Near the end of last year I started a new relationship with this incredible girl. Our chemistry was great and it honestly felt like I had found my “life buddy” (a term we called each other). She not only showed interest in the things that I liked but I was also interested in her likes and even when I didn’t understand them I was still able to see what she saw of value in them.
Fast forward to March of this year. Due to the pandemic we were both furloughed from our jobs and although we did our best keeping entertained for a month she felt homesick and moved back to KY with her family. The thought of going long distance was daunting but it was something we agreed we could attempt to do. After spending six months apart it feels like we both reached a breaking point. When talking about when our paths would cross again she didn’t seem very sure of were her life would be headed. Meanwhile, I had just started my graduate degree and returned to work. I had suggested she come down and visit me in FL, but she said she didn’t want to risk traveling. I was fine with this, until she mentioned she was also planning on flying to the Virgin Islands with her family. I brought this up to her on our last conversation, mentioning how it felt a bit of a double standard. She quickly admitted that she wasn’t happy and the long distance was taking a toll on her anxiety. She felt like we needed to call things off now while things were still good between us, than wait for the moment it reaches its boiling point.
It all hit me the next day. The apartment felt even more empty than it did before, probably because it was permanent now and she wasn’t coming back at all. I reached out to a friend of mine and we met up for drinks to which she showed me a message she received from my ex saying: “hey can you please check up on him this week”. I feel like I had no control over what happened and COVID just threw a very unexpected wrench into my relationship.
What happened? And what can I do about this?
The short version PP is yes: COVID-19 blew up your relationship.
The problem is that life threw the both of you a curveball because of the pandemic. You both went through a number of fairly significant life-events, which have a tendency to stress-test relationships, especially relatively new ones. First is, well, the fact that we’re living through the worst pandemic in a hundred years. That alone is causing people an incredible amount of stress and mental anguish. Even though it may not feel like it, the constant awareness that we’re living through a global crisis that’s killed more than 210,000 people in America alone has become the background radiation of our lives; it’s like a constant, low-grade hum that you can’t completely block out. Then there’s the fact that you both got furloughed from work. Getting let go, even when it’s theoretically temporary is a huge stressor. Not only does it mean that you have to deal the uncertainty of your financial situation, but for a lot of folks, it can be like a loss of identity. Men, in particular, tend to have adverse reactions to losing their job; it hits them square in the “man is supposed to be the provider” trope, leaving them feeling emasculated and helpless.
Then there’s the fact that you and your girlfriend transitioned to being in a long-distance relationship. Twice, even. The first time was when the quarantine came down and everyone who wasn’t living with their partner found themselves in a de facto long-distance relationship. The second time was when your girlfriend decided she needed to be with family and moved back to Kentucky. Long distance relationships can be incredibly hard on relationships under the best of circumstances. They’re even harder when the things that make LDRs tolerable — regular visits, knowing that there’s an end-point — are impossible. Your girlfriend moved away and, frankly, there wasn’t really any way for the two of you to reunite until either the pandemic eased up or you were both willing to run the risk of COVID exposure while traveling.
Neither of you were. That was the point where your relationship was functionally on a countdown timer until a break up that was, honestly, somewhat inevitable.
I mean, I hate to say this but… you all weren’t together for that long before COVID hit. Three-ish months is not a long time for a relationship; you’re still very much in the “getting to know you” stages, when you’re both on your best behavior and likely aren’t so much as farting in front of each other. That’s plenty of time for some serious sexual attraction and the rush of New Relationship Energy, but rarely enough time to forge the kind of emotional bonds that help a relationship last through so much upheaval. So — and I don’t mean to be cruel — I’m not entirely surprised that you were a lower priority; you simply weren’t together for long enough to really make that kind of connection.
That having been said: I do think it was shitty of her to say “I just don’t feel safe traveling to see you” and then telling you that she was taking a family vacation to the Virgin Islands. That was unnecessarily mean on her part, and frankly it would’ve been kinder for her to end things without telling you that you were less important than a (frankly, in my opinion, irresponsible) family vacation. There was no need to tell you about that; she could’ve told you that she wasn’t able to do the long-distance thing and left it there without the implied insult.
At the end of the day, you’re right: this was out of your control. Unfortunately, life is like that; sometimes shit happens, and the only thing you can do is roll with it. Many times the things that cause our relationships to end are out of everybody’s hands. There’s no good guy, there’s no bad guy, there’s just the vagaries of life. And while that sucks, there really isn’t anything to be done, nor was there anything you could have done to prevent this.
However, I do want to point out that she clearly does care about you. People who don’t care don’t, as a general rule, ask their friends to check in on their exes. That’s something I think you should hold onto. Your relationship didn’t end because of anything that you or she did wrong, nor did it end because one of you didn’t care enough. It’s simply that you were both reasonable people in an unreasonable situation.
Right now, I suggest you give yourself time to heal and recover from this. Take this time to practice some self-care and work on finding the things that will help you feel better. One of the things I strongly suggest is that you find ways to keep busy, especially with friends. One of the reasons why we feel so awful after a break up is because we’re in withdrawal; we’ve just lost our single biggest source of oxytocin and now we’re having to deal with the aftermath. Finding the things that help generate oxytocin — laughter, conversation, physical touch, even emotional satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment — goes a long, long way to helping ease that sense of loss.
I’m sorry you’re going through this PP, but just remember: this wasn’t your fault. This wasn’t something that you could’ve avoided if you’d done things differently. The simple truth is that you got dealt a shitty hand this time around. It sucks now, but it won’t suck forever. Take care of yourself, and you’ll start to feel better faster than you realize.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.
I hope you are doing well, amidst all the social unrest and pandemic. I’m not sure if you remember me (I’m positive you have many clients so it wouldn’t be out of line if you didn’t!) but you and I had a private coaching session around late February/early March of this year. Your feedback was really helpful and I appreciate the advice. However, COVID-19 suddenly hit and I felt like the dating life I was trying to start was… well, put on hold naturally.
In the midst of quarantine, around May or so, I decided I’d try to get my dating life in order even in the time of corona. I reactivated my Hinge account and had some matches, but everything sorta fell flat (naturally, people are hesitant to meet in-person these days and even video chat; I date women so I can’t really blame them for the latter and the former just makes sense given the pandemic) and I wasn’t really feeling it, so I locked my Hinge account so I wasn’t available to nearby people and decided to find other things I enjoyed doing since a lot of what I loved (gym, social gatherings, live music, bars) was obviously off the table and I needed to be a more well-rounded person. Fast-forward to the middle of August where I reactivated my Hinge account to try and run through it again. I felt like it was worth it to try again because I live on my own (de facto; my roommate is with her boyfriend currently) and I wanted to get out there.
About two or three weeks ago, I matched with a person on Hinge (we’ll call her “S”). She is just… well, wonderful. A dual-degree masters student currently on leave who does work in affordable housing architecture; is outgoing, outdoorsy (which I am not, but enjoy doing), and just an all-around pleasure to be around. On our first date, we decided to brave the unideal air quality in the Bay Area and went on a bike ride to a couple of places, walked around a small isthmus for about an hour, took a ride to a few outdoor places to grab Mexican food and a beer, and just chatted and enjoyed each others company. Afterwards we headed to the local marina to see her boat (she also sails!!!!! holy shit!!!) and look at the beautiful bay, despite the smoke. We had a second date recently, where we grabbed Mexican food (again) and beer, and ate dinner and drank in a nearby park for about four hours. I was really nervous but I think the beer helped (I drink very little so a couple of cups is enough to get me buzzed) and about two hours in we started cuddling on a park bench, and then she kissed me. We made out various times for the rest of the night, then I walked her home (after hanging with her for over four hours total) and we’ve been texting every so often the past few days (we would have hung out yesterday and this weekend, but she had to make an emergency trip back home). I am not trying to put the cart before the horse here, but overall I really like S and I think she is just a super wonderful, beautiful, and fun person.
And that’s where my anxiety lies: I know that I really like this woman and that she’s great, but how I feel is sorta at odds with what I know to be true. For example: I know that I like her, but the feeling of euphoria that one gets from meeting and dating someone at the beginning isn’t there, or at least not as intense, as it usually is for me. We also text fairly frequently, but not nearly as often as I usually have with people I usually like or have dated in my late teens and early 20s (which worries me, but also makes me feel better because texting ALL THE TIME is exhausting no matter who it is). I guess my concern is whether or not this is… normal? I don’t want to end up realizing that I don’t like this woman because, for all intents and purposes, I really really do. But I feel like my brain is telling me that this is wrong, because meeting someone you click with after dating is supposed to give you specific feelings. So because of what I’ve heard about how the first few dates are supposed to go, compared to how I currently “feel” (in terms of human affect), I worry that there’s a mismatch between what I think and how I feel. I’m not sure if it’s because of my brain being a jerk (which would NOT be new), the meds that I’m on (Lexapro for anxiety; I didn’t realize that I was feeling emotionally detached until just recently), or something else.
Should I be worried? Should I, as you have mentioned in many of your articles, “chill the hell out?” Again, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here because I’ve only been on two dates with S, but I also worry about potential future dates/relationships where I may feel this way. I’ve had very little dating experience and so this is probably my most “formal” exposure to it, which probably adds to the anxiety a bit, so that may also be a factor as well.
Any advice or feedback is appreciated. Again your suggestions you made in our session all those months ago have been super helpful and I’m so glad that I was able to discuss those with you.
Missing The Buzz?
First of all: congratulations on putting yourself out there, MTB, and on meeting somebody new. That’s huge, and you should be proud of all the progress you’ve made!
Now let’s talk about your letter.
This is what’s known as “borrowing trouble from the future,” MTB. You’re getting really, really ahead of yourself right about now, especially considering that you’ve only had two dates with S. Not only are you getting worried about facts not in evidence, you’re getting worried about things that aren’t actually a problems.
Take the texting issue, for example. You and S aren’t texting as much as you had with previous relationships — especially relationships when you were still in your teens. That’s not actually an indicator of anything other than the fact that you and S don’t text as often as you did when you were much younger. One of the things that you should keep in mind is that every relationship is going to be unique. The patterns you had with this ex or that one aren’t going to be universal; you’re going to find that each relationship has its own vibe, its own feel and its own routines. Part of every relationship is discovering those patterns together. It’s part of the adjustment period as you and they get to know each other and find the things that work for you.
The same is true of the buzz or euphoria you worry about. That euphoria — the New Relationship Energy — isn’t an indicator of how strong, viable or good this connection is or will be. It’s simply the high you get from the oxytocin and dopamine rush of being with a new partner. Just as importantly though is the fact that you’re not a teenager. When you’re young, especially when you’re a teenager, everything is more intense. Your body is a chaotic maelstrom of hormones and it turns everything up to 11. The same is true of when you’re relatively inexperienced and you’re hooking up with someone who not only are you crazy about but they’re into you too. It’s an intensifier; you’re thrilled because woah, this is all new and different and holy shit it feels amazing. But it’s literally the novelty of it that makes things so intense; we’re a novelty-seeking species, and new experiences generate way more oxytocin and dopamine than the ones we’re used to. But we’re also an incredibly adaptable species, and hedonic adaptation always kicks in; what felt insanely intense starts to mellow out because it’s now our normal. The fact that you aren’t completely twitterpated over her doesn’t mean that you don’t actually like her, it just means that you’re a grown-ass adult who doesn’t lose his head over limerence.
However, all of that is secondary to the most important thing: you have only had two dates with S. They were great dates to be sure, but it was just two dates. This is way the hell too soon to start worrying about what X, Y or Z means about your relationship because… well, it’s not a relationship yet. She’s still a relative stranger to you, and you to her. Getting caught up in “wait, does this mean I’m not that into her??” isn’t just putting the cart before the horse, you don’t have the damn horse in the first place.
So, yes, you need to chill the hell out — both about S and about any future dates or relationships. Every person you date will be unique, and so will the way you feel about them. Some of them will hit you like a goddamn dopamine hammer to the brain. Some of them will be like easing into a warm bath with a good book and two fingers of fine bourbon. Those are all valid, and don’t mean any more or any less than the others.
Relationships aren’t chess matches. You don’t want to be trying to think three moves ahead, and doing so is a great way to never actually be able to enjoy a date ever again. What you need to do — with S and with any other person you date in the future — is to take it one day at a time. You want to spend time getting to know them and seeing what develops. What is calm but pleasant now might turn into a frenzied tornado of sexual excitement as you build up trust with each other. What’s intense and intoxicating may burn out before you can even blink. There’s no way of knowing, and trying to predict it is a fool’s errand at best.
Here’s what’s important: right now, you’ve had a couple awesome dates with S. She seems like an amazing person, with the right measure of brains, ambition and attraction for you and you enjoy the time you spend together. You clearly have emotional chemistry and no small amount of physical chemistry. It’s far, far too soon to be trying to make more of it than what you currently have. Enjoy what you’ve got with them, take a “let’s see where this goes” approach and just relax.
You’ve got a good thing going here. Let it be its own thing and just see where the ride takes you. If it leads somewhere, then hey, yahtzee! If not, then you’ve had a great experience and a reminder of just what’s out there and what you’re capable of when you put your mind to it.
Take the win, already, my dude. You’ve earned it.