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October 9, 2013

Spouses of federal workers find furlough, well, weird

(Continued)

WASHINGTON — He is growing, she says, a furlough beard.

The furlough beard, that scourge of the furlough spouse. As the shutdown continues, the hair grows on the faces of housebound government employees around the country. It has become a movement, with a name: "Shaveless Shutdown continues to day 7," a furloughed employee writes on Twitter. "If this doesn't end soon, my wife may divorce me."

The furloughed, according to their spouses, are sometimes not changing out of their pajamas until noon. They are eating all of the cereal or buying weird things for the house.

Some also are becoming industrious: finally cleaning out the storage room, picking up the kids from school, baking furlough desserts. Were it not for the uncertainty of it — the vagueness of when this will end, and whether back pay will come through before the next mortgage payment is due — it could be a lovely thing to have a furloughed spouse at home.

"It feels like an endless weekend," says Krasnican, an artist who works from home. In good ways and bad. Her husband has been able to explore hobbies and pick up day-to-day slack around the house, but the ambiguity of the shutdown's duration prevents him from tackling longer-term projects.

And then, of course, he's talking to the cat.

"You're not normally together as a couple during the day," says Rob Maher, boyfriend to a furloughed government contractor. Romantic couples are typically sequestered away from each other for nine to 12 hours every day, locked in cubicles or home offices, free to engage in their daily routines without judgment.

Maher, for example, is a comedian; he works nights and then sleeps until 10 or 11 in the morning. His girlfriend, a government contractor, normally is out of the house by 6 a.m. Due to this schedule, their household has acquired a certain rhythm. Maher is typically in charge of housecleaning. But now that his girlfriend is home because of the shutdown, the natural order of the house has been disrupted. She also has begun cleaning. This is causing guilt and confusion. "If she's cleaning in front of me, wait, does this mean that I should also be cleaning?" Maher asks. "Or did I not do a good enough job cleaning?"

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