I’ve never coped well with breakups.
My dream ending would involve handing out a questionnaire featuring questions such as ‘Name the top five things I did wrong’, ‘Did your parents actually like me?’ and the old classic, ‘Is there someone else?’
Now add lockdown into the equation.
I broke up with my girlfriend of two years a fortnight before lockdown started – ironically because I’d felt trapped.
Arguments would last weeks over petty things like a friends’ birthday drinks or ‘Who’s that person you’re looking at on Twitter?’. The normal affection we’d been clinging to was dwindling.
Finally, painfully, we cut the lifeline completely, the break up confirmed with the ceremonial returning of toothbrushes, via her flatmate.
We’d decided some distance was needed before we actually spoke again, and the universe had a strange way of enforcing that.
After previous break-ups I’ve distracted myself from negative thoughts with socialising, trips and gigs, escaping back to my parents’ to recover with cups of tea, knitted attire and constant reassurances that ‘it’s the right decision’.
Day one of lockdown, however, and I was stuck at home, alone, with banana bread providing the conversation, and my innate ability to put my exes on a pedestal, while simultaneously lowering myself into a pit of despair.
I launched into my usual break-up routine of studying my ex’s Instagram. No one ‘wins’ a break up on social media – but you don’t want to come across as the loser. Usually I’d have posted a shot that yelled ‘Look at me, I’m cool, surrounded by friends and having a great time’.
But in lockdown, there is nowhere to go. There’s no FOMO. I can’t rush off on dates, or constant nights out, in order to plaster about them online.
My ex escaped to her parents’ house pre-lockdown so I don’t need to worry about her safety, or analyse her night-out posts to see if she’s moving on. Meanwhile, I can do what I like, such as become addicted to Great British Menu and eat toast in my pants, knowing I am doing about as well as anyone else. It’s all been oddly… calming.
Early on I worried that the lack of distraction in lockdown would see me trapped in a mind palace of negativity, grieving what we could have had or wondering if I’d made a mistake. There is only so much Tiger King you can hide behind before you inevitably begin to rose-tint the past or cast blame.
Instead, it’s made me look at myself. I have been forced to examine my behaviour in love, to ‘Marie Kondo’ my relationship and dissect the good and bad. Like how I’d often become fixated on a project, from stand up to interview prep, and then let it leak into quality time as a couple. I should have made more time for the two of us and been more present.
I recognise that I was also supportive though, understanding, that I brought new things into our lives, like music and comedy.
Without this forced down time, I doubt I would be so level-headed when scrutinising myself. I’ve been able to let the bits that ‘spark joy’ remain, and learn from the bits I may have otherwise dismissed from shame or embarrassment.
Lockdown is an extreme test for any relationship. I’ve seen couples flourish with their new found time together – but I’ve also seen people report on social media that they’ve realised their partner is the office ‘let’s swivel on that idea for a while and circle round to finance’ guy, and been utterly disgusted.
Had my ex and I remained a couple we would have been plunged into lockdown together. Considering that has been an oddly clarifying mental routine, and one that’s helped rid me of any doubt about our ending.
Despite how much we both cared for one another, being trapped in a flat would have only intensified our problems and made us both more anxious.
In our final weeks with each other, I felt like I wasn’t being myself for fear of creating another argument. And I’ve watched enough Big Brother to know that kind of pressure, 24/7, leads to a breakdown that ends up with a YouTube auto-tuned remix.
Accepted or otherwise, any break up means losing a part of yourself (for me, it was the part that cooked nice eggs) and I do worry about my future as a single man post-lockdown.
My ex was my first relationship in a new city; social groups were built around ‘us’, not ‘me’ and I have sat with fear that by losing her, I’ve isolated myself on a permanent basis.
Yet Zoom calls have reassured me I am not alone. I’m taking part in an endless series of quizzes, and I actually feel closer to so many people. I had a FaceTime call with my dad for the first time ever, and for once we didn’t just talk about football – instead my ‘own goals’ in relationships featured heavily.
Lockdown has helped me to see that I am enough, and will be for someone else (I’m not saying form a queue, but I am great with pets). Being alone means I’ve had no choice but to be honest with myself, trust my own thoughts and not rely on others for reassurance.
What someone else is going through – their happiness, them moving on – doesn’t need to dictate how I feel.
These realisations have been an epiphany. Frankly, I am ashamed that it has taken me a pandemic to get there.