Break-Up Culture During a Pandemic

Whether mutually or one-sided, when a relationship ends it often hurts both parties involved; letting go of something so emotionally involved requires a whole lot of time and energy for healing. Is the current pandemic making it harder for us to move on?

You have seen it in New Girl, with Jess right at the beginning of the series; she moves in post-break-up and cannot stop watching Dirty Dancing until coaxed from the couch by her roommates. Or, maybe you’ve seen it in Something’s Gotta Give when Erica sobs her way through producing a Broadway show about her ex that aids her in moving forward. 

Break-ups have been focal points of endless literature, art and music throughout the ages –– along with the way we have dealt with them –– but during these unprecedented times, has the heartbreak game changed?

Ending relationships have never been an easy task. In 2017, a study was done by researcher and assistant professor at Tilburg University Pilar Lopez-Cantero exploring romantic love through relationship terminations, and how the loss of a relationship is a process of grieving. 

“When someone is in a relationship that she values with a person that she loves, the termination of the relationship entails the loss of many things that she values,” Lopez-Cantero said. “…Some other losses have intrinsic value, that is, are valued by themselves beyond any utility they may have. For example, after being abandoned some people will suffer due to the loss of self-esteem.”

The ending of a relationship can feel so tumultuous, especially if there was long term emotional involvement. The collateral damage of heartbreak in the midst of COVID-19 can be more overwhelming for a person than it typically is. Whatever the cause of breaking up may be, there can be an understandable lack of intimacy or communication issues for those separated by the pandemic. There is significantly more time to overthink and let grief get in the way of daily life. In attempts to mend our hearts, we allow ourselves to push priorities off and let our sadness get the best of us. 

If you are like me and have added a breakup onto the long toll of unfortunate things that have happened this year, you might feel like the moving-on stage took much longer than it has in the past. Maybe you unfollowed all their social media, had some weird closure that definitely was not closure and found yourself in the ‘post-breakup montage’ for way longer than Jess or Erica. Sure, you redownloaded and revamped your go-to dating apps, but living in the past has never been so accessible in a period of time with life at a relative standstill.  

For a lot of people, including myself, break-ups are a way to learn more about yourself. While they feel like one of the most painful lessons ever, the acceptance of maintained vulnerability into future relationships is priceless. 

In part, healing has a lot to do with how we cope. Right now, the reality is that we have limited  in-person interaction with those outside of our living situation. Even without the breakup drama, we have to acknowledge how lack of face-to-face changes how we deal with our emotions. 

Before the pandemic, maybe it was easier to get out there and go out with a group of friends to distract yourself and try to meet new people. Now, it is easier to look towards online dating sites, like Tinder, to meet new people in attempts to move forward. Albeit, just because these things are accessible, does not mean that we are actually following through with it. 

Apart from attempting to move on, our use of social media can keep hold of past hurt and heartbreak, even if we’ve eliminated contact with our ex. Social media has grown to the point where it is easier to see what a person is doing and who they are with and if they are relatively active online. With so much uncertainty and negative feelings, it’s so much harder to simply move on if their presence is even slightly on your phone. 

“After a termination, a person may not feel grief, for example, when she is trying to pick a cereal brand in the supermarket,” Lopez-Cantero said. “But that does not mean she is not in a grieving process. She may still feel grief when she walks by the bar where she had her first date with her beloved, or she realizes it is her former partner’s birthday.”

With limited face-to-face contact, there are less options for activities throughout the day. We may turn to social media more than before, and that’s where we could see the old memories or bad reminders. It’s a different world than Lopez-Cantero dives into.  

The feelings of heartbreak go deeper than the loss of that person that caused it — it’s also the loss of life before mask-wearing and flattening the curve. Maybe the example Lopez-Cantero gives, with someone walking past a memorable relationship spot includes the possible COVID-19 closure of that bar. 

Quarantine breakups are special and unfortunate in a lot of ways. We aren’t just saying goodbye to that person, we’re separating from part of a life that we knew before we were all six feet apart.


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