What It Was Really Like to Go Through a Breakup During the Pandemic

From the foodie who's rediscovering herself to a reconnection after travel restrictions lifted.

pandemic breakups

One unexpected side effect of the pandemic was that the rate of divorces and breakups went up. It was the perfect storm: As fear and grief traversed the world, relationships that might have already had a few issues began to break under the weight of the stress. Plus, relationships that were in their first stages often sped up, seeing as every emotion heightened. And even the best of relationships had to contend with getting through a year unlike any we've experienced in our lifetimes.

It's no wonder, then, that breakups become more common. But we wanted to hear more about the experience from those who went through it firsthand. And as we began to listen to the stories of those who went through splits in the past year or so, we started to realize that their stories don't necessarily have a sad ending. From the foodie who's rediscovering herself to the breakup that wound up leading to a reconnection once travel restrictions lifted, these stories will remind you of the power of the human spirit.

Sharky McGee

Owner of L.A. restaurant Jewel

pandemic breakups

Photo: Courtesy of Sharky McGee

"[My ex wife and I] broke up in January 2021. We were together for about seven years—we met in December 2013.

"Honestly, I think it was already over by December 2020. We went to Mexico over Christmas to get a much-deserved break from running our restaurant, Jewel. But things were not going well already at that point; we didn't make any holiday plans to see family because of COVID and had even discussed spending the holidays separately to give each other space. She eventually suggested going to Mexico together, but expressed that she would like to have her own space. And I think I tried to give her that.

"She booked us a gorgeous Airbnb overlooking the ocean. We had invited one of our co-workers to come with us, probably to serve as a buffer between us. On our last day, I had initiated sex with her and she was surprised; it was a surface-level sexual act, my last attempt at breaking through.

"I had actually thought that the pandemic was already through its worst, and that if we were still together then, that we'd make it through. I realized that I was actually living in denial. In hindsight, I was holding on to a relationship longer than I needed to. For so many reasons, but one being that I didn't want us to be a statistic: to diminish the beauty we shared at the beginning of our love affair by being one of the countless ones that didn't survive. My pride didn't want to face the reality that the brute strength of our love was not enough to withstand the calamity that was COVID. The perfectionist in me did not want to fail.

"I also think that the deep crack in our relationship was already irreparable. During the worst of the pandemic (and the social unrest), I had actually thought that we had started supporting each other emotionally more so than the last few years. I had thought that our trapped experience of the death and hatred that was 2020 may have opened our communication lines through commiseration. And that had given me hope. But ultimately, we couldn't avoid what was already meant to be.

"If it was 'normal times,' it probably would never have happened. We may have both held on to a relationship that we knew deep down no longer filled us both.

"I don't regret a single moment of our relationship, including the hardships that led me to be where I am. Don't get me wrong: It's hard. It's hard to face the role I played in the dissolution of our marriage. But I can appreciate that at one point in my life, I had loved this woman so much that I made a vow to her in front of our loved ones—to hold her and cherish her for the rest of my days. I meant it then, and I meant it for the majority of our relationship. I'd like to respect the love I once shared with her and not dismiss the beauty in it. That love will always be my truth.

"But as I move on, I am rediscovering myself in ways where I have lost the beauty I thought I once had. I am giving myself space to heal and grow. I am giving myself the permission to sit with the uncomfortableness of my feelings and forgiving myself for it. I look at people I encounter now with a different lens, a lens of more understanding and compassion. I've learned to value the people that have stayed in my life, knowing that the people around me are my chosen tribe. Every day I get stronger. Every day I get to love myself a little bit more."

Nikkaila Bain

Freelance Publicist at b.good PR

pandemic breakups

Photo: Rio Chantel

"My ex-girlfriend and I broke up early August of 2020. While we had only been together for around 10 months, we'd been living together for five of those. In that time we raised two dogs together, [we both] weren't working, and we rarely spent any time apart. We moved in together at the start of quarantine—I had recently been laid off—and what was initially supposed to be a two-week staycation to wait it out until COVID was over (ha!) turned into months. So our relationship definitely progressed at a much faster rate than most, which made the breakup that much more difficult.

"I started to catch a glimpse of major differences between us in the first month of living together, and they grew until we broke up. I would be lying if I said that living together wasn't enjoyable—for the most part, we transitioned really smoothly into cohabitating, and being with her turned a really traumatic time into something really positive. We could spend all day together and still have things to laugh about the next day. But those differences started to deepen: kids, money, activism, to name a few. Most of the time, I was enjoying our time together so much that I either ignored them or talked myself into compromising my wants completely just to stay together. Things quickly declined between July and August, and by the time we broke up I knew it was inevitable.

"This was by far the most difficult breakup I've ever experienced. Though this wasn't my longest relationship, it was definitely the one I was most invested in—exacerbated by the pandemic. In the past, I'd had a process for handling breakups. If it had been normal times, I would have booked a flight and gotten the hell out of L.A. I would have disconnected from my social life back home and somehow would have tried to recreate an Eat, Pray, Love adventure to heal my broken heart. I would have come home and partied at clubs with my friends, gone on a few Hinge dates, and distracted myself until life felt fulfilling again. I would have thrown myself into my work during the week and started a new workout plan at the gym.

"Instead, I was confined to the apartment I moved into shortly after breaking up. I couldn't go anywhere, so I spent my spare time eating Saltines on the couch and obsessing over social media. I could hardly lean on my friends or family. And with no job, I couldn't afford to do much even if things were open. I felt unlovable, I felt worthless, and for the first time ever, I felt hopeless.

"Experiencing a breakup during the pandemic meant I finally had to learn how to self-soothe. There were no distractions, no people to lift my spirits, and nothing to throw myself into. Just me. I had to learn how to be fulfilled with my own company and face some deeply rooted insecurities I'd never really acknowledged. In all honesty, I am still healing. But if the pandemic was never a factor, I probably wouldn't have ever come to know myself like I do now."

Nora Glover

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Catademy

pandemic breakups

Photo: Courtesy of Nora Glover

"My schedule hasn't really changed during the pandemic, as I continue to work with pets every day. However, my ex-boyfriend switched from office to remote work-from-home. We moved in together right when the pandemic started, to become close and help each other during the tough period.

"We had been seeing each other for around a year before moving in together, so it was a well-considered decision. However, we broke up after just a few months of living together. It was October 2020 when we broke up.

"I understood that I [couldn't] stay in this relationship any longer when I realized that my boyfriend can promise me to do something and avoid doing it without even saying sorry. I think anyone who can break a promise can't be my partner.

"Everything was really fine until I noticed that he didn't show any interest in my pets. He had to feed them and help them when I was in the pet center, but he kept forgetting about everything but his job. I couldn't stay with someone who doesn't care about animals, can't admit it, and keeps giving empty promises. I live alone again, and I'm happy that the 'pandemic moving-in-together' has shown me who that man really is.

"To tell the truth, it could have been tough to break up and ask my boyfriend to move out, but it wasn't. He had a good job in IT, so it was easy for him to find a new apartment. Landlords are welcoming for guys like him, especially during the pandemic, when so many people can't pay their rent. As for me, I didn't have to move anywhere, as I had been renting the place we lived together long before we moved in together. I just had to return to the full rent."

Chanel West

Founder of Chanellie

pandemic breakups

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel West

"My significant other and I broke up on Mother's Day 2020, of all days. This was insensitive of him, because he knew I lost my son in 2016 and was already in a bad headspace. However, it was inevitable and it was already brewing by that point.

"Although I had known him for 14–15 years through an online and phone relationship, we only officially met in person for the first time in February 2020. We dated from then until May 2020.

"I knew things were over between us when he kept backing out of major milestones we were attempting—like moving my entire life to Mississippi or getting an apartment together. He would say he was on board and lead me to believe he was fully into it, and then suddenly back out and admit he had hesitation.

"I definitely knew things were over when he didn't support my ambition and dreams. He is from a small town in Mississippi and I'm from Chicago. I get there is a culture difference, but if you love someone, you always support them and their dreams. He was very negative and even laughed in my face when I said I wanted to be a millionaire by 30, start a business during the pandemic, and work for myself. After that, I knew our days were numbered.

"Going through the breakup during the pandemic was hard because I felt alone. I gave up my apartment and moved to Flora, Mississippi, to be with this person. I never lived down South, let alone knew anything about it. I was literally alone with no family or friends down there outside of the girlfriend of my ex's best friend. She was an angel to me, and without her kindness and taking pity on me, I would have not known what to do.

"I'm unsure how things would have played out during 'normal' times, but I definitely feel like my feelings were heightened because everyone was in survival mode. I put my trust and life into his hands only for him to have second thoughts. It is scary to feel like you are so expendable to someone you once loved deeply. But things happen for a reason. A year later, that business he laughed at me for is a year old, my products were in a 2021 Oscar Party Gift Bag, Claire Huxtable has my creations, and I'm just getting started.

"Beyoncé said it best: 'Always stay gracious. Best revenge is your paper.'"

Isabel Ludick

Marketing Director at Doggie Designer

pandemic breakups

Photo: Courtesy of Isabel Ludick

"I broke up with my boyfriend of three years during the pandemic. Not because I wanted to, but because I felt it would be less painful than being in a relationship with someone I can't see for an unknown period of time, or maybe never again.

"It was about two months after the pandemic hit, around May 2020. I was in Johannesburg with my family after I graduated from university. He was in Cape Town, where he lived. So we were 1,400 km (870 miles) apart. We had plans to move to London together that coming June, which obviously never happened because…you know.

"Travel restrictions were in place, and you could not move between provinces (states) without a really good reason. I went mad not knowing when I'd be able to see him again. At the time, no one knew how serious this was or could be. My sister and I even went doomsday grocery shopping because everything was so uncertain.

"Long story short, after two months of chaos, I told him I couldn't handle not knowing when or if I'd ever see him again. At least if we weren't together anymore, I technically wouldn't have a reason to see him and I'd just be able to focus on mending my broken heart. I was wrong, it was even more painful than the distance and crippling uncertainty. We wouldn't have broken up if the pandemic never forced us to be apart.

"After a few weeks, travel restrictions were modified and we were allowed to move cross country for specific reasons. I don't know how he got a permit, but he drove in a minibus full of old ladies to come and see me. And the rest is history!"

Top photo: Rio Chantel

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