Sex

7 People on What It's Like to Break Up During the COVID-19 Pandemic

"It was a deep, raw, emotional conversation, and the FaceTime aspect definitely added a weird element of sterility."

by Reina Sultan
Apr 22 2020, 3:29pm

Photos courtesy of Natalie Church; Olivia Devine; Sabrina

Given 2020's myriad Democratic candidates for president, American political assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, new Jared Kushner–mastermined Israeli-Palestinian “peace” plan, and raging wildfires in Australia, just to name a few: Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the events that initially seemed like they were going to define 2020, have been given about as much media attention as my now-dead sourdough starter. If you’re incredulously remembering that all of those things happened this year, you’re not alone. A global pandemic has since overshadowed every otherwise noteworthy and potentially life-changing event. That extends to our everyday lives, too.

Not only has COVID-19 pulled the curtain back on the world’s lack of preparedness for an international public health crisis, but it’s helped people in the U.S. especially realize just how fragile our social safety net really is. Millions have lost health care tied to their employment, our hospitals are overcrowded, and states are all following different protocols, leaving people confused about when this period of isolation will end. On top of all of that, some people have also realized that their romantic relationships weren’t strong enough to survive this crisis. VICE spoke to seven people about dealing with lost love amid a global pandemic.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Some names have been omitted or changed for reasons of privacy. All photos are courtesy of their subjects.

Sabrina, 30, Brooklyn, NY

My ex and I were close friends for a year before moving in together as roommates. We have the same social circle, and we're both heavily in the Brooklyn house/techno music scene. After a year, we both caught feelings for each other. One intoxicated night, we hooked up, and then kept hooking up.

I initiated break ups about maybe every three months in person when we lived together because the relationship was turbulent at best, toxic at worst. It always felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest, but I knew I had to stop our mutual misery. However, break-ups are hard to maintain unless one of us moves out. We adopted a second cat to try and salvage the situation (the ol' get a kid to save the relationship move), but, obviously, that wasn't it. It continued that way until December 2019 when we finally officially broke up.

We were both set to move out and had been apartment hunting since we broke up… and then Miss Rona came to town and made this year even weirder. Because we make a naturally good team—teaming up as small business partners; teaming up at Burning Man 2018—we immediately mobilized to quarantine together. We've both expressed how grateful we are that we're riding it out together.

We've been transparent and honest in a way we couldn't be in the past two years. Funny how a global pandemic that further reveals the cracks in our American imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal society can bring two people closer than ever! But as two exes and now best friends, we've become hella cuddly and cutesy, though we aren’t sleeping together. We've both expressed how grateful and appreciative we are that we're riding this out together. It's definitely because we're both in therapy and striving to really better ourselves as people and heal from past traumas. I’ve personally never been friends with my exes, but quarantine is a lawless time.

I'm dead set on being single after all this. I've convinced myself that I'll never go back because we were dysfunctional. We both agreed that we'll revisit if we want to continue being in a relationship after this ends. Then again, 2020 keeps getting wilder, so who really knows? At the very least, we have each other right now.

Catherine, 31, Brooklyn, NY

Neither of these got to the point of being a defined, capital-R relationship. I actually usually prefer to be monogamous in relationships, but I've been "casually dating" multiple people over the past year that I've been single. The thing is, in my lesbian relationships, "casual dating" still involves emotional connection and vulnerability and feelings and intense intimacy, so when they end, it still hurts.

I’d only been seeing the first person for two months. I was traveling for one week of that time, and she was traveling for two weeks of it, so there was a lot of flirty texting. When we did hang out, we'd get a drink—normal stuff. We had a lot of physical chemistry.

She was somewhat hot and cold during our whole time seeing each other. She was sometimes really excited to hang out, but then also referred to vague "things she was processing and going through" that had nothing to do with me.

Essentially, the breakup happened because, with the additional nightmare of COVID—she didn't have the space or energy to keep seeing me. This was like a day or two before all the restaurants and bars closed down, so, at the time it felt very terrible, but it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to see her IRL for a very long time anyway.

The other breakup hurt way more. We'd been seeing each other for six months. When we initially got together in September, she explained she was dealing with a breakup and moving out of an apartment with her ex. I said I was not looking for a relationship, so we were both on the same page about casually dating and seeing multiple people. Over the next few months, things got very intense between us. We were texting nonstop and seeing each other at least once a week. We had a check-in about that, and both admitted we still felt we couldn’t do a real relationship, so we kept things "casual," at least in how we talked about our relationship. We were very vulnerable with each other, told each other things we don't usually share with people, etc. Things gradually got a bit less intense in terms of the texting and how often we saw each other, and eventually settled into what felt like a really great thing for us both. She was someone who I felt very comfortable with, was super attracted to, trusted, and loved. The last date we went on was seeing Portrait of a Lady On Fire, which was a deeply powerful experience for me. I feel very lucky that I got to see it with her.

She ended things because she decided to be exclusive with someone else she had been seeing. It was very COVID-related: They both live alone and within walking distance of each other, so they decided to keep physically seeing each other and only each other throughout the pandemic. (I have a roommate, so I never even considered continuing to see anyone physically because it wouldn't be fair to her.) She said she and the other person wound up on a very accelerated timeline when quarantine started because they can only see each other. Her new partner told her she wasn't comfortable with her being romantic with anyone else, so they became exclusive and she ended things with me.

We broke up via text and then FaceTime, then another FaceTime a few days later after I'd had time to think about things. It hurt a lot, but it would have whether it had been in person or not. There was a lot of crying, between both of us, and there was absolutely a particular type of pain in not being able to hold her. It was a deep, raw, emotional conversation, and the FaceTime aspect definitely added a weird element of sterility.

Olivia Devine, 22, Nova Scotia, Canada

My partner and I were on rocky terms before COVID-19. He'd decided to travel Europe for a few months. His travel plans didn't bother me; I planned on traveling alone after getting my degree, as well. But the trip caused a strain because we met in university, and, after he graduated, we only lived an hour away. We never went more than two weeks apart. The distance while he was away proved to be difficult, which brought a lot of our issues into light.

When closing announcements began pouring in because of COVID-19, I became overwhelmed. My entire life was affected, while his remained relatively similar because he'd always worked from home. I explained that, because of these changes, I needed more support than usual. I also brought up the idea to quarantine together, considering he lives in a townhouse with plenty of room, and I didn't know if I could go another two months or more without seeing each him. He immediately hesitated. I was hurt by his refusal and lack of empathy.

The weekend that my province’s state of emergency was called, he decided it would be best to spend the weekend at his friend’s cottage. I tried to be understanding, but ended up calling him on that Sunday, saying that I would appreciate it if he made a pit stop to me on his way home. He came over and we ordered food and chatted. I knew we did not have a lot of time together but I also knew what I had to do. I felt frustrated and sad that our final moments felt rushed because of COVID-19. However, since it was our last time seeing each other in person before isolation, I broke up with him.

Sadly, COVID-19 was the deciding factor of our relationship. I was putting more effort in than he was. This imbalance had been going on for a while, and I became more possessive as time went on. He and I discussed breaking up a couple times before, but decided to wait it out and see. We'd planned many trips together for this upcoming summer which gave us something to look forward to as a couple. After his reaction to COVID-19 as it related to our relationship, I couldn't wait for that anymore.

Natalie Church, 20, Chattanooga, TN

My ex-boyfriend and I were together for five years before we broke up. We went to high school together and spent the first year of college in a long-distance relationship. The past year, he transferred and we went to school together both living on campus at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. We did not live together, but we did live in the same complex so we saw a lot of each other and had been planning on moving in together at the end of the summer. After we had to move out of our college dorms due to COVID-19, he moved back home and I moved in with the family I nanny for.

I broke up with him in person right as the COVID-19 situation was beginning to worsen. We had been told we had to move out of our dorms for the remainder of the semester and we were doing online classes for the rest of the year. I felt as if our identities were too dependent on each other—I didn't want us to be resentful down the line if we did not give ourselves time to figure out who we were outside of our relationship with each other.

The breakup was not because of COVID-19, but being without a partner for the first time in my adult life during what feels like the end of the world has definitely been a struggle. We have stayed in contact as things with COVID-19 have intensified. Although our conversations just after breaking up seemed normal, they recently became more strained, so we’ve begun to talk less.

Julia, 24, Minneapolis, MN

I was dating a guy who currently lives in Denver, CO. We met in college and we’ve been doing long distance for about two years. We were great about visiting each other one to two times a month and calling on FaceTime all the time.

The last time I saw him was right before everything started closing down due to COVID-19. We went to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate with friends. We had an AMAZING weekend without a single fight. I felt more in love than ever.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and we planned to do a little power hour via FaceTime. This is where you listen to an hour-long playlist of one-minute clips of songs and you take a shot of beer every time the song changes. We sometimes did this to pregame or when we wanted to get drunk together. After a couple of hours and half a dozen beers, he told me I was emotionally immature and that he didn’t think it was gonna work out between us. I was completely blindsided. I was almost about to drive the 14 hours to Denver to quarantine with him just before this happened. We haven’t spoken once since.

I’m the type of person that loves going out, socializing, and flirting with people so I’ve already hopped on Hinge—maybe not necessarily to move on right now, but just to do a little flirting and chatting. Virtual rebounds have honestly helped me get my mind off of him!

Daya, 29, Los Angeles, CA

We had only been with each other for four months, but had both gotten out of very serious, long-term, toxic relationships relatively recently. We were carrying baggage from our past relationships, which included being hesitant to officially commit. We did discuss exclusivity pretty early on; he actually brought it up in the second week. Things were seemingly perfect at the beginning, and we had a bizarre amount of things in common. We saw each other between two and four times a week. Even though we never put a label on it, we had a few conversations that indicated we were both serious about each other.

I stayed over at his place, which his roommate got mad about. She blew up at him because she thought I might have used one of her panty liners. As we were leaving his place together later that morning, he asked me if I used her stuff, and my instinct was to say "no," although I had taken one out of the box that I didn't end up using and replaced.

Reflecting later that day, I realized I was just overcome with embarrassment in the moment that stems from having to talk about your period to a guy you're not really dating. So, this whole situation escalates for him to the point that he gets into a huge fight with his roommate, and ends up needing to move out. This whole situation makes me feel like the roommate is batshit, but I did feel sort of guilty. I reached out to him later that day because I wanted to get it off my chest. Unfortunately, he had some other personal stuff going on so we didn't end up talking until the next day. I came clean but mentioned I didn't feel like I lied. I thought I was doing the right thing by being honest and open, and definitely did not expect him to react in the way that he did. At first, he said it was OK and that things were bound to blow up with his roommate. Thirty seconds later, he stood up and left me at the bar, being like "I need to go. I can't be here" and walking out leaving me at the bar we were at. That was the week before the quarantine was official, and the last time I physically saw him.

He stopped talking to me and didn't respond to any of my texts asking if we could talk. Finally, about six days after he walked out on me, I sent him a super-frustrated text that basically said he doesn't have to talk about things if he doesn't want to right away, but he has to tell me if it's either that he's mad and needs time or if he's done. He responded a couple hours later: "I think I'm done." He eventually followed up with an explanation that didn't really make much sense.

It makes me feel WILD, because I thought I knew how he felt. It feels like shit. It made me feel very disposable. I don't understand how he chose to deal with his emotions AT ALL. I'm definitely still not over it, but I know it's a good thing we're done. While I messed up and hurt him in an unintentional way, he chose to hurt me in a very, very deliberate one.

Aaryn, 20, Ithaca, NY

My ex-partner and I were high school sweethearts starting in our senior year of high school. We were together for a little over two years. Since starting college, we'd been long-distance. We usually saw each other at least once a month, whether that was when we were at home for breaks, or going to visit each other at our respective universities.

My ex lives in an apartment alone in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts at his co-op this semester. When my university closed and kicked all of us off campus, he offered to let me stay with him. He helped me pack up my dorm and we made the drive back to his apartment to begin what I thought would be a fun quarantine together.

This quarantine was the test—we'd never been together 24/7 for more than a couple of days. After the first 10 days, we were relaxing in bed, and he rolled over, looked at me, and said, “I really didn’t know you were annoying until now.” I kind of just laughed, but, looking back, it wasn’t funny. He kept listing all my "bad habits" that he observed until he broke up with me one night. His apartment doesn’t have a couch, so he slept on two chairs put together that night, and I slept in the bed.

He drove me back home to New Jersey the day after we broke up, a four and a half hour drive. I cried the whole time. He tried to hold my hand and comfort me, and I told him to fuck off. I was more upset about the loss of my last sense of normalcy than anything else.

I don’t think trying to live with someone for the first time when there’s the pressure of a pandemic, with absolutely nothing else to do besides be in each other's faces, is a good idea. What really made it hard for us is that he was used to being alone and enjoyed that time. I’m used to a lot of stimulation and talking and moving around all the time.

Before breaking up with my boyfriend, I met this woman. My boyfriend and I had been on a little break after an argument, so I figured I might as well have fun with this girl. Everything was light and flirty. Then I got back with my boyfriend, so things became friendly and chill between her and me.

After the breakup, she swooped back in. We added each other on social media, and that’s where things took a turn. I tweeted something about not voting not being the solution to our general election after seeing some Bernie supporters saying they wouldn’t vote. I'm a Black woman, and too many people have fought for my right to vote for me not to. She was a very avid Bernie supporter and did not appreciate my tweet. She subtweeted me, then blocked and ignored me.

When I texted her, she wrote, “Our morals and values just don’t line up, and I don’t want to waste each other’s time.” She swore it wasn’t about the tweet. She said that she just needed space because things were too wild right now.

I wish there was a guide for dealing with breakups in quarantine. Usually when you go through a breakup, there’s a lot of spending time with your friends, going out, and meeting new people. Now, I’m not sure what to do in quarantine other than drinking wine and listening to Amy Winehouse.

Follow Reina Sultan on Twitter.

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