The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered relationships all over the world, and I wasn’t ready for my year-long relationship to be a casualty of that. I was in love. I was happy. I was planning a wedding in my head that felt like it could really happen. I had really started to get used to the idea of life with another person.
It’s hard not to sound dramatic when I talk about how my ex and I broke up, so I won’t. But I will say it was a surprise for which I was totally unprepared. As the dust settled, I thought about the new normal I’d just settled into with my now-ex and how it had been thrown out of the window. I began to miss intimacy. I craved cuddling like I’d never craved it before. I still jumped when my phone buzzed—just in case.
It became difficult not to sink into a depressive episode. It was hard not to hurt; as someone with abandonment issues from past trauma, I felt like my worst fears had come true. I was completely alone in my house with no one to dry my tears. The person I had been planning my future with had just walked out the door. It felt like my entire world was imploding.
Fearing being completely alone with my thoughts, I spent some time at my parents’ house nearby. Summer was in full swing; we spent most of our time outside, and I settled into a comfortable new normal of Animal Crossing and four o’clock happy hour. With next to no work responsibilities due to the pandemic, it felt like I was on vacation. I knew the escape from reality wouldn’t last long, and that eventually I would have to return to my house and start to piece my life back together.
It was great to have the company of my parents, but I still found myself pulling late nights and sitting with my feelings. Before the pandemic, I found great joy in sitting in a bar by myself to process my thoughts. Even if I talked to no one but the bartender, it was just nice to be surrounded by people. Now that my ex was no longer in my life, I had to get used to spending time with myself again. I needed something to replace the nights spent reading at the end of the bar, so I threw myself into being creative. I wrote a lot and photographed more. With each tangible thing I produced, with every chapter and every image, I slowly started to regain my grasp on myself and my future.
It wasn’t lost on me that my ex had undone a lot of the progress I had made in healing from my past trauma. By the end of it, my relationship had me constantly on edge. The relief didn’t set in until a few days after the breakup, but I felt liberated, even though it hadn’t been my decision to end the relationship. I’d been so afraid of living my life alone that I’d stayed, even though it wasn’t right for me anymore. It took getting out of that relationship to realize all of this, but once I came to terms with how much better off I was without my ex, it became so much easier to fall into the happiness I felt when I was at my absolute best.
I talked to my therapist about it. I talked to my parents about it. I talked to my friends about it. But overall, what worked best was checking in with myself more. I’ve never felt ashamed of needing an emotional support network to get through hard times, but something about this felt different. Maybe part of it was the pandemic forcing me to be more independent, but I felt so ready to listen to myself and my needs and put myself first for the first time in a long time.
As for dating during a pandemic? It’s awkward, but it’s been nice to take things slowly with people, and not have the constant pressure to meet up and be doing things together. It’s allowed me another form of space for myself that I’ve never had before. The nature of many of my past relationships has been largely codependent, and having space for myself within a relationship was always hard. Social distancing has made it so much easier to create that space, and now I know it’s an absolute necessity for me. The last seven months in isolation haven’t been my luckiest, but they’ve definitely been some of my most important.
None of this happened overnight. It took months of journaling and being honest with myself about my feelings to get where I am today, and it didn’t erase the loneliness by any means. It’s hard not to feel even more isolated with everything going on in the world, but by leaning into the extra time with myself, I feel I was able to come to peace with the situation a lot faster. So here’s my advice to anyone handling a breakup during quarantine: use the time to find yourself again, listen to yourself, and make yourself happy. Getting out of a relationship can be hard, but it’s also the beginning of a new chapter. While that chapter may look uncertain, maybe it’s okay for it to be a self-centered interlude.
Illustration by Sarah Jane Souther for TED