A Pandemic Shift in Relationships

Quarantine Party of One. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an outsider, I’m quite comfortable doing things alone. I’m a great date. If I’m dating me. I was a shy only child from a small family of divorced parents and I was often traded between parents living thousands of miles apart. My mom frequently moved us from city to city, so my friendships usually had a one-year life span. When I wasn’t living with one parent, that relationship always drifted further and further away.

As a sensitive child, saying goodbye wasn’t something I coped well with. I never had a home base, and I knew not to count on anyone to stick around. I made do like we all do, but I didn’t realize how this influenced the relationships I have in my adult life until recently. Maintaining them has never been my strong suit. Investing in someone is painful because getting close to others triggers feelings of abandonment. It wasn’t a conscious decision but at some point, I just stopped letting people in.

In college, I had a sizeable core group of friends, but I never really spent much time with them in a one-on-one setting. At the end of the day, they were my drinking buddies. We might spill secrets over a card table occasionally, but it was rare we’d remember. To this day I still find it difficult to begin or maintain genuine friendships. I have this insurmountable wall that’s not designed for climbing over. I’ve tried knocking it down myself but childhood me was one skilled emotional architect. The few who get through become victims of my self-sabotage, pushed to the side before the stakes got too high. Hell, my own wedding was practically an accident. It was the grand finale to three nights, three whiskey bottles and a last-minute flight to Las Vegas. If it wasn’t for a speedy two-day-long engagement, I surely would have spoiled it before I ever made it down the aisle. Perhaps, that’s why I drank so much on the plane. So, I wouldn’t make it down the aisle.

The wedding is a story for another time. A colorful story involving a bride with a black eye and twenty European Au Pairs on a party bus. However, the marriage itself was the single commitment I tried to make work. Wild idea, right. Not to say I didn’t make mistakes, but I wasn’t actively trying to run it into the ground. So, I may have had a blackout wedding but my feelings for Was-band (husband that was) were legitimate and undeniable. So, I did the marriage thing and made it work for three rocky years. I wanted to bolt, I wanted to run away every day and maybe I should have. It was an explosive environment, a substance use hellscape of our own making. This would have been an instance where breaking a commitment could have been beneficial for everyone’s health. But love, romantic love, can make you do stupid things. And do more stupid things. And more. And then a little more. Remember that astronaut that drove 900 miles in a diaper during a heated, jealous love fit? We’ve all been here, right?

They say that a relationship is usually over before it’s made official. That was certainly my case, but it doesn’t mean leaving your spouse is easy. When the pandemic picked up steam here in March, I was still pulling our marriage along on its last thinning thread. I was in a dangerous depression, practicing sobriety and I’d relapse often. A month into the lockdown, I knew I was grasping at nothing. Things were so bad that I was shaking uncontrollably and afraid to even walk by Was-band on the way to the kitchen. I called a hotline twice that month and my therapist several more times for support.

It was gravely obvious there was no way we’d both make it out of lockdown in good health. At best we’d make a mutual decision to break up in the end. At worst…that’s not a thought I’d like to finish. I was terrified of being alone with him, yet we were stuck down each other’s throats. Anxiety is my number one trigger for relapse. Relationship drama is number two. My sobriety was wobbling on the tight rope, I wanted to drink just to feel invincible again. I wanted to drink to feel nothing at all. Only my alcoholism hasn’t been easy to hide for years. It’s certainly not easy to hide from someone always waiting for you to fail so they can follow suit with their own vices. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live like this anymore. The right time to end this marriage was now. Any time later could be too late.

So, for the last nine months, I’ve been grieving a divorce, made even stranger by the pandemic. The whole ordeal was nothing short of transactional. We met up wearing masks and signed the papers in different rooms, I don’t remember ever seeing his face. Such a weird way to say, “goodbye forever!” to the person you promised to die beside in sixty more years. Lamest divorce party I’ve ever attended. You feel like someone has passed on because they have. They’ve passed on from you and that person is now a stranger again. It cuts like hell. Not to mention it was still early into the pandemic, I had no idea what was ahead, and I just made the decision to handle things alone. To take on twice the bills and search for coins in the sofa. But my safety had to take priority. I could get creative to make ends meet but creativity didn’t have the ability to make someone else protect me.

This situation looks like a big red failure on paper, but I don’t even view it as a mistake. I proved to myself that I am capable of fighting for love and sticking out hardships. I’m capable of making a commitment even a very bad one. I held on and fought until it was too dangerous to continue.

But I digress. It never bothered me that my inner circle was small. At least, that’s what I told myself. My life had little drama, little worry, and little responsibility. I enjoyed life on my own with the ability to do as I please. Take a flight, move across the country, and tell no one. But as my late 20’s came knocking, I started feeling differently about it. Daily life started to feel incredibly meaningless when I wasn’t sharing it with anyone. Not just romantically, anyone. At home, my world was empty.

Was avoiding heartache better than the heartache of doing life alone? I wasn’t fulfilled. So, I made a promise to myself that I would do better. I promised myself I would be open to letting others in. Voila! However, that proved difficult. Apparently, when you’ve been repeating the same pattern for twenty years, it’s damn hard to wake up and just start doing a different thing.

So, when the pandemic was in full swing and my marriage dissolved, things were initially pretty smooth. Isolation was my regular station. But then one month turned into three, six, then nine. Next thing you know I’m turning 30 in quarantine. I didn’t have the typical turning-30-meltdown you see women have in the movies. I wasn’t sobbing into my ice cream afraid I’d never find a man. That trope is tired. I just had a man; I could use some time without one. I wasn’t afraid I’d never have kids, that was still marked as undecided. However, it was clear that I’d experience life alone if I didn’t change my jaded adolescent patterns. I could potentially miss out on the real meaning of life and it would be my own fault. It's entirely possible lockdown had me drowning in my own head, but I think it took me to this place for a reason.

Love is the one thing all humans have in common. Love makes implausible miracles happen; dogs have saved their humans from drowning under sheets of ice. Love makes murders happen too but let’s not focus on that part.

I’ve been stubborn and defensive my whole life and I’ve pushed everyone away. I’ve broken my own heart over and over. Something amazing happened this year though when I found out that I had people all along. My family never really left. They showed up for me and they keep showing up. They kept showing up even though I didn’t earn their love. I wasted my entire life being terrified of letting my parents get too close to me. Afraid they wouldn’t love the real me, afraid they’d eventually walk away. I thought I had a solid foundation for those beliefs. After some examination, I don’t. We had our struggles like all families, but they are still here. They loved and sacrificed. I was the only one not showing up. My “truth” for what we had wasn’t universal. I had to make things right.

This realization that I’ve failed them made me deeply ill. This year’s turbulence and uncertainty made me fraught with fear that I messed everything up. I’d wasted my life. I felt like scum. Now we are in a pandemic and all I wanted was more time. How great would things be if I had just figured this all out sooner? How much love could I give if I knew I was capable of it?

We all faced the harsh reality of our imminent mortality this year. Times are scary. I was done wasting time. I was done being afraid of loving people. I never knew happiness because I never gave myself fully to my feelings. Love is a basic need and the foundation for everything. I could win a private jet full of cash tomorrow and I knew my moment of happiness would be fleeting. Some families struggle to pay the electricity but remain among the richest families on the planet. They have something greater and it’s already inside them. I want that in me.

The pandemic was the perspective shift I needed to bulldoze my internal guardrails and do what I’ve been saying I wanted to. I began repairing and rebuilding the relationships I neglected. I didn’t want to spend one more stupid day not pouring love in every crack on this planet.

So, I have, and doing so hurts. Sometimes, I fear I’m having a heart attack because I worry about these people I love so much. Although, I’m sure I can find a way to adjust as all regular humans do. What I don’t want to do anymore is adjust to a life of isolation when a life full of love feels so good. I’m not spending one more day living anything less than a meaningful life. I want to show up for those that show up for me. I want to do meaningful things. I may not have much to share in gold, but I can give people a warm heart to rest on. In 2021 I’m going to love harder than I ever have before. I’m going to practice loving everyone. Even the ones with vastly different opinions.

2021. I talk to my parents every day. We are closer than ever and I brought home a fluffy new lap dog. Not feeling so alone in my loneliness after all.

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