DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Near the end of last year I started a new relationship with this incredible girl. Our chemistry was great and it honestly felt like I had found my “life buddy” (a term we called each other). She not only showed interest in the things that I liked but I was also interested in her likes and even when I didn’t understand them I was still able to see what she saw of value in them.
Fast forward to March of this year. Due to the pandemic we were both furloughed from our jobs and although we did our best keeping entertained for a month she felt homesick and moved back to KY with her family. The thought of going long distance was daunting but it was something we agreed we could attempt to do. After spending six months apart it feels like we both reached a breaking point. When talking about when our paths would cross again she didn’t seem very sure of were her life would be headed. Meanwhile, I had just started my graduate degree and returned to work. I had suggested she come down and visit me in FL, but she said she didn’t want to risk traveling. I was fine with this, until she mentioned she was also planning on flying to the Virgin Islands with her family. I brought this up to her on our last conversation, mentioning how it felt a bit of a double standard. She quickly admitted that she wasn’t happy and the long distance was taking a toll on her anxiety. She felt like we needed to call things off now while things were still good between us, than wait for the moment it reaches its boiling point.
It all hit me the next day. The apartment felt even more empty than it did before, probably because it was permanent now and she wasn’t coming back at all. I reached out to a friend of mine and we met up for drinks to which she showed me a message she received from my ex saying: “hey can you please check up on him this week”. I feel like I had no control over what happened and COVID just threw a very unexpected wrench into my relationship.
What happened? And what can I do about this?
DEAR PANDEMIC PARANOIA: The short version PP is yes: COVID-19 blew up your relationship.
The problem is that life threw the both of you a curveball because of the pandemic. You both went through a number of fairly significant life-events, which have a tendency to stress-test relationships, especially relatively new ones. First is, well, the fact that we’re living through the worst pandemic in a hundred years. That alone is causing people an incredible amount of stress and mental anguish. Even though it may not feel like it, the constant awareness that we’re living through a global crisis that’s killed more than 210,000 people in America alone has become the background radiation of our lives; it’s like a constant, low-grade hum that you can’t completely block out. Then there’s the fact that you both got furloughed from work. Getting let go, even when it’s theoretically temporary is a huge stressor. Not only does it mean that you have to deal the uncertainty of your financial situation, but for a lot of folks, it can be like a loss of identity. Men, in particular, tend to have adverse reactions to losing their job; it hits them square in the “man is supposed to be the provider” trope, leaving them feeling emasculated and helpless.
Then there’s the fact that you and your girlfriend transitioned to being in a long-distance relationship. Twice, even. The first time was when the quarantine came down and everyone who wasn’t living with their partner found themselves in a de facto long-distance relationship. The second time was when your girlfriend decided she needed to be with family and moved back to Kentucky. Long distance relationships can be incredibly hard on relationships under the best of circumstances. They’re even harder when the things that make LDRs tolerable — regular visits, knowing that there’s an end-point — are impossible. Your girlfriend moved away and, frankly, there wasn’t really any way for the two of you to reunite until either the pandemic eased up or you were both willing to run the risk of COVID exposure while traveling.
Neither of you were. That was the point where your relationship was functionally on a countdown timer until a break up that was, honestly, somewhat inevitable.
I mean, I hate to say this but… you all weren’t together for that long before COVID hit. Three-ish months is not a long time for a relationship; you’re still very much in the “getting to know you” stages, when you’re both on your best behavior and likely aren’t so much as farting in front of each other. That’s plenty of time for some serious sexual attraction and the rush of New Relationship Energy, but rarely enough time to forge the kind of emotional bonds that help a relationship last through so much upheaval. So — and I don’t mean to be cruel — I’m not entirely surprised that you were a lower priority; you simply weren’t together for long enough to really make that kind of connection.
That having been said: I do think it was s--tty of her to say “I just don’t feel safe traveling to see you” and then telling you that she was taking a family vacation to the Virgin Islands. That was unnecessarily mean on her part, and frankly it would’ve been kinder for her to end things without telling you that you were less important than a (frankly, in my opinion, irresponsible) family vacation. There was no need to tell you about that; she could’ve told you that she wasn’t able to do the long-distance thing and left it there without the implied insult.
At the end of the day, you’re right: this was out of your control. Unfortunately, life is like that; sometimes s--t happens, and the only thing you can do is roll with it. Many times the things that cause our relationships to end are out of everybody’s hands. There’s no good guy, there’s no bad guy, there’s just the vagaries of life. And while that sucks, there really isn’t anything to be done, nor was there anything you could have done to prevent this.
However, I do want to point out that she clearly does care about you. People who don’t care don’t, as a general rule, ask their friends to check in on their exes. That’s something I think you should hold onto. Your relationship didn’t end because of anything that you or she did wrong, nor did it end because one of you didn’t care enough. It’s simply that you were both reasonable people in an unreasonable situation.
Right now, I suggest you give yourself time to heal and recover from this. Take this time to practice some self-care and work on finding the things that will help you feel better. One of the things I strongly suggest is that you find ways to keep busy, especially with friends. One of the reasons why we feel so awful after a break up is because we’re in withdrawal; we’ve just lost our single biggest source of oxytocin and now we’re having to deal with the aftermath. Finding the things that help generate oxytocin — laughter, conversation, physical touch, even emotional satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment — goes a long, long way to helping ease that sense of loss.
I’m sorry you’re going through this PP, but just remember: this wasn’t your fault. This wasn’t something that you could’ve avoided if you’d done things differently. The simple truth is that you got dealt a s--tty hand this time around. It sucks now, but it won’t suck forever. Take care of yourself, and you’ll start to feel better faster than you realize.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org