What Being Dumped In Two Separate Lockdowns Taught Me About Heartbreak And Moving On

Can the Government please sort out the pandemic already so I don't have to go through a third lockdown break-up?

Lockdown Break-Up

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I’ve just gone through my second lockdown break-up. The first was back in March last year when the guy I was seeing reunited with his ex while island hopping on Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Number two was last Monday, when my partner ended things 60 metres away from my house a couple of weeks before our anniversary. It was quick, socially distanced, and his blue disposable mask would’ve stayed plastered on the entire Uber ride back.

There’s something incredibly cursed about piecing your heart back together when you can’t leave the house. No rebound hookups, no ice cream-laden sleepovers crying on a friend’s shoulder, or aimless nighttime drives that aren’t restricted to buying essential goods.

You’re forced to deal with a plethora of tragic emotions mixed in with the mental toll of a stay-at-home order… alone.

In NSW, a second lockdown has just been extended again, while Queensland have gone through four, and Victoria braces for its fifth.

The more lockdowns we have, the more unravelling of relationships happen, that should, in theory, be able to withstand a few weeks’ separation — and that may, or may not, have survived otherwise.

And the more Australia’s handling of the pandemic spirals with low vaccination numbers and mutating variants, the more lockdowns will happen, continuing the cycle of unlucky duckies who get to experience the earth-shattering power of lockdown heartbreak.

Sophea, 30, went through a break-up two weeks into lockdown last year. She told Junkee that they both wanted it to work out, but fundamental compatibility issues loomed over their relationship.

“He kept saying we couldn’t have a future together because he’s Muslim and I’m not, but he was too scared to end things, so I broke up with him,” she said. “It was difficult because we couldn’t see each other in person to have that difficult post-break-up grieving and acceptance period.”

A fortnight later, they found themselves constantly calling each other to offer platonic support during Sydney’s public health order.

After a few previous flings got in touch with me, I felt compelled to message my ex…

“The reason we went back to speaking everyday was because we were both lonely in lockdown, and didn’t have our usual coping mechanisms or support network around us. We were both stuck inside and away from our friends and family.”

It became clear after a few weeks that they couldn’t just be friends, and their communication broke off. Sophea tried to move on, saying she and her ex bumped into each other briefly after lockdown was up, but she never fully got closure — until last week.

“I think because this lockdown was so unexpected, people are more reactive. After a few previous flings got in touch with me, I felt compelled to message my ex.” It turns out he’s dating someone new, and she isn’t Muslim either. “It feels like my heart broke a second time,” she said.

Whether a break-up is spurred by the lockdown itself, or speeding up the inevitable, is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg question, says Elisabeth Shaw, Chief Executive Officer of Relationships NSW.

“This can be because people are under stress, and so previous issues are exacerbated. When in really difficult times, relationships are tested and we can have a heightened expectation that a partner will step up,” she told Junkee. “If they don’t, the effects can be magnified.”

Shaw says that problems can arise regardless if a couple lives with one another or not, but being shut in 24/7 can be agitating and show a new side to your partner.

“When spending all your time together, you can realise you have less in common, or you don’t respect [their] work ethic — information you might not have had if not in lockdown.”

The opposite also applies if apart during lockdown: “when you are not able to touch base in real time, you need to ensure there is closeness and intimacy through other means. It relies on different communication, and better communication skills, to stay connected.”

“It could be that people find they do not relate so well, that without activity and sex there is not enough of an emotional connection. It could also be that out of the usual routine of meeting up and with more time to reflect and think, the realisation that the relationship has run its course becomes more obvious.”

Nearly half of Australians interviewed in a study stated their relationships went through a negative change during COVID, the Guardian reported last year.

“Because emotions are heightened, it is important to try and work out what is an unfair assessment of the relationship, and what is the truth of the matter,” Shaw said. “Many couple challenges are actually fixable with the right effort.”

“However, you need to have a reason to do so, such as feeling strongly in love or connected. Without that, working on the relationship will just seem like practical homework that ultimately falls flat.”

The effect of lockdowns on young people’s mental health has affected morale, connectedness, and resilience. According to the Australian Association of Psychologists, clients exhibited an 83 percent increase in anxiety, depression, and distress over the last year and a bit.

Sophea observed that last year, it was really easy to slip into an unhealthy routine of sleeping all day and forgetting to eat, after her break-up. But in 2021, she says it feels like everyone has a better understanding of the importance of good mental health to get by.

“I feel like I have a support system to reach out to because over the past year, we’ve all been more focussed on checking in with each other,” Sophea said.

Losing your grip will feel briefly comforting, but [inevitably] will make you feel worse…

And undoubtedly, the comparatively relaxed restrictions this time make a difference to coping mechanisms. But there’s only so many walks one can do before your mind starts to cloud again, or overthink it when intimate partner visitation exemptions are Uno-reversed just to cut the cord in person.

“My advice would be to make consistent baby steps: wash your face, brush your teeth, and make your bed every morning. Even if you get nothing else done, at least you’ve done that for yourself,” Sophea reflects.

She says talking to trusted figures, and arranging a mental healthcare plan with your GP, also really help.

Shaw agrees, emphasising the importance of structure and self-care to help feel more in control. She says it’s vital to avoid instant gratification through alcohol, ruining your body clock, or jumping back on the apps straight away.

“Losing your grip will feel briefly comforting, but [inevitably] will make you feel worse. Walk a few times a day, plan your menus, ring friends regularly, and stay on track with sleep,” she said.

“Don’t let yourself get isolated, and trust that when lockdown lifts, you will be able to re-establish yourself again. Think about how you want to move on from here, what you have learnt from the relationship, and what you will need to make peace with it ending.”

Last year’s extended lockdown was a cesspit, but also a safety net to soothe and excuse my wounded ego — a consoling zeitgeist where everyone was going through some form of personal shit, separately, together.

This time around feels less sympathetic but more accustomed: I won’t be chugging down glasses over Zoom, weeping through Tiger King, or venting to strangers on Houseparty. But you can bet I’ll still mope, and grieve, and reflect, and yearn, and ache, and try to heal until it doesn’t hurt as much.

Until that moment comes, I’ll milk my housemates letting me off chore duty, sit on my hands for every impulsive text, and hit replay on a resuscitated ‘Clown Tunes’ playlist from the comfort of bed a little while longer.