Conditions as extreme as a pandemic will do something to a relationship, in the same way that adding a sharp burst of acid to cream changes it: either giving it zest or curdling it. I’m lucky. I have spent lockdown with my boyfriend, with our usually shared flat to ourselves. Although our relationship has its pinch points, this period has mostly brought us closer. I have always appreciated him, but now I know how much.
I appreciate how he lets my mother make fun of his driving, because it makes her laugh. He’s a safe driver, but he once told my mum that as a teenager he had crashed into an empty hearse on a roundabout and had to exchange details in the back of it. In doing so, he declared open season on himself. Soon enough, the joke of the bad driver spread. Now it is a regular motif in family conversation and the subject of many novelty gifts (an improvement on most joke cards that imply the receiver has a drinking problem, or asks why they aren’t yet dead).
In groups of people, there is usually one good sport who is sent up by the rest. I have come to admire this service: inside jokes bond those who share them, a shared history that is sugar-coated. In my circles, I am the good sport, but it isn’t always easy; too much of the same wisecrack and, like water, it will find my lowest point. But my boyfriend takes it in his stride, and I wonder if it can be learned, or taught.
“It’s confidence,” he explains. “I know I’m an excellent driver, so I’m not offended.” I suspect a touch of self-delusion doesn’t hurt. “Besides,” he adds, “that thing with the hearse wasn’t my fault. You should have seen how slow they were going.”