In this short story by Rachel New, a couple use an app to guide their relationship during a final lockdown.
WARNING: YOUR RELATIONSHIP WILL REACH RED ALERT STATUS WITHIN 24 HOURS IF YOU DO NOT INITIATE ONE OF THE PRESCRIBED BEHAVIOURS.
I switch my phone off and on again. Uninstall and reinstall the app.
ESTABLISH AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION USING ONE OF THE FOLLOWING BEHAVIOURS:
SCHEDULE A DATE NIGHT AND PLAY THE RELATIONSHIP DILEMMAS GAME
RESOLVE THE DISCREPANCY BETWEEN YOUR CREDIT CARD BALANCE AND YOUR PARTNER’S PREFERRED LEVEL OF FINANCIAL SECURITY
INITIATE SEXUAL INTIMACY
I sniff loudly. Why isn’t there an app to detect off-putting odours in a partner? Research has shown it to be a significant factor in frequency and quality of intimacy … hasn’t it?
I check my bank account and look away quickly. Then I open the dilemmas game module to carry out a risk assessment on its potential to create novel forms of conflict.
WOULD YOU RATHER BE RICH BY UNLAWFUL MEANS OR POOR BUT HONEST?
It’s going to have to be the sex.
CURRENT RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION LEVELS ARE STILL BELOW AVERAGE.
GENERATE A DETAILED BREAKDOWN OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP PARAMETERS
SELECT FROM A LIST OF SUGGESTED BOOSTER ACTIVITIES
The door opens abruptly. A tray of freshly-baked muffins and a pot of tea are placed on my lap. I check the app again.
BRING YOUR PARTNER BREAKFAST IN BED
JOIN YOUR PARTNER IN HER ONLINE MEDITATION CLASS AT 08:00
WRITE YOUR PARTNER A POEM OF APPRECIATION IN TODAY’S POETRY WORKSHOP AT 10:00
Can I tick off the first one if I’m the recipient? Too late – it vanishes from the screen and is replaced by
CLEAR UP THE KITCHEN THOROUGHLY WITHOUT BEING ASKED
In my superior bubble of serenity after meditation class, I discreetly place the standard government-issue mouthwash, floss and anti-viral shower gel on the bathroom windowsill. I know from previous feedback on the app that a more direct approach is counter-productive. Data indicated a moderate negative correlation between length of verbal hint and desired bathroom behaviour. Not to mention the mediating effect of depleted ego on bedroom behaviour. I have definitely moved beyond the illusion of control in my relationship.
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE A RAW ONION BREATH KISS EVERY HOUR OR A TUBE DOWN YOUR THROAT FOR A MONTH?
I press a few buttons to get to the sex tips module.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO WATCH YOUR TOP TEN SEXUAL ENCOUNTERS FROM THE LAST YEAR?
Sometimes “top ten” just means “only ten”.
GENERATE FIVE NOVEL WAYS TO AROUSE YOUR PARTNER, BASED ON RECENT PSYCHOMETRIC ASSESSMENT.
I decide to make a mid-morning sandwich while I listen. No onion, obviously.
I listen to a podcast called “Surviving the Final Lockdown: Did you move in with your lover too early?” while clearing the kitchen. I wonder how the app would react to us sleeping in separate rooms for a while and acting out the early stages of dating – the time before you’ve had sex, when you’re on your best behaviour and actually listening. When the dilemmas game was fun and the sex tips hot.
YOUR DESIGNATED OUTDOOR EXERCISE SLOT WILL BEGIN IN FIVE MINUTES. PLEASE SELECT A ROUTE AND MODE OF TRAVEL. DELIVERY OF YOUR NEW RUNNING SHOES IS IMMINENT.
I grab the shoes from the drone whirring outside the window and walk out through the automated sun protection sprayer. I need to work on my sanity protection plans.
When I finish my virtual visits to my allocated vulnerable adults, I can’t help noticing that the art things have been cleared away, which pleases me. Each new fad seems to bring with it a frenzy of online shopping – although that’s preferable to the time he gate-crashed my new origami circle on Whiz. ONE shared hobby is quite enough, thank you.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SET UP THE SHORT, MEDIUM OR LONG VERSION OF THE SEXUAL FOREPLAY PROGRAMME FOR TODAY?
I check my schedule. An audio-only meeting with my boss at 12:00; experimental philosophy seminar on Whiz at 14:00; designated exercise slot at 16:00; retreat pod with aromatherapy massage booked for 17:00. I’m not making any decisions before 18:00. And that’s only if Ben is back from replacing fox-chewed electricity cables.
After my run, I scan the route plan for the day’s jobs and pack my rucksack. It’ll be much easier now my bike is fixed.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SET UP DELIVERY OF:
RANDOMISED SEXUAL TIPS (INTERMEDIATE LEVEL)
COMPLIMENTS AND APPRECIATIVE PLATITUDES SEASON 2
A WEEKLY SHOPPING CART OF SMALL PERSONALISED GIFTS
I select them all. Way easier than the poetry workshop, anyway.
TIP #328: Try a symbolic gesture in the bedroom that recognises your partner’s passions. Personalised examples for you:
Passion: Order. Gesture: Remove all items of clothing from the floor.
Passion: Philosophy. Gesture: Arrange silk underwear on the bed in the shape of a question mark.
After my massage I take a shower. The bottles are back in the cabinet. Does this mean they’ve been used or is this our new way of communicating?
YOUR PARTNER REQUESTS A MEETING WITH YOU IN THE BEDROOM AT 21:00.
I’m not sure whether to be concerned or slightly aroused when I get a rare sighting of a neatly-folded pile of his clothes on a chair.
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE A PARTNER WHO CORRECTS YOUR GRAMMAR OR ONE WHO NEVER CLEANS THE BATHROOM?
I don’t think the dilemmas game and sex tips modules are synching today.
I’m halfway round my route. I check the app.
PLEASE COMPLETE RATINGS ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP PARAMETERS FOR THE DAY.
I select mostly 3s, with a couple of 2s for perceived costs and personal autonomy.
PHYSIOLOGICAL MEASURES INDICATE ABOVE AVERAGE LEVELS OF AROUSAL. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH TO ADD?
I type in “anticipation of sexual intimacy”.
The app calculates my overall relationship satisfaction score. The weekly times series graph shows a modest improvement.
YOUR NEXT GOAL IS TO INCREASE YOUR POSITIVE TO NEGATIVE INTERACTIONS RATIO.
I check the compliments and appreciative platitudes tips for inspiration.
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE THE PERFECT RELATIONSHIP ONE DAY A FORTNIGHT, OR A MEDIOCRE ONE EVERY DAY?
The app needs updating. If only there were that luxury now.
I change the bed linen and put some wine in the fridge. I notice the coasters on the coffee table are at odd angles again. I decide to leave them. A pile of tidy clothes was enough for me. Really.
I select “medium” from the foreplay options.
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH A REPLICA OF YOUR PARTNER OR A POOR ONE WITH THE ORIGINAL?
“I thought this would be your kind of question,” I smile as she enters the bedroom. “I know you like a bit of philosophy.”
“Hmmm, yes, interesting – relationship quality at the expense of authenticity. What would happen to the original, though? I don’t want to kill him off.” She thinks for a minute, possibly contemplating methods of doing so. “Is this the app’s suggestion for foreplay? Maybe the dilemmas game and the sex tips modules are synching again. I like it, though.”
She’s wearing the new silk chemise I’d chosen earlier today, in dark blue. She stands still, completely absorbed by the two choices.
“Umm …. I’m not here. I’ve moved out and started my quaration. I’m sorry,” I say.
Immediately, her expression changes. She focuses on me – my image on the computer screen – as if for the first time, and then looks away. “Oh. You’re not actually here … I didn’t notice.”
I thought we had resolved the question of him entering a quaration. Three weeks’ quarantine followed by moving in with a friend (or “friend” – I didn’t like to ask) for a minimum of six months was a big step.
I type WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PARTNER WANTS A QUARATION into the app.
IMPLEMENT A SEPARATE BEDS STRATEGY TWO NIGHTS PER WEEK
INCREASE NUMBER OF COMPLIMENTS AND APPRECIATIVE PLATITUDES BY 20%
ATTEND A SIX WEEK COURSE ON RECOGNISING YOUR PARTNERS’ GOALS AND VALUES
SCHEDULE A MINOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION SESSION WITH ONLINE SUPPORT
I look back at the screen. “Is it too late to reverse?”
“I’m afraid so. I think we both know it’s too late.”
“Was it the coasters?”
“When did you finally decide?”
“Only really when I’d finished work today. I wrote you a goodbye poem, though.”
“I’ll read it later.”
“I’ll have lots of good memories from our time together.”
“Was that from PRODUCTIVE ENDINGS?”
“No, COMPLIMENTS AND APPRECIATIVE PLATITUDES SEASON 2. I definitely recommend it.”
“Well, thanks for leaving the flat tidy.”
“No problem. Good luck.”
I sign off and take a deep breath. Then I install the LOCKDOWN FOR SOLOS app.