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My partner is always with Zoom mates – there’s no time for me

The dilemma Since lockdown my partner has found a wonderful group, who all work in the same field as him. It’s a great support network and they regularly meet throughout the week on Zoom. He says it’s like going to the pub with mates and in that way it is great. However, it’s now becoming a bit of an issue. The calls take place multiple times a week and in between they all have one big WhatsApp group so sometimes it feels like he is plugged in constantly. A few times I have thought he wanted to spend time alone because, well, lockdown, so have headed to bed to give him space, only to find the next minute he’s logged on to Zoom and chatting with them again. On the nights when it’s just us, he falls asleep early and seems a little down. I can see what a wonderful group this is for him but it’s becoming a 24-hour thing. I don’t want to be unsupportive but I also want him to understand that multiple calls a week and at weekends cuts into quality time we could be spending together.

Mariella replies Careful what you wish for! For many, the past 12 months have provided over-exposure to our significant others that we’ll be glad to call a halt to as soon as we’re given dispensation. There’s no question that successive lockdowns have been a rough ride for almost everybody. With the impact of restrictions and the absence of friends, many have experienced the impulse to bolt the confines of our own homes.

During that time technology has gone from being an intrusive presence that we often fret about, to an essential link with the people who matter in our lives. Once upon a time, wandering into the TV room to find my teenagers gaming online on GTA or Fifa would have been an incendiary moment, but during the pandemic hearing my son shout, “Look out, he’s behind you!” and “Shoot!” from his perch on the sofa, headphones over one ear and console in his hand, was a strangely reassuring blast of normality.

Get busy – it will make your company more covetable

When things go back to “normal” it’s my fervent hope that rather than continue to rely on the internet to bring those we love closer, we’ll be within touching distance ourselves. That said, there will be fallout from what we’ve been through and much of the damage, as is so often the case, is manifesting in our closest relationships. Whether it’s friends or loved ones, the extremes of close proximity to partners and remote contact with anyone else have thrown our foibles into sharp focus, highlighting inadequacies and exaggerating personality flaws. Becoming fixated on a previously overlooked aspect of someone’s behaviour is, judging by my mailbox, common and many relationships are struggling. In partnerships, the balance of power is a preoccupation and that seems to be the case here.

In the confines of your own home your partner’s friendship group may appear overbearing, but if he was popping out for a pint you might barely notice his absence or, indeed, be sighing with relief at it.

My slight concern, though, is that your missive depicts you as a lovelorn character, relying on titbits from your partner to fill your time. I would hope that in any relationship you would not have to beg for quality time. What are you doing while he’s Zooming his peer group? Hopefully not sitting waiting patiently for a window of his attention. Perhaps the key issue here is not that he’s found displacement activity but that you haven’t.

Your partner may have become reliant on this group, or it may simply be a benign attempt at stress release, but either way there’ll be less time for it when normality is restored. It’s your sense of threat from his extracurricular social activity that has to be resolved. Isn’t it best to find something that’s equally engrossing for you?

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There’s no shortage of groups to join based on hobbies or sports, politics or passions. I can assure you that making yourself busy will leave your company massively more covetable to him. What are you going to take with you out of this long period of isolation? What we’ve been living is not real life but it’s served to highlight some of the things missing from it. In your case maybe your reliance on your partner for diversion is something that you could dilute with some similarly engrossing interests of your own.

The return to normality will be a time when many of us have to examine habits we’ve developed or fallen out of, and relationships that have cemented or crumbled. There’s a lot to build and even more to leave behind. I suggest that, for now, you focus on what your restored order will look like and leave your partner to focus on his. I suspect when the world comes calling, the WhatsApp group will lose its allure and tangible encounters will replace cyber ones. You’re not in competition with your partner’s friends but you have certainly been battling the side-effects of a pandemic. How about you see where the pieces eventually fall and, where they are missing, find replacements?

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