My Husband Is an Essential Worker, So I Refuse to Kiss Him

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Last week, in a moment of weakness fueled by love and wine, I slipped. I kissed my husband. On the mouth.

That kiss is the first we’ve had in three months. He’s been counting.

The last time he and I went such a long time without kissing was from 2003 to 2004 when he, then my soon-to-be fiancé, was deployed with his Army unit in Iraq.

That year-long lapse in lips-on-lips intimacy was, in a way, involuntary. This one is different, because with COVID-19, the decision to be physically close, or not, is entirely one’s own.

He doesn’t have COVID-19, as far as we know. Neither do I. We don’t have symptoms, anyway. But if we did know he was negative one day, it would be irrelevant, as far as kissing goes, because he — like the rest of the country’s approximately 48.7 million essential workers — would just have to return to work the next day.

He isn’t a medical professional or a store employee, so he isn’t in forced close contact on a daily basis with infected, or potentially infected, people.

But he does work in a building where, two weeks ago, a colleague of his who was told to go home after having his temperature taken pushed past the medic and went upstairs to a shared office.

It’s also where he attended a meeting a few days ago with coworkers who’d arranged their seats with six responsible feet between them, and where one of the attendees rolled his chair over to my husband to give him a high-five.

My husband washed his hand immediately afterward, but that was just one solution for one day (if it was a solution — what about the possibly contaminated breath expelled into that vulnerable space?).

There’s only so much a person can do to protect themselves from others whose personal attention to health and safety is either lax or unknown. Factor in the prevalence of asymptomatic COVID transmission and a tendency to behave as normal if there’s no evidence of illness, and the danger amplifies.

With the threat of transmission in mind, RV owners across the country have been donating their vehicles to medical professional so they can isolate themselves from their families. Most essential employees don’t have that option. After a day of interacting with people who come too close, don’t wear masks, cough nearby, or in other ways behave carelessly, workers must go home to their partners and/or children.

My husband and I don’t have an RV outside. The reason the kiss I gave him last week was so momentous is that I was the one who insisted we keep our distance, in the first place.

After about two weeks of news stories documenting the early spread of COVID-19 in the US, and after seeing again and again how little scientists and medical professionals knew about the nature of this new coronavirus, I was certain of one thing: I did not want it.

Back then, the symptoms still seemed relatively tame. No one knew it wreaked havoc on not only the lungs, which is bad enough, but also the heart, kidneys, brain, and blood vessels.

My husband’s reaction to my early wariness was to say it seemed like most people infected with COVID-19 recovered just fine.

“Seemed” wasn’t good enough. There was too much mystery surrounding it. Not getting it in the first place was the idea.

Knowing now how much worse than the flu it actually is, and taking into account a New York Times estimate that it’s killing men “at nearly twice the rate of women,” it’s even more important to be vigilant.

But it can be a bummer to not be able to kiss after a look, to have to skip the hug in the hallway. It feels silly, even. We live together, after all. We’re always sharing air.

And every day, several times a day, we’ll see those hopeful, uplifting TV messages about sheltering in place that feature smiling family members standing mere inches apart and healthy, isolated couples hugging and holding hands.

Those “Together!” ads made it easy to believe I was taking things too far. Surely I was an alarmist fool to refuse to kiss my husband, or paranoid, or at best well-intentioned, but misguided.

Surely no one in those sunshiny public service spots had infected or would infect anyone else in the same household…

That night one week ago, I was giddy from wine and infused with the rose-colored hope of just such studio-produced utopia when I looked at my six-foot-tall and six-feet-distant husband, stepped through our self-imposed barrier, and put my lips directly on his.

It’s funny how shy a kiss can be with the person you’ve been married to for fifteen years.

As incredible as that moment was, the next morning, something felt wrong. A critical seal, I knew, had been broken. By lunchtime, the phrase kiss of death was pinging around in my head.

The biggest problem with this virus is that, sadly, it’s not just the flu.

Unlike the 1918 H1N1 pandemic’s low rates of household transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “most early reports of person-to-person SARS-CoV-2 transmission have been among household contacts.”

An equally big problem with COVID-19 is that it’s real. It won’t go away just because we’re tired of it, and returning to life as normal won’t trick it into hiding.

The day after our kiss, I sat on the floor of our shared home office. My husband swiveled his desk chair to face me. I said, “The kissing thing is making me anxious.”

“Well, can’t have that,” he said, meaning it. “But it was nice while it lasted.”

I don’t know how much longer he and I will have to go without close contact. Probably until the virus has officially been deemed manageable. But at least he and I, and all of us maintaining social distance from our partners, are separately distant together, in the same country and in the same house with the people we love, and we can greet each other daily with a trendy COVID ankle tap.

Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the novels THE AGE OF THE CHILD and PRETTY MUCH TRUE (inspired by waiting through her husband’s 2003–2004 year in Iraq)

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Author, THE AGE OF THE CHILD & others. Former adjunct prof & journo. Co-host, ChildfreeGirls series:

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