Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do You Recover From A Break-Up When You’re Under Quarantine for COVID-19?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Good morning Doc,

I wanted to know what you thought and would advise regarding how to recover from a break up during this COVID-19 pandemic (or other scenarios where you’re not able to go out and meet new people). A few day ago I had to cut things with a girl I was seeing since November. I didn’t want to, but there was a lack of effort to communicate and I was putting in all the effort. After having it met with the equivalent of banging one's head against the wall, I was left with no choice but to do what’s best for me. As productive as that sounds it’s still hard because as of now we’re in a curfew state with business and activity areas to meet new people are shutdown so now I’m stuck missing what I lost but don’t have a way to get past it. Yes I’m working on myself with studying more, picking up guitar again, and practicing new art skills but being solo doesn’t take my head off it.

I know there’s probably a video you have on the breakup and there’s a video on what you can do during the pandemic but I wondered if there was a new type of thought process for when it’s both out together.

Thanks for listening and having an awesome channel and podcast,

Life Under Quarantine

DEAR LIFE UNDER QUARANTINE: I do, in fact, have a video about getting over your break up over on my YouTube channel (YouTube.com/user/DrNerdLove), LUQ and I think it would be helpful for you to watch it. It'll explain a little about what's going on and why you're having a difficult time getting your mind off of your ex.

Part of the reason why people — guys, especially — have a hard time getting over break ups is because love isn't just emotional; it's also chemical. When we're with our partner, our brains are generating large amounts of dopamine and oxytocin — the "cuddle" chemical that encourages things like social bonding, sexual arousal and romantic connections. Those chemicals hit the pleasure centers of your brain just so and make you crave more. This is part of why, for example, we want to spend all of our time with a new partner; we are, literally, addicted to them because we're getting huge doses of feel-good brain drugs. 

When we break up with someone, we're suddenly cut off from that source, and our brains want it back... badly. This is why it can often be so hard to stop thinking about our exes or wanting them back, even if we know that the relationship was toxic or that there were very good reasons why the relationship had to end. 

This is why part of the key to getting over someone is to find a new source or sources of oxytocin. This is part of why we have the old saw of "get over someone by getting under someone else"; since oxytocin is most readily generated through sex and physical touch, sex with someone new is a quick and easy way to find new sources of oxytocin, as well as validation that yes other people desire you and that there are other people out there. 

Of course, sex isn't the only way of finding new sources of oxytocin, it's simply the most socially acceptable for guys. Part of the reason why women often have an easier time getting over an ex then men do is because men as a gender are incredibly touch-deprived. It's socially acceptable for women to seek reassurance — including physical contact, like hugging — from their friends in times of need. Men are cut off from that source of reassurance because we equate physical contact with sexual contact, just as we associate emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy. It's a classic case of toxic masculinity ruining the party once again.

But there are ways around this and getting the need for physical touch met, even without sexual contact. Massage, for example, is a great way to soothe the body, ease the cortisol that comes from emotional stress and gain a source of oxytocin by having one's touch needs met. So too are various forms of social dancing, particularly Latin and ballroom dancing. 

However, we're all also under quarantine thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic... which has made it difficult to access those forms of physical contact and the associated generation of oxytocin.

But "difficult" isn't the same as "impossible". 

The key is that you need to start getting creative and working with the tools that you have available to you. 

Start by connecting with your friends. While physical touch and sex are the most obvious sources for oxytocin, we also generate oxytocin through laughter and conversation. Reaching out to your friends, having virtual hang-outs and happy-hours not only helps you feel less alone, but also encourages sharing, socializing and laughter — all of which help generate oxytocin in the brain. Get your buddies together and use an extension like NetflixParty, TwoSeven or apps like Zoom to watch movies — especially dumb action flicks or your favorite comedies. 

And while you may not be able to touch another person right now, that doesn't mean you can't find other sources of touch and comfort. If you have the space, the finances and your lease allows it, now is a great time to foster a cat or dog. The shelters in your area need to find foster homes during the shut-down, especially if your state or city has a shelter-in-place order. Having a new furry friend in your life not only gives you company and cuddles, it also gives you purpose, direction and allows you to do some much-needed good for others. Not only will this help distract you from missing your ex, it'll give you something concrete that you can point to and say "by doing this, I'm doing something to make the world a little better." 

And you should also date. 

Yes, I know. We're all under lockdown. But you may have noticed that the dating apps aren't shut down. People are still talking, swiping and matching. Since you can't be with each other physically right now, talking, Skype and texting — all opportunities for laughter and good conversation — are going to be of much higher importance. And if things go well, sex is still on the table. Phone sex, sexting, cam sessions via Skype or FaceTime... these are all ways that you can connect with others sexually, even if you can't be there in the flesh. It's not quite the same as an old-fashioned in-person hook-up, but it will have much the same effect. That validation of your desirability as a partner, the sexual connection with others and the reminder that your ex wasn't the only woman in the world are all still available to you. You may have to be creative about it... but what's a quarantine good for if not learning how to try new and different things?

I'm not gonna lie; it's a rough time right now. But that doesn't mean that the world has come to a halt. We're still living, we're still loving and still moving forward. Take the time to heal and connect with others — platonically as well as romantically. 

You'll be ok. I promise.

All will be well.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com