Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Did COVID-19 Ruin My Relationship?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a straight guy in my mid-30, Grad Student, haven’t dated much (for various reasons), but I have spent the last year getting back into dating while doing a lot of reading and studying how to be a good prospect. I’d been working hard to pass the Grimes test before I met anyone, so I can be a good partner.

Anyway, around Christmas, I have an amazing date w/ a polite and fun woman (also mid-30s), and we proceed to see each other a lot over the next few months (2x a week, every week this semester), eventually starting a relationship. She’s was always a great date, initiated texts and other dates, and is always polite, open, and fun.

However, there are some issues. She is from India, and has different views on relationship standards than I’m used to as an America. I’m always trying to be a gentleman, and she was clearly willing to work with me on most things (Still, she did proceed to kink shame me once, even blowing up at me over a minor mention of the subject of sex once, which was a red flag; for the record, she is waaaay more experienced than I am, but far less comfortable discussing it like a mature adult). Regardless, she is big into PDA and I was having so much fun with her, so adjusting my expectations to her comfort level wasn’t really an issue to me (no cookies for doing what is ethical regardless, right?).

Also, she is a post-doc researcher whose visa status is limited now that she is done with school; she stated that she is open to something serious, but might have to leave town to take up job somewhere. She’s been in a lot of long-distance relationships, so seeing me seriously even if she had to move isn’t outside of her purview. Still, despite asking for the details more than once, she never actually told me the fine points of her visa situation (e.g., how many months she had left on it).

We both agreed that we were exclusive and had hit the stage where we wanted to meet each other’s friends, but then COVID happened. We isolate apart from each other, me now doing online classes, and her stuck outta work. We spend the first couple of weeks in frequent contact, and, even with the world rapidly changing, when I voice concerns about it affecting our new relationship, she was very laid-back and assuring in that it won’t affect us at all. Our online time seemed just the same as IRL, just sans physical touch: fun, natural, and hours-long.

Then week 3 happens, and (unlike any time since I met her) she is suddenly distant, quiet, begins ignoring my texts, and cuts all our talks very short, despite “having nothing but time. Time is meaningless now”. She even breaks a hangout date, and won’t really give me any time or insight into her day(s). This is unlike her, but when I ask her about “us” she just reiterates that we’re fine. I want to believe her and I don’t want to be needy, but I had my suspicions.

First, a week prior, she asked me to do a rather uncomfortable favor for her, and while I was happy to do it because I care about her, the way she approached me about it made me feel manipulated and used afterwards. Second, she started having nightly online hang-time with her most recent ex (now a close friend in another state, who has a drug problem). She had always been open about him before, so I initially didn’t think much of it until now.

Anyway, I didn’t want to overreact, so I take my concerns to two different close friends (both women, married, who think I’m a catch). They independently tell me she is pushing me out for some reason, and that I should end it. I see her in person one more time with plans to end it, but we have a good time and she engages with me again, so I get cold feet. We plan to hang out the next day but she breaks it for a legit reason (it was better for my schedule that day anyway, so no harm).

The next day (Easter, as it happens), I call with the intention to postpone again, and she seems elated to postpone, but tries to hammer down plans for another favor on Tuesday (blood donation, which is super important right now). I voice that I was hoping to talk to her again sooner than that, but she is evasive, settling on 7pm. I hang up vocally annoyed (and probably curt, I’m embarrassed to admit). She doesn’t call me until 7:30 (very rare for her to be late), is cold as ice and is not engaged at all in our conversation at all, being uncharacteristically rude to me and cutting the call short. She also uses her word choice to let me know just how much more intelligent she is than I am (a cruel first).

Confused and hurt, I call her back a few minutes later and she flat out refuses to talk, texting “Sorry but no, I’m good for now”. I’m shocked, and I personally cannot brook being spoken to in such a way from someone who supposedly cares about me, so I call again to establish some appropriate boundaries. I get that this is probably a mistake, and I should have likely waited until the next day or so to press the issue, but it happens.

She finally picks up and basically said my calls are too much, she’s done, and why am I so concerned overthinking about our, “minor little relationship in its infancy?”. I admit that I am insulted by her tone and I was planning on breaking up already, to which she responds “That’s perfect! Let’s do that.” and then immediately proceeds to attempt to rearrange our blood donation times so we don’t have to see each other on Tuesday. This bizarre response confuses me and we get into a short argument over it until I hung up on her in frustration.

We haven’t talked since.

So here’s the thing, Doc. I need you give me straight talk on this, cuz I’m outta my depth here:

-Things were going great between us and then COVID-19 came and t-boned everyone’s lives at high speed.

-I tried to be an attentive and kick-ass boyfriend despite the Chicago lockdown. Should I chalk this up to coronavirus stress/lifestyle changes killing our flow and then be done with introspection over the short relationship?

– Was I wrong to care so much about a young relationship in the middle of a global crisis?

-I was trying not to be needy but was to trying to express my needs. I didn’t change; she changed, and dramatically. I tried to respond to the change as an adult, and without being a doormat. Am I being a colorblind arsehole right now, or did I get insight into her actual character?

– My ex was, up into that point, the most polite and enjoyable date I’d had since I began dating again. Ending it on such a disrespectful note sucks. I have no interest in her anymore, but this is the age is COVID-19, and I think social rules are a bit flexible right now. Do I have any responsibility to try to at least end things amicably with some type of olive branch (after an appropriate time gap)?


Incompatibility or Corona?

DEAR INCOMPATIBILITY OR CORONA: There’s a flaw in your thinking that’s inherent in your sign-off: IoC. It doesn’t have to be incompatibility OR the pandemic. It could very easily be both. One of the things that trips people up — even folks in long-term relationships — is that it’s very easy to maintain a relationship when things are good. We tend to think of times of crisis or struggle as a point where only one person is directly affected. You (generic you) get sick or lose your job or deal with a family crisis and your partner steps up and takes care of you or vice versa. But while those times are stressful… they’re not the same stress test as when you’re both in the s

t. Maybe to different levels, but you’re both in a place where you’re being f

ked by the fickle finger of fate, and that is going to be the point where you discover what your relationship is really made of. Not at a time when one or the other can be the nurse or the comfortadore or the rock but when both of you are out to sea and it’s sink or swim time motherf


The times when you’re both emotionally exhausted, when you’re living under constant stress and something as simple as being too close to your friends could be a potential death sentence… that is when you’re going to see whether or not this relationship has what it takes to survive.

Now part of the problem is that yes, this hit when you were barely in a relationship. At three months, you’re barely at the point where you’re willing to fart in front of each other. Suddenly being in the middle of a global catastrophe is going to put the strain on any relationship — and we’re seeing a boom in divorces and couples splitting up as a result of the quarantine stress. But it doesn’t sound like your girlfriend was really taking your relationship seriously.

I mean, even under the best of circumstances, relationships require maintenance and care. But these aren’t the best circumstances. These are circumstances where you’re all under the worst stress possible, the kind that ultimately doesn’t goddamn end  for months at a time. That’s hard. It means that everyone’s emotions are going to be a lot bigger and a lot noisier because we’re all dealing with incredible pressure. Even when you’re not consciously thinking about it, the immensity of it all is weighing down on you. This is a situation where maintaining your emotional health and the health of your relationship requires extra thought and care and effort. This is a high-pressure situation that everyone’s feeling and nobody can escape from.

And you know how things respond to pressure? Some things turn into diamonds. Others break.

Your relationship broke, and it seems like the flaws were there from the start. Little things like her blowing up at you for mentioning sex, kink-shaming you, even just being weirdly (and unnecessarily) cagey about how long she had on her visa were all little things that you might have been able to work through or deal with under different circumstances. But these weren’t normal circumstances and apparently once push came to shove, she didn’t see your relationship as being real, serious or  something that needed to be cared for. And honestly, that’s the only thing you need to know. Everything else after that is secondary or tertiary at best.

Was she getting up to shady s

t with her ex? Maybe, but it doesn’t matter.  Were you calling too much or asking for too much? Hard to tell, especially seeing as her definition of “too much” seems pretty low. Was she always looking down on you for not being as smart as her? Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter. She was ok with treating you, your feelings and your relationship like you were a secondary priority or disposable… well, honestly, that really tells you everything you needed to know.

So no, I don’t think you need to do much introspection here. Nor, for that matter, do I think there’s a real need to try to relitigate the ending or end it on a different note. At best, you’re going to have a short, cold conversation. At worst, you’re going to end up hearing things you don’t want to hear. So I think the best thing you can do is thank your personal gods that this ended sooner rather than later, chalk it up to a learning experience and wash your hands of the matter.

It sucks… but it’s over and you’re free to move on to someone who doesn’t think that it’s ok to treat someone she’s supposedly serious about in such a casual and cruel manner.

Good luck.

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