My boyfriend and I planned on eventually moving in together, but not this soon. We went from seeing each other slowly twice a week to very suddenly seeing each other every single day because of the COVID-19 lockdown here in Los Angeles.
But we’re not the only ones; a lot of couples are in the same boat. And while it’s wonderful having your significant other around during a pandemic, there’s also a looming feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on until recently.
That emotion is grief.
The crisis has taken the normal relationship trajectory and thrown it into disarray. Couples around the world are now holed up together, something not even people who already lived together imagined experiencing.
This means that instead of experiencing different phases in their relationship and diverse locations to play those out, it’s all confined into one location and one period: quarantine.
We think of a relationship as generally beginning with a series of dates. Each person dresses up and goes out for dinner or a fun activity, creating a level of excitement in the new relationship. Down the road, there’s the period of deciding if things are serious or when those big three words will be said. One day, they’ll consider the prospect of moving in together or getting married, given everything went well.
But if you’re quarantining together, those formative experiences go out the window, or at the very least are drastically altered.
As couples that weren’t living together, we’ve been robbed of those moments. And we’ll never be able to get back. That kind of loss creates grief.
You can’t rewind to the “honeymoon phase,” nor can you unsee your partner in sweatpants and hair that hasn’t been washed in several days. There’s no time apart to miss one another. In fact, you might be getting so used to seeing your partner every day that when the quarantine is over, it’s going to feel like its own loss.
Many people aren’t able to identify this experience as grief. As Perel explains, “People don’t mention it as grief, so what they have is different coping styles about how they deal with the unknown.” It can look like your partner obsessively cleaning the apartment or you feeling out of control when you can’t check up on a loved one.
I’m finding that for me, my grief feels like boredom for the relationship. And in turn, I nitpick at my partner or cause arguments where there should be none.
Grief isn’t a word reserved for losing something physical; it can be the loss of how you experienced life or the way you pictured your future. People all over the world are losing their jobs and worrying about what the future has in store for them; your relationship isn’t exempt from these feelings.
The good news is that identifying a feeling—calling it by name—allows us to decide how to move forward. Grief is valid and not to be ignored. It’s okay to long for something that was taken from you. There’s no use in feeling silly or pretending it’s not there.
Sitting in the grief helped me. By realizing that loss is what I’m feeling, I could think about and accept the situation instead of redirecting that energy into picking apart my relationship.
I talked with my boyfriend about the grief I felt from losing parts of our relationship to this crisis. I explained how I miss our dinners out and planning trips together, but more so, what they meant in creating excitement in our relationship. I told him how much I enjoy his company but that I’m worried about becoming too used to it. I feel sad about the opportunities we may not have anymore as a couple that began in a time when we did have all the possibilities.
My boyfriend acknowledged that he worried about some of the same things, like us becoming dependent on each other. He’s more of a “tackle them as they come” guy, but he was happy to put these feelings out in the open and acknowledge what we’re experiencing. Sometimes, talking about things—even without a solution—helps.
For some couples, this will be the time when serious questions come up. The stakes will feel higher, and they’ll want to know if the other is in it for the long run, whether that be a talk about monogamy or marriage—perhaps over Zoom tomorrow.
I know now that what I’m feeling—and perhaps what you are too—is grief, an emotion everyone processes differently. Some couples will make it through this. Others won’t.
But like any relationship, the ones that last forever are the kinds that can withstand almost anything, even a pandemic.