by Julia Cunningham
If you were single and actively or casually dating pre-pandemic, I’m sure I don’t have to
be the one to tell you that this scene was… dismal. What was already a pretty hopeless prospect(finding a supportive, respectful partner or even just a solid reliable, considerate hookup buddy) became seemingly even more impossible, as in-person dates were indefinitely cancelled and casual hookups became a potentially deadly activity.
As much as I had sympathy for my single friends having to navigate dating apps and
feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, I can’t lie, I was especially pleased with myself that I had been able to ~find a man~ before the stay-at-home orders began to be put into place globally. But, (spoiler alert!!) this would not remain the case, so prepare for some oversharing… NOW!
As someone whose identity has been largely rooted in independence for basically my
entire life, I have never felt like I “needed a man” to be complete or happy. In fact, I believed
this so steadfastly that I had not so much as been on a single date by the time I arrived at
Berkeley in the fall of 2019. While I realize now that that is much less unusual than I thought, I
believed at the time that this fact indicated that I would, indeed, die alone. Still *intellectually*
understanding that I didn’t need a partner to be happy, I figured having one certainly couldn’t
hurt. And thus, with this slightly misguided mindset, I bravely set out into the vast and terrifying landscape of dating apps. Having few expectations due to the horror stories I had heard from other female-identifying friends, I wasn’t really expecting this endeavor to yield much besides a couple lackluster hookups and ghostings. However, much to my surprise, I met a guy that I actually clicked with who, upon first impressions, didn’t suck! By the time the pandemic hit, we had only been dating for about four months, but things had been progressing fast, and we had already defined the relationship and were swiftly barreling towards, *gasp*, saying “the L word.”
While having to move home and make our relationship long distance indefinitely due to
COVID did put a bit of a damper on things, I was remaining positive that our relationship would
make it out to the other side of this pandemic even stronger. This was, perhaps obviously, not the case. While we made it through several months of the pandemic talking more regularly than ever, my move back to Berkeley in June saw a changing of the tides. The dissolution of the relationship ended up coming along as swiftly as its start, and within two weeks of us being in the same city again, our relationship had ended.
Dealing with a breakup under any circumstances is tough, but dealing with a breakup
during a global pandemic seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. Unable to engage with the usual post-breakup advice like “stay distracted,” go out with friends, etc., I was left to my own devices to simply think. As a person already prone to anxiety and overthinking, this was a recipe for disaster. Of course I could FaceTime friends and confide in my roommates, but the inability to simply go out made recovering from a breakup all the more challenging. While I know that it is generally ill advised to find a rebound, the fact that this was not even an option made me indescribably restless.
Of course, I think that it’s important to acknowledge that there were more important
things happening during the pandemic than my breakup. However, heartbreak is blind to these
realities, and as much as my conscious mind was aware of and engaging with these realities
much of the time, my subconscious mind was particularly fond of sneaking in reminders of now-tainted memories and self-destructive thoughts. What would, in a “normal” world, have
distracted me from these thoughts were unavailable to me, and I felt like I was slowly caving in
on myself due to the constant toiling and internal reflection.
But maybe, what I initially thought to be my curse was actually a gift. I am in no way
saying that I am grateful for the pandemic, as there is an immense amount of privilege involved in being able to thrive, or even just survive, the pandemic. What I am trying to say is that removed from the majority of activities and vices I would typically engage in in order to distract myself from emotional distress, I was able to actually feel my feelings. I don’t mean for this to sound super ~out there~, but I mean it! So much of the time, we are inclined to distract ourselves in order to avoid feeling any negative emotions. Sometimes, this approach is completely necessary for self preservation. But once we know we will survive whatever emotions we’re experiencing, it is important to engage with our feelings and explore them. Distraction is a great way to make it through the day, and there are certainly days where my mental health does not benefit from deep reflection, in fact it would be made worse. However, what I did find is that the relative stillness of my life in quarantine allowed me to be acutely aware of my emotions in a way that I am incapable of escaping. This meant that I truly had to face and resolve my problems instead of turning a blind eye and hoping they would go away. While I would honestly have been much happier to do the latter, being forced to face myself actually enabled me to grow at a greatly expedited rate, honestly learning more about myself in a shorter period of time than I ever have before. While many of the things I’ve learned about myself I’m not *the biggest fan of*, realizing these things now, unable to run from them like we humans are often wont to do, I am able to reflect on them, heal, and grow. While maybe it didn’t have to take a breakup and a global pandemic for this to happen, these events definitely sped up the process of self-discovery and self-growth for me.
So, what was the point of me oversharing about my life to the loyal BAMPFA SC blog
readers? Well, I guess I wrote all of this to say that times are real shitty right now (but you
already knew that). And certain circumstances can make them shittier (a breakup being the least of the difficult experiences that people can be going through right now)! But, if you have the mental and emotional capacity for it some days, I would highly recommend leaning into that which is uncomfortable to explore, and exploring it. I don’t mean to sound like the author of a cheap self-help book, BUT, I will say that I know that many of us Berkeley students are
particularly good at burying our noses in work in order to avoid reflecting on anything truly
difficult. But enough with that! We owe it to ourselves to genuinely work on doing better, and
not just running away. We won’t always succeed, but why not try! I’d like to say I’ve come out
the other side, flipping my hair and thriving, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that I know way more about myself than I did six months ago, and this has been for both the better and the worse. But it has also allowed me to branch out and feel more free and connected to myself than I have in a long time. So, I guess I’ll leave you with the advice to resist leaning into distraction, and embrace the emptiness of our current social lives as an opportunity to learn more about yourself! And to tie it all in a pretty little bow, here are some particularly pertinent Little Mix lyrics that I’ve been vibing to lately: “Shout out to my ex, you're really quite the man/ You made my heart break and that made me who I am.” !!!