Nicole Baum and Eliot Payne

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The Couple That Stayed Together

Nicole Baum and Eliot Payne didn’t get a divorce. They aren’t married, but Payne would send playful tweets to Baum during the early days of the pandemic about how quarantine led to a rise in divorces in China. 

Baum and Payne had moved in together just a few months before the mayor issued her stay-at-home order. Little did they know back in March 2020 that they’d both be working and socializing from their home in Eckington for over a year. “I think it went not surprisingly well but like better than I even thought it would,” says Payne. “We have been really good to each other this past year,” says Baum.  

Coupling got more complicated in quarantine. All that togetherness can add new levels of stress on older relationships, and distance can fizzle out the newer ones. For Baum and Payne, who’d been dating for more than two years before the pandemic, their communication style and temperament toward one another got them through an extraordinary time. “I think if we ever argue, it’s more about like one of us is feeling anxious about something outside of [us] … about work or just general life,” says Baum. She says they’ve gotten into a few small arguments this past month because they’re both stir crazy. Payne adds, “The few times that somebody is a little bit stepping on your nerve, we’re very quick to say, ‘Hey, are we being sweet to each other?’ And then we’re kind of like ‘No, no we’re not.’ And then we kind of reset.”  

The pandemic has repeatedly tested their relationship, and the COVID-19 vaccine is yet another example of that. Payne just got his first shot. He became eligible due to a medical condition. Baum hasn’t yet, but qualifies because she’s a teacher. The couple has talked briefly about what it means for them that Payne is partially vaccinated. Payne doesn’t plan on living like he did before March 11, 2020 once he gets his second shot in early April. But the couple negotiated what Payne can do that’s safer for the both of them. He now has a cabin trip planned for May with three college friends who’ve all at one point contracted COVID-19. “Nicole’s actually really excited for me. She’s like ‘Oh, my God, I wish I could go too,’” he says. 

“I would still only be in situations where the risk is extremely low,” Payne continues. “She’s also hoping that she’ll be able to have a vaccine because we’re both just itching to have a friend or like two friends come over to our house because our house is so delightful and it needs people in it.”

The couple didn’t split from one another, but they did say goodbye to their two roommates. One roommate decided to live alone, seeing as a studio apartment has never been cheaper, while another moved out for their job. Replacing them has been surprisingly difficult. The upside is they’ve been able to make their house a home, decorating it whatever way they want. They have a disco ball in one of their workspaces, which adds some joy whenever the sun hits it. 

“I’m still processing the pandemic happening,” says Baum. “My privilege in the pandemic—I’m still processing that. I’m still processing like how cool it is that Eliot and I have made it through an Earth shattering pandemic and we’re OK and we’re even like closer.” Playing Animal Crossing on her Nintendo Switch has also helped her get by. 

 — Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • The daily case rate is still in the RED, or at Phase 0/1 levels. DC Health cites a backlog in testing that should level off Wednesday. To see today’s coronavirus cases and more information, visit our coronavirus dashboard. [EOM]
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  • Mayor Bowser lifted some coronavirus restrictions. For example, outdoor gatherings are now capped at 50, instead of 25, and next week select public libraries open to the public. [Post]  
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By Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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