Lessons in Love from Lockdown
Commitment, hospitality, and getting what you wished for: what I learnt after over 60 days of being in strict quarantine with my Argentinian in-laws
It has been 5 months since I started writing articles for this blog and in those 5 months, life has changed dramatically.
Indeed, you have to be careful what you wish for because it might just happen!
The end of 2019 was an important time for me. I finally said goodbye to my independant years of having my own space and doing as I pleased and decided that the time was finally right to move in with my partner.
Life was pushing me forward at lightning speed. It was an intense but beautiful time, one synchronicity after another occurred; things that would usually take a year took only a month and before I knew it I was packing up my stuff and saying goodbye to the place that I had called home for the last 5 years in Madrid.
Not only did I close one chapter of my life but another one was also closed for me when at the exact same time of the exact same day of my move, my mum also moved out of our family home in the UK to start a new adventure of her own.
The last root to my previous life has been cut. Now I had no home to fall back to if I ever had to move back to the UK and no flat of my own to fall back on if anything when wrong in my relationship. With no family left in the village that I grew up in and no ´old room´ to go back to, I was finally being crowned an adult.
I guess this is what they call committment. When moving forward means kicking away the ladder.
This was my mythical initiation into the next phase of my life:
I take thee Sergio…
I don´t believe that we need the outward show of a new phase of life in order for us to pass through it.
Nowadays I don´t need to marry my boyfriend to move in with him so that initiation was not celebrated with a white dress or a ring. But I was very much aware of it as I said goodbye to all my neighbours in my building and had one last glance at what was my old, beloved flat.
I knew that this knew chapter of life would bring with it new challenges and areas of growth. But I has no idea of exactly how much of a challenge I was in for!
Two months after moving in, my brother and sister-in-law arrived from Argentina to start a new life in Madrid.
Whilst I was a little bit nervous about the prospect (I had only met them twice and was now going to be living with them for the foreseeable future), I was also looking forward to it. I was excited to have more sense of family in Madrid and knew that for my partner, Sergio, it would be amazing after 20 years being parted from his brother.
I knew that the timing wasn´t the best (Really? After so many years they decided to come now?!), but I tried to keep a positive outlook. Surely after a month or two, they would find a job and a flat and everything would just be hunk-dory?
Then , after two weeks of being here, coronavirus happened.
After more than 60 days in a strict lockdown style big brother house, I have to say the Universe took my request for more community a bit too far!
´I want to live in a close-knit community where people help each other out on a daily basis´ quote-unquote.
In hindsight, I should I have said ´…help each other out daily from the comfort of two different houses at least 200 yard apart´!
…As Paulo Cohelho says in his book ´Brida´, the devil is in the detail…
The Big Brother House
So here I am, in this big brother house, reflecting on all that has happened and all that I have learnt in these past 60 days.
And I say big brother house as no exaggeration: we live in what in Spain is known as a ´local´ or in English could be described as an old carpenters workshop turned house (all credit to Sergio and his creativity.)
It is all open plan, minus the bedrooms and not to mention that the only window/terrace/balcony/garden is the front doorstep. So there has been no escaping each other!
Now that we have the liberty of at least going out for a few hours in the morning and evening, I am finally ready to talk about it 😉
The Big Brother House Dines In Style
In the beginning, we started off eating lunch and dinner together every day. We tried out new recipes and had a laugh. Moral was high and we tried to make the best of it. In true Spanish style lunch became the event of the day.
And was this was a real novelty. After 6 years of always eating lunch at work out of a Tupperware box, I revelled in this newfound pleasure of eating at home and not having to worry about making my lunch for the next day or ´cook for the week´.
However, as per the Big Brother norm, after a week or two of this, the tensions began to rise.
We were all making a huge effort to bend ourselves to our new cohabiting life, and in the end, this proved to be unsustainable. The meat-eaters were making an effort to eat veggie, the early risers prefered an early dinner whilst the night owls prefered eating late. For those whose cooking skills are not their strong point (me!), meals began to be ´work´ rather than something to be enjoyed.
All in all, the intensity of the situation began to take its toll on all of us. Differences in expectations, lifestyles, and communication strategies began to show up. And in true Big Brother house style, conflict ensued.
However, more than 60 days on I am pleased to report that we seem to have turned a corner…the Big Brother house to back on track and the household is again a place of laughter and mutual support.
So then, what is the take away from all of this?
Resistance and Surrender
In all honesty, there have been moments where I have been ready to pack my stuff up and get the hell out of here. High tensions after not being able to go out and get some space; stress as normal routines and patterns were broken and strain on relationships as privacy was non-existent, were sometimes all too much.
As my Dad wisely said, ´the goal here is to get through this situation and still want to see each other at the end of it´.
But funnily enough, it was in the most intolerable moments that I have grown the most.
With Ekhard Tolle being my go-to in times of need, his wisdom was my life jacket keeping my afloat.
´´Even within the most unacceptable and even painful situation is concealed a deeper good, and within every disaster is contained the seed of grace.
Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world´´.
(Extract from Stillness Speaks- Whispers of the Now).
Whilst I recognise that there are plenty of worse situations that one could encounter in the world, this was the first time that I couldn´t use my usual strategy to deal with the situation- escape!
Denied the possibility of leaving the house, I had no other choice but to surrender to the situation at hand, however untolerable I found it to be.
But you know, the miraculous thing is, that this seems to have transformed the situation!
Truely surrendering to the intolerable moments of a situation that I couldn´t change, and trusting that like all things in life, it would come to pass, has allowed me settle into this new-found living situation with so much more grace and ease.
To the point were now, having let go of my resistance, it all seems…dare I say it…enjoyable!
I even feel glad that my in-laws are here with us- it has certainly made this whole situation a lot more entertaining and fun!
We seem to have found balance. We might not be eating meals together every day but when we do, it´s not out of obligation but out of the joy of being together and sharing. Maybe two couples cooking separate meals at more or less the same time seems a bit pointless- why not just be all-inclusive and cook together?- but it has helped to lessen the strain of being forced into a confined space and given us the space and freedom to relax into our natural way of being.
Now the cooking and cleaning rotas have gone out the window and somehow we are all in rhythm. We have dropped the need to control the space according to our own personal preferences and learnt to just relax and trust the other to do their fair share.
And that for me feels so much more of a graceful and elegant way of being than the trying to conform to the expectations of others or imposing your expectations on them.
We have left a space for love in to enter.
And I guess this is the second learning cruve for me- learning about what it actually means to have in-laws.
For better for worse
Up until now in my relationship, my in-laws have been residing a safe distance away on the other side of the globe. So other than when we went to Argentina for a few months, our relationship has been pretty much in-law free.
So this new situation of having my in-laws as housemates has brought in a new aspect of what it means to be in a long term relationship into my life.
Amongst all the difficulties of the last 60 days, I have asked myself on various occasions, ´What if it was my brother and his partner?´
Sure we get a long like a house on fire when we see other on those few occasions in the year, but forced into the Big Brother house together for 2 month and I´m sure we would have run into the same problems.
So maybe my in-laws are not actually like aliens from out of space after all- this was just a huge once in a lifetime social experiment that would be enough to cause friction between even the bestest of friends and closest of family.
In pondering this question, I also began to consider the nature of having in-laws and what it really means to take another person´s family as your own.
I am reminded of my friends in India who from the day that they get married, are expected to move into their husbands home and take his family has their own.
From my Western perspective, before I saw this as my worst nightmare (it´s funny how life has a way of giving you exactly what you fear the most!), but I have to say, now I see it differently.
Feminist inclinations aside, I see such beauty and grace in being big-hearted, inclusive and committed enough to embrace someone else’s family truly as your own. I am full of admiration for my Indian friends who are able to do this willingly and lovingly without complaints or resentment.
I can also see that this is the path that a lot of my friends in the UK have been treading, all the years that I have been travelling and basically coming and going as I pleased, and I am full of admiration for them too.
I am also reminded of a student that I had the good fortune to teach for a few months just before COVID kicked off. She was from Saudi Arabia and shared one day that in her culture, hospitality is highly valued and that her family taught her that even if a guest is rude to you in her own house, you must continue to treat them with respect and courtesy.
This struck me as being incredibly noble too. Would we in the Western world be big enough people to open our hearts wide enough to be so hospitable? I have to say that I´m not sure that I am tolerant or big-hearted enough to do so, however, I intend to hold this as my ideal, whilst continuing to share my house and be a host.
I have heard that in Muslim culture that having a guest is like having God reside in your house. From that perspective, maybe I have been blessed with an amazing opportunity to do good for someone and be able to serve the world in a different and unexpected way.
Through the ups and the downs, I must say that this new experience is proving to be an enriching one. Who knows when these lessons that I am learning now will come in handy in the future.
It´s often only through looking back on our lives that we can join the dots and see how everything has worked out in perfect synchronicity as if we are in constant training for what is to come.
That is certainly the case for me, so that being said I choose to trust that one day in the future I will be able to look back and connect these dots and see how they have all served a greater picture, one that from where I am now, I am unable to see.
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