It was a warm night in spring. The sky was clear, the stars were shining for a sunny day ahead, and the wind was breezing through windows lightly. The scenery was so serene that it could almost make everyone forget about the fact that they had been in lockdown for weeks. I was lying in bed, overwhelmed with emotions, an extreme headache, and swollen eyes.
It was the first time I had a meltdown after things had ended suddenly with a guy I dated a few months ago. Even though the encounter was brief and the breakup felt as fresh as yesterday, I thought I had finally made progress and saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, there I was, drown in sorrow and frustration for not being able to let go and get on with my life.
Anyone who has ever grown to care deeply about someone else on this planet has undoubtedly gone through a breakup in some shape or form. I was lucky enough that my breakup ended amicably, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard and painful on my part.
We enter a new relationship with so much hope and joy that we never imagine, not in a million years, the day all of that comes to an end, when we become strangers again with someone who we thought might be just the person for us after all. Even when we know breaking up was the right thing to do, the hurt doesn’t feel any less intense.
The first stage of the breakup, which many people compare to weaning off an addiction, had happened to me shortly before the lockdown.
I missed the daily conversations and long walks we had together on our dates, the funny and cheesy texts he sent throughout a long day at work that cheered me up, how he saw through my exteriors and got me to lower my defences and open up.
I missed the way his eyes used to sparkle when he looked at me, his voice teasing me with gibberish then singing to me on the phone for almost an entire hour on a cold night, the scent on his clothes, the rhythm of our breaths syncing when we cuddled, the warm touch of his arms around me, and the sweet taste of his kisses.
At this stage, days felt like weeks, weeks felt like months, and I found myself going around in circles.
I put on a brave face to go to work and meet up with friends, yet I came home to myself and sobbed like a helpless child. I confided in my closest people who were amazingly encouraging and supportive, yet I couldn’t see how there could be plenty of fish in the sea. I stayed away from anything that vaguely reminded me of him and went no contact completely, yet I couldn’t stop myself recalling how happy I felt when things were still good.
As painful as it was, I knew deep down that grieving the loss was the only way to heal so, for a while, I let myself watch as many movies about doomed romances as I liked and mourn as my heart pleased. Then, as soon as I was ready to build myself up again from my heartbreak and head for recovery, strict social distancing rules kicked in.
Many popular articles and videos about how to get over a breakup would say that when grief ends is when things start getting better. They would encourage me to take up a hobby, join a new club or class, go out, meet friends and date new people. However, most of these things would only work in normal times and the time that we’re in is anything but normal, which makes it simply the beginning of a new challenge.
The most difficult thing about being in isolation after a breakup is loneliness.
Isolating, under any circumstance, can make us feel lonely as we naturally yearn for human connections, but losing a relationship during lockdown is easily one of the most difficult times especially for people living on their own.
Feelings of being unloved, underappreciated, disconnected, and abandoned would resurface from the breakup and intensify, instead of being replaced by loving connections with my support system or the excitement of new experiences.
The isolation made me feel as though I was going through the breakup all over again; only this time, it was with my own family and friends. The emotions were weaker but not any less troubling. As easy as modern technologies can make it for people to talk to and see each other, they cannot replace the experience of meeting, being with, and holding a loved one in person.
Uncertainty and fears didn’t help either. Not knowing when things could go back to normal triggered my anxiety not only about my health and the wellbeing of the people I love but also about my chances of a future relationship. I was afraid I might not find someone better or lose too much time to even find anyone at all. I reverted to reminiscing about the good memories from the past to temporarily soothe myself, later realising that it didn’t serve me any good.
All of this accumulating negativity was guaranteed to boil over, and there I was, on that seemingly calm spring night, feeling miserable and defeated.
I was upset and disappointed about the emotional setback, but it happened to be just the wakeup call that I needed. The best thing that my self-care over the last few weeks had taught me was to be kind and forgive myself. I reminded myself of how far I’d come, reassured myself that it was okay to feel what I was feeling, and cheered myself on. This helped turn things around finally.
That night, I immediately set out to find inspiration and figure out a way that would both help me and suit my situation. I resorted to my good friend Google but, to my surprise, found very little. The first three pages of search results for “how to get over a breakup in quarantine” were swamped with titles like “How to manage conflicts between couples quarantined together”, “The pros and cons of breakup during quarantine”, and “Getting back with an ex during quarantine”. None of these were close to what I wanted and needed.
I did eventually find something with a much more reasonable balance of relevance and usefulness, like this InStyle post, which topped the search results, and this Thought Catalog article, which couldn’t have been a more timely reminder of most things I’d been working on since my breakup.
A pep talk and a motivational reading spree later, I was ready to make a fresh start and take advantage of the opportunities that came with the lockdown.
Firstly, the lockdown gives you all the time in the world to heal and get ready without personal and social pressure to move on.
I used to think that there is a positive correlation between the lifespan of the relationship and the time it takes to recover from a breakup. For that very reason, I grew increasingly frustrated when I wasn’t making enough progress when the time came. I couldn’t be more wrong.
As I thought and read more about it, I realised that the intensity of the bond, how the two people approached the breakup, and where they were before the relationship (mentally and emotionally) are all contributing factors to how long the aftermath can last.
Of course, these would not be the same for everyone and every relationship. In hindsight, it did take me a week to forget about a three-year crush in high school, but more than two years to get over a drawn-out and dramatic situationship of equal length in my early twenties.
More often than not, it’s not only our minds playing the devil’s advocate; our friends and family may also put pressure on us to recover from our heartbreak. Doesn’t it sound familiar when we see people a while after a breakup and hear things like, “Isn’t it time that you move on?”, “How long has it been? You surely shouldn’t still be sad about it”, and “You should see someone new to forget about him/her.”?
Rushing usually doesn’t bring about good outcomes. As much as I valued my family and friends checking in to see how I was doing shortly after the breakup and loved their company, I actually appreciated it that they weren’t around as much due to the lockdown. As a result, I could avoid venting about the breakup excessively to them and simply take my time to heal without any external pressure.
Secondly, alone time is the best time for self-care and self-improvement without distractions.
The danger of having an abundance of time at hand is falling into the trap of holding onto the past and the what-ifs.
Over-analysing every little detail that happened and hanging onto a glimpse of hope that he may one day come back into my life was the main reason why I relapsed to my old habits. I’d struggled to get past this point until this quote by Brianna Wiest opened my eyes and gave me the courage to make a change: “They are already gone. You have, essentially, already let go.”
A change in mindset involved shifting my thoughts from “What could I have done differently?” and “What would have been if the timing was different?” to “What can I learn from this experience to make myself ready and able to find a better relationship in the future?”
If I have learned anything from my fair share of movies about doomed romances in recent weeks, it is to look at things from a different perspective.
I took that different perspective, revisited the experience from an outsider’s point of view and wrote down two lists.
The first list consists of things I wanted from a good relationship that makes me feel safe and happy, from the most general to the most detailed and personal.
By focusing on myself, I was able to identify many things I had overlooked in my past relationships that would not make me happy in the long term; for example, the other person’s values didn’t align with mine. Both of these led me to understand that I simply was with the wrong person and believe that I would be better placed to notice when the right one comes along.
The second list is filled with things I want to work on to make me as good a partner as I want to have.
Saying nobody is perfect and leaving it at that is certainly the easier way out, but a relationship breakdown is not a single-sided event. In fact, it’s a valuable learning opportunity. Holding myself accountable (which is not the same as self-blaming, by the way) also made me feel grateful for my ex and the breakup, which I had never truly appreciated with previous experiences.
I saved the first list for my future self. With the second list, I did my research, read books and articles, looked to people in healthy relationships for real-life examples and, most importantly, practiced being more mindful of how I nurture my non-romantic relationships.
Without the distraction of social interactions and new romances, I had more time and space to work on myself and create my own source of comfort, rather than immediately jumping onto the next chance to seek security and validation from another person. Doing things that give me a real sense of accomplishment, including documenting this journey, has helped me tremendously in coming to terms with everything.
I’m now in a much better place than I used to be, though admittedly not completely over my breakup. As social distancing continues in the coming weeks and months, I know there will be some tough days when waves of emotions may cloud my conscience. I may still fear uncertainty, see the past flashing through my mind in the spur of the moment, or feel lonely being on my own seeing that others are happily isolating with their partners.
That said, I know there will also be many good days when I feel strongly motivated to move forward, hopeful of what the future may have in store for me, and grateful for how things turn out in the end.
They say time will heal everything. However long that might be, I know I’ll get there.