Losing our other loved ones: Without social interaction, many place unrealistic expectations on living partners

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An empty bar is seen in the Granville Street Entertainment District just after 9 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day in downtown Vancouver, March 17, 2021.DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

In 43 years of marriage, Janet and Robert Balfour never spent more time together than they did after pandemic shutdowns ended last spring.

The husband’s office closed and his frequent business trips were abruptly interrupted. The couple’s regular dinners with best friends are gone. Their breakfast ritual at a local restaurant was also gone, including the hugs from the staff.

Soon, the 24/7 home life of Calgary wives turned out to be “too much,” the husband said. An extrovert, Mr. Balfour regretted the camaraderie of his colleagues. And so, with a nudge from his wife, he returned to a light-staffed office last fall.

“Janet very politely fired me from work,” said Balfour, managing partner in real estate finance.

Throughout the lockdowns, he realized that his wife’s social networks were much broader than his. She walked with her friends from the gym or ran her Rotary Club through Zoom, the video calling app.

“She has better resources than I do, which thank goodness because I drove her crazy I’m sure,” Mr. Balfour said. “How often can you just rely on your spouse? “

After a year of confinement, many Canadians see their community ties weakened. The characters that populated everyday life – work colleagues, gym buddies, craft groups, pub buddies, local business owners – have faded from view.

Together, they have formed a community of “Other Important People” – OSOs for short – the people we turn to for a multitude of social and emotional needs. Social psychology professor Eli Finkel coined the term to describe the people who help us outsource, so as not to overwhelm our romantic partners.

A year after the onset of the global crisis, stressed and alienated from their OSOs, people increasingly rely on living partners to fill these roles – straining their relationships with unrealistic expectations in the process.

“It’s unlikely that a single person is able or interested in talking about labor policy, being your exercise buddy, your fellow movie buff, the person you can talk to about family drama,” Logan Ury said. , a behavior specialist and director of relationship science at the dating app Hinge.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the relationship to be all of those things. When a person inevitably cannot make it, we are disappointed in them or we think the relationship has failed, ”said Ms. Ury, author of How not to die alone: ​​the surprising science that will help you find love.

Ms Ury cites Elaine Cheung’s research, which found that people with large communities of friends for specific needs – a sister to cheer you up, a coworker to complain to – were happier than those who had less links. Such networks provide relief for spouses: “We know from research that having these other important people is a way to invest in your own primary relationship,” Ms. Ury said.

Partners “don’t have to be everything to you,” said Vicki Larson, co-author of The new one I’m doing: reshaping marriage for skeptics, realists, and rebels.

“They can be very good at the things you fell in love with them for,” Ms. Larson said. “You don’t have to burden them with all the other things that are going on in your life.”

As pandemic restrictions eased in Ottawa six months ago, Veronica Roy started dating an acquaintance. The two made a conscious decision not to overload each other during these difficult times, to live apart and to maintain contact with friends, if only online.

“We both try not to lean on each other for every emotional need,” said Ms. Roy, 34-year-old performing artist and arts administrator.

Since the pandemic struck, Ms Roy has suffered from a disconnection from their artistic and cultural community, where colleagues have served as friends and chosen family, complaining about costume blunders and exhausting the 14-hour days on the circuit. of the festival.

“These relationships have mostly been distilled for work and periodic messages that say, ‘I love you. I miss you. I can’t wait to kiss you again, ”Ms. Roy said.

Natasha Carpio, 41, former sales manager at Hyatt Regency Vancouver, stands outside the empty hotel on April 10, 2021.Rafal Gerszak / The Globe and Mail

When Natasha Carpio lost her job at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver during the pandemic, she also lost the world she and her close colleagues built for 12 years: indoor jokes, informal therapy sessions, Tim Horton errands and drinks after work. Ms Carpio, 41, has spent more time with her work friends than with her own family.

“They get a glimpse into your everyday life that your loved ones don’t see,” said Ms. Carpio, who is particularly missed by Trina, her “BFAW” – Best Friend at Work. Once inseparable, women call and text sporadically.

In Hamilton, Allison Ward fears the community she forged in her Aqua-Fit classes will be shattered forever. Before the pandemic, she would jump in the pool three or four times a week with a group of mostly retired women.

Beating in the water, they shared the ups and downs of life. At 34, Ms Ward was an object of curiosity: older women wanted to hear about her marriage (a small family ceremony only held last October) and offer marriage advice. She wanted to know more about life in retirement, grandchildren and sick friends.

“They gave me a real sense of being part of my immediate community and meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet,” said Ms. Ward, project manager.

Self-isolating during the pandemic, Ms Ward found that there wasn’t as much news to share with her husband since they had been home so often. “Looking back, my Aqua-Fit group has some surprises in store for me,” she said.

Typically, other significant people get to know us in contexts different from those lived in by our spouses. Ms. Larson believes having OSOs means having a more complete outlook, beyond marriage.

“Society doesn’t prioritize friendships as much as romantic partners and that’s misguided,” she said. “You need a much bigger village to live. “


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