Three phases of togetherness

I'm doing final edits to this column on April 28. Perhaps things have changed by the time you're reading it, but I hope not. So far, our family has weathered the pandemic by being very careful, especially those of us who are 75 - but we also worry and grieve for families who have suffered terribly.

With time for idle thoughts, I realized that, after the kids moved out 30 years ago, my husband and I have experienced three distinct phases of "togetherness," defined as "time spent hanging out with each other." Here's how that's played out:

Phase 1: Work.

Our decades of challenging, productive work were highly satisfying, but they were tough on togetherness. During the week, we usually saw each other at breakfast, but long days, late nights and frequent business travel routinely kept us apart. Weekends entailed catching up on every single household chore, cooking and sometimes doing more work. Two rules: Eating out on Saturdays and nice vacations.

Phase 2: Retirement.

And then, 10 years ago, we retired - both of us ecstatic to be out of work! We can report that retirement delivered far more ups than downs and that we genuinely enjoyed one another's company. We traveled, dined out at will, adopted a puppy, shopped and mingled with countless people.

That said, the transition from working long hours to being home together so much posed a few problems in the early days. Specifically, we found ourselves squabbling about ridiculous things, a practice that momentarily disrupted the peaceful coexistence we counted on.

For example, we argued about (he says "discussed") how warmly to dress on walks with our dog on chilly or cold days. We also quibbled over who needs a hearing aid and who mumbles. And whose memory is accurate and whose isn't. And who's right - the logical one or the emotional one. Soon, though, squabbling became a vanishingly small part of our lives. We relished the togetherness defining those years.

Phase 3: Pandemic.

Then came the pandemic. Now we stay home except for (1) infrequent "essential" trips and (2) twice-daily, hugely-appreciated dog walks on our strangely empty streets. Even though this literal 24/7 togetherness is a bit much, we'll be among the last to venture out when things "open up."

In the meantime, we're grateful for every day. The prior 10 years clearly readied us for peaceful coexistence, whatever the circumstances. And we still love each other's company even as we and millions of others long for a return to normalcy - or some version of it.

- Sally Hartmann of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].