Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do You Handle A Break Up While Under Quarantine?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been with my boyfriend for nearly 4 years.  We have been so happy and I have not felt any issues in my relationship. If anything, I felt he was more affectionate in our relationship. Sex has been great and regular.

2 weeks ago, we went on a snowboarding holiday. It wasn’t the best holiday (due to weather and place) but we just got on with it. On the last day, I noticed a girl had messaged him asking if he is having a good ski holiday. Obviously I thought it was weird and asked him why a girl is messaging him that. Maybe asked in a angry way, but I felt it was very odd and had never seen her message before.

He replied with she’s a girl from work, trying to make friends with everyone. After a 2 hour cab journey in silence. I got over it and left it. I apologised if I seemed angry and just explained how I saw it was weird. But I don’t think he has gotten over it.

When we come back, out of the blue he now thinks we have nothing in common and he has no feelings for me and can’t be bothered with the relationship anymore?! Unfortunately this happened the day the UK went into lockdown, and we are living together. We sat down and chatted about it, I explained that it is possibly to do with everything going on around the world at the moment. He is insisting that it’s not and it’s the way he feels. He hasn’t kissed me and doesn’t cuddle me in bed anymore. I am giving him as much space as I can, during this time.

How can I get him to see that it just a pissed off stage and that we are actually ok?

Stuck In Limbo

DEAR STUCK IN LIMBO: I think that you’re looking at a false dichotomy here, SiL. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation — that either it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that’s got your boyfriend down OR he genuinely feels like he’s checked out of this relationship. It’s entirely possible for both things to be true: he’s been having doubts about this relationship and the circumstances of life under quarantine are exacerbating negative feelings.

And if I’m perfectly honest, I’m not sure things are ok.

Let’s look at what brought you to this place. There are times when it seems like a person’s reaction vastly outweighs the circumstances that triggered that reaction. Take, for example, that one tiff seems to have caused your boyfriend to feel that he’s not that into you right now. That seems like it would be a bit of an overreaction to a fairly petty squabble. If all it took for him to suddenly decide that your relationship is over and he actually doesn’t like you all that much because you had one fight… well, honestly, I’d wonder how the hell you got through four years together. That would be a pretty big indicator that this was not the strongest of relationships to start with.

And while it’s not impossible that you two have managed to thread that particular needle consistently for four years — hey, in an infinite universe, weird s

t can happen — it’s pretty unlikely.

The odds are better that this is something that’s been bubbling for a while now, and that the fight you had at the end of your holiday was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

But at the same time, I’ve got a suspicion that this fight wasn’t a first for you two either. Maybe I’m wrong, but getting on his case for someone asking him an incredibly benign, even banal question seems like something that would be kinda weird coming out of the clear blue sky. Getting your nose out of joint over someone you don’t know saying “hey, had a good time on your trip?” is as much of an overreaction as one fight being all it took to end the relationship. And if this were literally the first time this ever happened… well, that’d be another marker in the “it seems like you two stayed together through sheer luck” scoreboard.

So I think you may need to take a long hard look at how you both have been acting and feeling over the last few months, even the last year. If this isn’t the first time you’ve gotten suspicious or jealous about people he knows, then it could well be that this has been a grievance he’s been sitting with for a while.

The question here is whether it’s even possible to pull things back from the brink, especially since the world is on lockdown and the two of you are stuck with one another. Normally in these circumstances, I’d advocate for having an Awkward Conversation, where you explain how you’re feeling, what you would need or want and how that would make the relationship better, before giving him a chance to share his side of things.

That ain’t gonna work here. You’re going to need to actually do the inverse. You’ve done a lot of explaining to him how he feels or should feel and that’s not helping. Trying to fix things between the two of you is going to involve a lot less talking and a lot more listening. If he’s having doubts and believes his feelings have changed, then you’re going to need to give him room to share how he feels. And that means just listening, without trying to correct him, object to his interpretation of things or otherwise steer the conversation. It sounds to me like he’s got a lot of things on his mind and things he hasn’t said. And honestly, it’ll probably hurt like hell to hear them. But like lancing a boil, you’re going to have to put up with the unpleasantness in order to get to the healing.

And that’s assuming he wants to make things work.

Look, I’m not gonna lie: this is a Hail Mary pass at best. He may not be interested in trying to fix things. But if you are going to make the attempt — or at least be able to live together temporarily until you can find another option — then you’re going to have to have a moment to let him unburden himself and then see where you two stand.

Good luck.

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