This piece was originally published in October 2020
Mending a broken heart is tough at the best of times. In lockdown, it can be unbearable. The traditional tonics – going out, spending time with friends, moving on with new people - are either impossible or illegal. And despite restrictions having been eased in parts of the UK, there’s still not a lot that Britons can do aside from work, eat, and stand in someone's back garden, a two-metre distance from everyone else.
Sam*, 25, from London, had been dating his girlfriend for nine months when she dumped him. It was one week before the UK went into lockdown. “It hasn't been easy, particularly as I’ve spent a good chunk of lockdown alone,” the PR executive says. “Normally you can find things to occupy your mind like seeing friends and doing cultural activities. But when you’re not able to do any of that, you’re left with loads of time to sit at home and stew on any negative thoughts or feelings you might have.
“It’s also not possible to put yourself out there and meet new people, which I’ve always found quite helpful after a breakup,” he adds.
Moving on has been an equally gruelling process for Tom Jenane, a 30-year-old nutritionist based in Brighton, who had been with his boyfriend for five months when they broke up in late April. “It was very harmonious,” he said, explaining how his ex lived in London, which made it hard for them to sustain a relationship geographically, given lockdown prevented them from seeing one another at that time.
But despite the breakup having been mutual and free from any drama, getting over it has still been hard. “I’m used to going to a pub with friends and drinking a bit too much,” Tom says of his usual breakup strategies. He lives alone. “That has made everything quite depressing,” he adds. “Even with the ‘support bubble’ that Boris Johnson has spoken about, most of my friends are in London and so I’ve been hesitant to leave Brighton in order to visit them. But I feel really restless. I just want to meet new people.”
Breaking up with someone in lockdown might seem like one of the most poorly-timed decisions you can make, but evidently, it happens. And it’s understandable, particularly if you have been isolating with a partner, spending 24/7 together in close confines. Any simmering issues will inevitably reach boiling point. Just like after Christmas when divorce lawyers see a rise in divorce rates, experts predicted at the start of lockdown that this time period would prompt breakups. And they were right; this month Co-op Legal Services reported a 42 per cent rise in divorce enquiries compared to this time last year.
“For some, the prospect of being quarantined with their partner will be a welcome opportunity to spend time together, yet for others, it may force simmering tensions in their relationship to rise to the surface,” said divorce lawyer Amanda Rimmer, who predicted a rise in separation queries back in March. “Often when couples face serious and stressful situations it can lead some to re-evaluate their lives and what is important to them,” she added.
“While we all try to navigate this pandemic as best as possible, it wouldn’t surprise me if, when the dust settles, we do see an increase in couples seeking to end their relationship.”
How you cope with a breakup depends on a number of factors: how the relationship ended, who dumped who, and crucially, whether you are the kind of person who needs to be alone to heal, or surrounded by others. If you are in the former category, consider your lockdown breakup more of a breeze than a battle. If you’re someone who falls into the latter category, buckle up.
“Extroverted individuals who get their energy from going out and being with friends are likely to suffer the most,” explains psychologist Daria Kuss. For these people, being out and about is tantamount to their mental and emotional wellbeing, much of which will already be severely compromised by lockdown. A breakup could tip them over the edge.
The lockdown also means that for a lot of fortunate young people – who don’t have responsibilities like childcare or homeschooling – there is more time to ruminate on the circumstances that led to the dissolution of a relationship. It’s hard to get over someone when you have nothing but time to think about them. “These are not positive thinking strategies,” says psychosexual and relationships therapist Kate Moyle, who explains that overthinking the conclusion of a relationship could exacerbate insecurities and give space for self-hatred to flourish.
“I’ve definitely got too much time to think,” says 21-year-old Londoner, Elle, who found out her boyfriend of six months had been cheating on her while they were in lockdown. “We were isolating separately but had been staying in touch via FaceTime,” she says. It transpired he had been using dating apps and meeting up with other women behind Elle’s back, thus flouting both the rules of lockdown and their relationship. “Normally, I would throw myself into seeing friends constantly or focus on work, but my job is quiet and it’s more difficult to see my friends now as so many of them are living with parents outside of London. It’s been really tough.”
It might feel like there’s very little to do in the way of distracting oneself right now, but there’s a lot you can do to boost your wellbeing. Kuss advises shifting your focus from what you can’t do outside of your home to what you can do in it, namely, self-care. That might be as simple as calling a friend, running a hot bath, or reading a book.
“Engage in hobbies, spend time with your family and friends as much as you can, and be kind to yourself,” she adds. “As difficult as a breakup can be, it can also be a fantastic learning experience that will allow you to understand what is important to you in a relationship and outside of it. A breakup will also open up the opportunity to move on and grow as a human being due to the challenges that you are facing and overcoming them.”
Sam has been going on virtual dates with someone new who he met on an app. “We met her for socially distanced drinks in the park last week, which was nice,” he says. “Obviously there’s no physical contact there, which is another drawback, but you have to make the best of the situation.” Tom, meanwhile, has signed up to a virtual cabaret website – “it has brought a lot of laughs to my friends and I”.
As for those who can’t stop thinking about their ex, try to refocus your thoughts from self-destruction to self-criticism. “Try to think about why things didn’t work out, rather than to internalise and question yourself and what you did wrong,” suggests Moyle. It could also be helpful to identify any negative triggers that send you spiralling, like social media. “Disconnect from your accounts for a few days,” Moyle adds. “Prioritise your own needs so that you are in a healthy place when all this is over. All relationships start with the relationship we have with ourselves.”
Three months into lockdown, we still don’t know when this will all be over. When it is, one thing we do know is that nothing will be the same - and that includes a lot of people’s relationship statuses.
*Names have been changed
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