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Breaking up during quarantine is uniquely isolating—here’s how to navigate the heartbreak

Emily Laurence

Emily LaurenceApril 27, 2020

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Breakups almost always suck. Whether the decision was a long time coming or unexpected and sudden, the fallout often includes heartbreak—and sometimes a debilitating amount of it. Normally, there’s a whole slew of coping methods at your disposal: restorative yoga classes, cocktails with friends, shameless flirting at your local dive bar, getting bangs, etc. But breaking up during quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic can present a uniquely troubling fallout thanks to several unique factors.

First, there’s no cut-and-dry ruling on whether it’s advisable to reach out to an ex during a pandemic—but it is complicated. Second, there’s no literal shoulder of a friend or loved one to cry on, especially if you’re quarantining alone. Third, meeting someone new is impossible (well, not virtually impossible, but still). And fourth, there’s a new surplus of time available to sit home, and wallow in your feelings. Because of these factors, breaking up during quarantine can open up a whole new level of heartbreak, which can be especially difficult to move on from.

Below, women currently navigating the situation share what it’s like, and a clinical psychologist provides tips for how to navigate heartbreak when your go-to coping methods aren’t available options.

The case for checking on an ex after breaking up during a pandemic

Before the pandemic, *Jessica, who lives in New York City, was spending a lot of her downtime planning a big surprise birthday party for her boyfriend of nearly three years. But everything came to a screeching halt when he unexpectedly broke up with her during the last week of February, right on the precipice of the COVID-19 virus beginning to spread rapidly in the NYC area.

“These are not normal circumstances, so I was expecting him to reach out to see if I was okay. This pandemic is bigger than our breakup.”

Under normal circumstances, Jessica says she would have cut off communication completely after the breakup for the sake of healing. But since the world—New York especially—had suddenly become a scary place and personal safety didn’t feel like a given, she was hurt by her ex’s silence. “These are not normal circumstances, so I was expecting him to reach out to see if I was okay—especially because he knows I don’t have any family in New York,” Jessica says. “This pandemic is bigger than our breakup.”

Reaching out to an ex is a complicated choice under normal circumstances, but it’s magnified when something unexpected happens, such as a family crisis, natural disaster, or, well, a pandemic. “There is never a bad time to reach out to someone to make sure they are okay,” says therapist and Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Bullshit author, Venus Nicolino, PhD.  “A lot of people have this weird idea that the person who cares less ‘wins’ [the breakup], but that’s absolutely not the case: You can still care about someone even if you’re not together; you’re still allowed to love someone you’re not with, and it’s okay to show that.”

Dr. Nicolino does warn, however, against using the circumstances as an excuse to reach out. She advises limiting conversation to whatever you’re reaching out about (aka personal safety).

How to handle the extra time to think after breaking up during quarantine

*Heather, a 32-year-old living in Boston, recently experienced the double COVID-19-related misfortune of losing her job and her six-month relationship. “We started quarantining together two weeks after President Trump declared a national state of emergency on on March 13,” she says. “When you’re in quarantine, it’s hard to hide who you really are. When you’re spending that much time together, certain things you might have ignored or let slide before become a bigger issue. It forces you to face everything.”

“I don’t find myself regretting the breakup, but I do have moments of intense sadness, and there’s no distraction from it.”

Now, she’s back to living alone—with very little to fill her time. “I don’t find myself regretting the breakup, but I do have moments of intense sadness, and there’s no distraction from it,” Heather says. Jessica says she’s experiencing a similar issue. “Normally, I would be able to go to a workout class and get an endorphin boost from that or I would hang out with my friends, but I can’t really do that right now. But I try to focus on what I can do, like going for a run outside or calling my friends,” she says.

Other things you can control include taking steps to make sure your self-reflection time doesn’t veer into negative spiraling. To do this, Dr. Nicolino suggests guiding your thoughts using meditation. “There are so many meditations online and through apps that are specifically about healing from heartbreak, forgiveness, self-compassion, or whatever it is you want to focus on during this time. Even ones that are five minutes can help shift your perspective.”

She also suggests journaling using specific prompts, like “How does it feel to be in my body today?” “I am hoping someone will ask me…” or “Something I never hope to forget is…” “I like these prompts because they are questions we don’t normally ask ourselves, and when you look back at them a few weeks or months later, you’ll see so much growth,” Dr. Nicolino says. She also points out that virtual therapy can be helpful right now, too, especially in terms of processing difficult emotions stemming from the breakup.

How to deal with life plans being put on hold

*Emma says breaking up during quarantine in NYC is like being stuck in purgatory, because she can’t truly move on. She and her boyfriend were together for two years, and lived together for one. “On March 5, I came home from work and he was sitting on the couch with his bag packed. I had no idea it was coming,” she says. With the pandemic conditions getting drastically more serious by the day, Emma and her ex didn’t have time to figure out the logistics of moving into separate apartments, so she flew to Florida to quarantine with her family.

Emma’s belongings are all still in her apartment, and she wants to find a new place to live, but those plans are on hold, which has made moving forward difficult and heightened her sense of heartbreak. She says while she’d undoubtedly be heartbroken under normal circumstances, she’d at least have projects to occupy her immediate thoughts, like decorating a new apartment or making plans with friends.

Furthermore, Emma says it doesn’t help that meeting someone new during COVID-19 is, well, complicated at best. “I did re-download Hinge just to remind myself that there are other people out there, but, realistically, I know that I’m both not ready to meet someone new and also the circumstances don’t make it possible.”

The silver lining of breaking up during quarantine

Because, yes—there is a silver lining. Heather says the very inability to date right now actually feels freeing. “In the past after a breakup, I would try to meet someone new quickly. But my friends and I call that Band-Dating, because you’re just slapping a Band-Aid on the wound and not truly healing,” she says. “Right now, I can’t date, and it’s painful to sit with that hurt, but it’s also refreshing to not feel the pressure of, ‘oh you’re 32, let’s get on with it.’ I can’t meet someone right now, and that releases pressure.”

“Right now, I can’t date, and it’s painful to sit with that hurt, but it’s also refreshing to not feel the pressure.”

Dr. Nicolino agrees with Heather that feeling your breakup pain instead of rebounding is helpful for future growth—and especially now, during this pandemic, because everyone is grieving for one reason or another. We can all let that unity serve as reminder that we are all connected in our varying degrees and types of grief, she says.

“Breakups can be really isolating, but, in a weird way, it’s kind of nice to know I’m not alone in my misery,” Heather says. “Everyone is feeling grief and uncertainty on some level. We may have never been more physically alone, but we’ve also never been more united.”

*Name has been changed.

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