Here's how couples are dealing with breakup amid COVID-19 crisis

Updated: May 31, 2020, 07:59 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

What are the rules of a breakup in a pandemic? Couples who've struggled through the grief of separation during the lockdown, make sense of the pain

Illustration/ Uday Mohite
Illustration/ Uday Mohite

It took a breakup for Brooklyn-based filmmaker and writer Sarah Rosen to realise the pleasures of being alone during the pandemic. Rosen recounted her story in the recent Modern Love column for the The New York Times, sharing how her now ex-boyfriend broke up with her, just a week before her octogenarian neighbour succumbed to COVID-19. Where she had just about started coping with being cut off from her lover, her "neighbour dying alone in his apartment felt like a harbinger of more grief". "I was suddenly scared of being alone. I texted my ex to tell him what happened and to ease the unbearable loneliness this death had unleashed in me… We talked every day. He offered to do my laundry. And one night, after I was feeling better, we ate tortellini and watched a movie," she writes. This grey zone lasted for 18 days, until her ex asked: "What are the rules of a breakup in a pandemic?" There were none. Her experience had been unprecedented, with no guidebook or wikiHows to fall back on. They stopped talking soon after, and the writer slowly began to find the courage to enjoy her solitude in this new, diseased world.

Rosen's experience of heartbreak is as real, as the uncertainty around the global health crisis. The grief may not be the same, but the struggle of dealing with bad timing is not any different. In stark contrast to couples, over-relying on each other for emotional support during this period of isolation, there are a handful, who for the first time have been forced to take stock of what's wrong in their relationship. Choosing to call it quits, when life seems to be far from perfect, might then be a decision that is hardest to take, but sometimes also, the most important.

Mumbai-based freelance writer and editor Alia Khan, who met her boyfriend of two years at an NGO where she worked, says the lockdown exposed the cracks in their already crumbling relationship. "When we started dating, it felt like I had found 'the one'. Apart from sharing a deep connection, we both also had very similar views about life," she shares. The couple hit a rough patch six months ago. Khan says she is someone who craves physical touch, but her boyfriend was the opposite. "He didn't mind not seeing me for months on end." They were trying to work things out, when the lockdown was announced. "I was overwhelmed by everything that was happening around me, especially the fact that we were now doomed to be in a long distance association.

But he was zen, almost unaffected by the situation."

Purvi Shah
Purvi Shah

The first 15 days were spent bickering over WhatsApp messages and video calls, before Khan's boyfriend dropped the bomb: I can't do this anymore. "And just like that, he cut off. I think it was the most painful experience of my life. Suddenly, all my primal fears of loneliness and abandonment surfaced out of nowhere. I had stopped eating and sleeping. What was worse is that I couldn't grieve privately, as I was surrounded by my family, who knew nothing about us. It was honestly, a near-death experience," she shares, in a telephonic interview. Her boyfriend, eventually, messaged her, beating himself up for everything he had done. "But he refused to take accountability. I knew we had reached the end of the road."

Andheri-based Shernaz Patel, 22, broke up with her boyfriend in May. She says she had become vulnerable and prone to anger after the lockdown. "He couldn't handle this, and felt it was best to part ways." The pair lives five minutes from each other, but because of social distancing, they only met once, when her parents allowed her to go grocery shopping. "Usually, when we fought, we'd meet the very same day, and patch up. Now, there was no room for that, either." The two ended it on a bitter note. "We deleted each other on social media. That's the only space we are visible to each other now. And funnily, that's the only way, we can let each other know, we have moved on."

Not all relationships need to end on a sour note, feels advertising professional Parikshit Sahani, 29. Long distance and odd-working hours took a toll on his relationship with his girlfriend. "This was my first relationship in six years, and maybe, because of that, I was unable to handle her insecurities better. We ended it, just so that we would stop fighting over the little things. But that doesn't mean, I have stopped caring for her," says Sahani, who moved to Nashik from Mumbai, to be with his family when the lockdown began. "I think after breaking up, we've realised that we don't owe each other anything. But, as friends, we are still around. The other day, she sent me ice cream. I found that very sweet." Sahani admits that it's hard to remain friends with the ex. "But, this is too uncertain a period, to abandon the people you truly care about."

Kajol Srinivasan
Kajol Srinivasan

Stand-up comedian Kajol Srinivasan, who dissed relationships in her online set this week that was themed around Breakup During the Lockdown, says, "When you don't see somebody for two months, you could realise how unnecessary they are in your life. I realised that boyfriends to me were just accessories; you have to learn to be on your own." Yet, many are reluctant to burn bridges, because they aren't sure of the future, feels Srinivasan. "My neighbours, who are married, have been fighting since the start of the lockdown. Every night, they have a shouting match, and the wife throws her husband out of the door. Because, he can't go anywhere, he waits quietly near the landing," she laughs. Srinivasan says that if anything, the lockdown has made us realise who we can be with, and who we don't need. Psychologist Purvi Shah warns that impulsive decisions taken during high stress periods, yield little good. "When you are stressed, you tend to overreact or withdraw your emotions in a way, that will prevent you from thinking straight. I would suggest waiting it out, before taking a decision that has consequences. And if you are unable to, it's best to give the relationship a break, so that you can focus on yourself, and heal. If you feel there is a possibility of things working out, leave that conversation for when this situation ends. You need to be less harsh on yourself."

Like Khan, who is still finding it hard to move on, shares, "Recently, when two of my close friends were having fundamental issues in love, I told them, 'Please hang on. We are already facing a crisis, and adding another one [to your and someone's life], is just so cruel."

Some names have been changed on request.

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