew that it was important to do things separately from the kids to keep aflame the original spark that connected us.
Our tradition is to try to go away for a night or two in early November around our wedding anniversary. This year, I wasn’t sure what we should do. On the one hand, we had already spent so much time together working from home and caring for our kids. But a bigger part of me knew that the time we spent wasn’t really about us as a couple. Sure, we were a great parenting team, but what about the romantic connection we had with each other?
“Tending to your relationship’s needs is critical and two-fold,” Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., a professor teaching human sexuality told me. “First, it is a form of self-care, and anybody who is a caregiver or in charge of others needs time to nurture the self and recharge. Doing so allows us to manage everything else better and with less anxiety. Taking a time-out for yourself and your relationship provides you — and your partner — with not only the fuel to keep going, but a renewed energy, whether your getaway involves exercise, R&R, lots of lovemaking or a combination of all of those.”
With some trepidation, I booked us a room for two nights at Congress Hall in Cape May, New Jersey. I wasn’t sure what you could actually do in a beach town in November but it almost didn’t matter. A quiet room, restaurants and a place where we could get a cocktail were the basic requirements — well, that and a place that took COVID-19 restrictions seriously.
Our family has been vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing, but we have also continued to go to work and do some activities, taking things on a case-by-case basis. Congress Hall had enhanced cleaning protocols in place: The hotel would be sanitized throughout the day and masks were required in all public spaces. It’s true that we could have postponed our trip until after receiving a vaccine, but a bigger part of us knew that between work, home-schooling and trying to keep our family fed, safe and entertained, it probably wouldn't have happened. We also had been in a pressure cooker for the past eight months. With my mom offering to stay with the kids, we decided it was time to carve out some time just for us.
When we arrived at the hotel, the lobby was warm and inviting, even though there was a plexiglass barrier at the reception desk. We were asked whether or not we wanted housekeeping during our stay. We opted to include it, though it was a nice option for those who were worried about people entering their rooms.
After getting comfortable in our room, which overlooked the ocean, we went downstairs to the Brown Room to have a cocktail and enjoy the atmosphere. All restaurant reservations had to be booked in advance to account for the limited capacity. From there, we walked to a local restaurant I had wanted to check out, only to find out it was closed; an employee had tested positive for COVID-19 that day and they were shuttered to do deep cleaning.
I realized that like our relationship these past months, our trip required us to keep an open mind and stay flexible. After all, it wasn’t about eating in a certain restaurant or seeing a particular site — it was about having some time to spend together, no matter what we were doing.
“A getaway allows the two of you to touch base in private and without the chaos of home life,” said Fulbright. “A ‘state of our union’ powwow is critical even in the best of times, when partners can touch base about what is and isn’t working for them, and how to improve things. But I would warn couples not to get too wrapped up in what's going on at home, and to enjoy the time they have for themselves and to escape. Couple time is a great way to shut out the rest of the world and give your minds and souls a rest from headlines, worry and heartbreak. It reinforces that you’re a team and that you’re in this together, and invites the critical physical touch that can be so sustaining.
The next morning, we awoke to find that the cool November air had given way to a perfect, sunny almost 70-degree day. Taking a walk on the beach, we saw other couples from a distance, also walking and holding hands, soaking in the sun and breathing in the ocean air.
“On scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 22!” an older passerby with his wife said to us as they walked by, remarking about the perfect day we were blessed with.
“It’s a gift!” I exclaimed, and it really was.
The time we had on our mini vacay wasn’t time out from the pandemic because the same precautions followed us wherever we went. But what it did afford us was the time to be together, to read and drink wine and take a break from our daily responsibilities — and remember why it was that we decided to be together and have those kids in the first place!
Traveling to Cape May and staying in a hotel gave us a chance to experience the care and creativeness of all the people in the hospitality industry who were going out of their way to keep the part of life where we get to eat, drink and be merry going in the best way they could.
“Take turns texting each other a picture every couple of days from the trip,” suggested Fulbright when I asked her how to keep these good feelings going. “Plan for the next one, even if you can’t arrange for it yet. Post a sheet of paper to your message board that captures key descriptors that the two of you noted about your time together, including code words that only the two of you would get.”
After two nights we arrived home back to our kids, our spirits restored and our energy replenished, knowing that no matter what is happening in the world around us, we still want to keep taking those walks on the beach together.