DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been watching a number of your videos lately, and they’ve been a great help to me so far. However, I’m finding that I’m in a situation at the moment that I don’t think has been covered so far, and I can find very little help dealing with it specifically.
The game changer has been COVID.
Basically, early last year, I started dating a girl (we met on Tinder… Yeah, I know…) and it turned out we clicked amazingly. First date, I took her out for dessert, because I was afraid that we wouldn’t hit it off, but we really did. What should have been a 1-hr first date over ice-cream, ended up being 3 ½ hours long and we were set up immediately the next week. Our relationship went on like this really rapidly, and within a month or so, we were Facebook official. Then the s--t hit the fan, and bad things happened. Lockdown came in and were separated around 700 plus miles from each other. She had to go back to her parent house, as she couldn’t afford to pay the rent as she couldn’t work from home. We really didn’t know when we would see each other again.
At first, I thought “this is it, we’re probably going to fizzle out” turns out we didn’t! We came up with a schedule whereby we’d have ‘Netflix parties’ over the internet, watching films and shows at the same time and commenting to each other about it, and then zooming every weekend. We’d have consistent good morning and good night texts. It really felt like we were still together.
After 4 months of this purgatory, we were reunited, and everything seemed to be going ok, we finally had a lot of actual dates and day trips, but lockdown was still pretty much in place and did restrict all the things we could do. She was having to work in a new job she didn’t really enjoy, and had to put in crazy hours. I think it had a real effect on her energy and health. I noted that awkward silences had started to creep into our conversations.
One week, I’d put a plan together that were to have a dinner and movie night around my place, just a simple date to get together (due to schedules we could only see each other once or twice a week at this rate). Then the text came the day before: “we need to talk.” And that was it. I knew everything had come to an end. I was due to go out playing football that same night, but I couldn’t. As pathetic as it sounds, I collapsed. I physically hurt. We met in the park, and it all went worse than I ever expected.
We’re due to meet to pick up each other’s stuff, and I’m dreading every minute of it. As childish as it sounds, I really thought she was ‘the one’, and that I would marry this girl. I couldn’t wait to meet her family, she had wanted to meet mine earlier in the year, I just thought everything was coming together in my life.
Now, I just feel as if it’s all hopeless, I’m trying to get back into online dating again, but due to the pandemic, I feel too scared to meet people until I’m vaccinated. I loved your videos about Oneitis and how to get over it, but everything just seems to have come apart , and I can’t even go to the gym properly now!
I just feel isolated and helpless, the worst bit is that I feel like this pandemic has run down the clock on any potential future for me. I’m nearing 30, and am single without kids, I know it’s fatalistic, but I’ve gone to brimming with hope, to running on empty.
TL:DR How can I let go of who I thought was the girl of my dreams, and rebuild my confidence and hope for the future during this pandemic?
DEAR BROKEN INSIDE: I’m sorry you went through this. It always sucks when you’ve got the relationship of your dreams, only to get jarred out of that dream without warning.. especially when so much of it is due to factors outside of your control.
But here’s the thing: you’ll have other dreams.
The problem you’re running into here — aside from, y’know, the pain of the break-up — is that you’re dealing with a pretty profound scarcity mentality right now. Part of what’s got you so down is that you’re treating this as though it were the last relationship you will ever have; this was the last woman you could ever love and now you’re doomed to die alone and unloved at the ripe old age of (*checks notes*) 30…
And let’s be honest: that’s not true. You feel this way because the pain is fresh and you’re treating this break up as a referendum on you as a person and honestly… it isn’t. Not in the way you think, really. What happened is that you were in a relatively young relationship — what, only a couple of months — before the difficulty setting on life got kicked up to expert mode. After having been forced into a de-facto long-distance relationship, which is hard enough as it is, you and your girlfriend reunited, only to have other life stressors hit. Something had to give… and unfortunately, that something was your relationship. And that sucks, it absolutely sucks… but sometimes life is like that.
Now it feels like you had a taste of paradise, only to have it yanked away. And look, I get it. I’ve been where you are. There was a point where I thought I’d had it all. I met a girl and things went crazy fast. I thought I had the perfect job, the perfect girlfriend and the perfect life. Then, as so often happens, it all came crashing down around me. I got fired from my perfect job and then I got dumped by my perfect girlfriend shortly afterwards and lost pretty much everything that came with both. At the time I joked that if my car broke down I’d have to learn to play guitar and start a country band… but in a very real way, it felt like I had my entire life yanked out from under me and I had to start over from scratch.
But as it turned out… all that misery was more or less what I needed. Here’s what I didn’t know at the time: that relationship was never going to work. While a lot of what happened was due to circumstances outside of my control, at the end of the day, the reason why my relationship fell apart was because, quite frankly, I wasn’t ready for it. I had a lot of growing, learning and changing to do. Even if outside forces hadn’t been at play — I hadn’t lost my job, stuff in my girlfriend’s life hadn’t happened on her end — we still would’ve broken up sooner rather than later because I wasn’t who I needed to be just yet. If things had progressed slower or I hadn’t decided that this was The One, Absolutely Perfect Relationship, then things might’ve played out differently. But they didn’t.
(Now, this story does have a happy ending; that break up ultimately put me on the path to where I am today, and my ex and I are actually good friends now. In fact, she’s probably getting a little tired how often this story ends up being relevant to the column…)
What does this mean for you? Well, it’s going to be a learning experience. Not one that you wanted, granted. But you’re going to learn a lot from this, and the things you’re going to learn are going to serve you for your next relationship.
And the most important thing you can learn right now is you’re looking at things from the wrong angle. Your ex wasn’t The One because there is no One. As awesome as she was — and I have no doubts that she was great — there are other women out there who are just as amazing, if not more so. Similarly, the fact that this relationship ended doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. What all of this shows is how much you’re capable of. I mean, dude. First, you met an awesome woman off Tinder, planned and executed some great dates and the two of you became an actual thing. Then, after you were forced apart by the pandemic, you kept things going for four months — and you handled it perfectly, I might add. Yeah, the stress of COVID and all the various knock-on effects exacerbated any stress points in your relationship… but that’s been happening to a lot of people right now. You lasted longer than a lot of folks did under what are unquestionably unprecedented circumstances.
But what all of this means is that the fact that you’ve found this amazing relationship is proof that you are capable of doing this again. This wasn’t some one-time fluke, BI. You didn’t find your girlfriend because the heavens aligned just right. You demonstrated that you are more than capable of meeting and dating awesome women, and when you’re ready to get back out there, you’ll be able to meet more.
So what do you do right now? Well, first, you give yourself some time to feel the f--k out of your feels. This relationship ended and that’s something that should be mourned. After a couple of weeks of letting yourself have a decent wallow, it’ll be time to get back up and start rebuilding. Start with a good old-fashioned deep clean of your place. I’m a big believer in symbolic gestures as a way of programming the brain, and there’s nothing that screams “renewal and hope” like going HAM with the steam cleaner. While you’re at it: start looking for ways to refill your dopamine reserves. Part of why you’re hurting right now is because your girlfriend was your single biggest source of dopamine. You got cut off from your happy-brain-drug dealer and now you’re in withdrawal. But she doesn’t need to be your only fix. We generate dopamine through touch, through laughter and conversation with friends and through sex. Sex may be off the table, but the others aren’t. A massage (within safe parameters), spending time with friends (distanced, outside or via Zoom)… these all help recharge your dopamine reserves and ease that sense of loss.
Then pick a project — something that will make a positive difference in your life. Maybe you’ll pick up a new hobby or start a new exercise routine. Maybe you’ll start learning a new language or learn how to cook. These not only give you something to focus on, but they help build a brighter, better future. They make you feel like you’re doing something that improves your life, something that’ll give you a leg up once you’ve got your shots and you’re ready to start stepping out into society again. Because you will have a future. This isn’t the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end.
It’s just the end of the beginning.
You’re going through some hard times, but these are times that can help you become who you need to be. Just as long as you make sure you’re learning the right lessons from all of this. Because like I said my dude: you did far better than you realize. Your success before means that you can succeed again.
There will be other women and there will be other dreams. And this time, you’ll be in a much better position to handle what life throws at you.
You’ve got this.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org