Commentary: Did your relationship fail to survive COVID-19? Here’s how to move on
When a relationship isn't stable or defined yet, it’s ill-equipped to deal with the hurdle of time and distance apart, says dating guru Cherlyn Chong.
SINGAPORE: As someone who helps professionals recover from heartbreak, it was unsurprising to me that break-ups, especially that of budding relationships, have been on the rise since the circuit breaker kicked in on Apr 7.
In the free Facebook support group I host, people were lamenting how the pandemic has wrenched them away from potential suitors or newly defined partners.
Despite their best efforts, many of these relationships fell apart after a few weeks, most of the time abruptly.
In the absence of physical touch and activities to do together, new couples living separately resort to video calls, chats and virtual dates to keep the relationship interesting.
But when a relationship isn't stable or defined yet, it’s ill-equipped to deal with the hurdles of time and distance so prematurely. Unlike long-term partnerships where divorce usually happens after years of negativity, nascent relationships tend to end just as quickly as they began.
TWO TYPES OF BREAK-UPS
I’ve observed two kinds of isolation break-ups: Those between couples that met up to a year before the restrictions, and those between couples that just begun dating a few weeks ago.
For the former, the distance tends to expose the flaws of one or both partners during the “honeymoon” period. For one of my clients, her relationship of three months was plagued by incidents of her new boyfriend flirting and chatting with other women he met online.
She found out about his secret escapades when one of the women contacted her, leading her to question her boyfriend until he confessed.
Of course, she broke up with him on the spot, and is now recovering from the ordeal.
Yet another client was dismayed to find out that her partner of six months was a belligerent drunkard when in isolation. He would accuse her of cheating, then punish her with hot and cold behaviour.
He broke up with her after one particularly nasty argument, only to contact her again, promising that he would change. That did not stop the bouts of drinking, so she cut him off for good after a few weeks.
For budding relationships where both parties met a few days or weeks prior to social isolation, dissolutions happened because there was hardly any foundation at all.
An almost stranger might not hold your interest, and before you know it, it can be all too tempting to get back on that dating app and swipe to distract from the boredom of social isolation.
These potential relationships are thus prone to “ghosting,” where one party simply stops replying and vanishes, never to be heard from again.
This happened in the case of a male user of a dating app I’m a coach of. He hit it off with a woman whom he really liked, exchanging several in-depth conversations over the course of three days – only for her to make excuses to avoid scheduling a call.
Despite her initial warmth, she eventually stopped replying to his messages, leaving him puzzled and upset.
Other times, the potential relationship becomes a “situationship” – a non-committed romantic relationship. Once it has outlasted its usefulness, sometimes in as little as two weeks, one or both parties might start slowly fading away by communicating less.
A woman in my group described her three-week situationship as “extremely disappointing”, because once stringent COVID-19 rules were announced, her potential love interest decided not to pursue anything more, as it was “too much work till they see each other again.”
The unexpectedness of his decision left her feeling bereft. Though she agreed that there would be no commitment, she had hoped that he would want to deepen their relationship despite the challenges of isolation.
THE IMPACT OF AN ABRUPT END
The sudden dissolution of relationships – no matter how young or vague – can hurt just as much as ending a long-term, defined relationship.
If one person wanted more out of a situationship, it can result in anger, resentment and regret at having wasted that time, energy and even money on the other person.
Sometimes there’s the anguish that, due to its brief nature, the party who opted out did not give the relationship a fair chance.
Other times, one person believes they are the problem, resulting in feelings of guilt.
GETTING OVER AN ISOLATION BREAK-UP
If you have been on the receiving end of a breakup, the very first thing to do is to decide that you will heal, then figure out a way there.
If you cannot make this decision yet because it feels too overwhelming, take the time to be mindful of your pain. Allow yourself to grieve and vent all those repressed emotions.
Second, have an honest conversation with yourself about why that ex means so much to you. At this stage, you may find the pain doesn’t come from losing someone you love – rather, it comes from losing the future you envisioned with this person.
For my client with the three-month relationship, she was upset that her ex would throw away their carefully crafted plans for 2021, given that 2020 was so stressful already.
Rejection can also reinforce negative ideas about yourself. These include never being good enough for someone, or that you won’t find anyone better than your ex, so it’s hopeless to try again.
If we hold on to these damaging beliefs, we’re more inclined to wallow in despair. So confront those beliefs – then adopt a growth mindset.
For example, if you believe that life will never get any better, simply prove yourself wrong by trying out new hobbies and immersing yourself in new experiences.
Many of my clients started “taking back” their lives by renovating their homes or going ahead solo with an activity that they had planned with the ex.
The point is to do something so fabulous that you forget why you needed the ex in your life to begin with.
Third, reach out to your support network. Now that you can meet your friends and distant family members face-to-face, it’s a good time to catch up with them and let them comfort you.
There are also many support groups online – such as the Facebook group I run, Get Over Him - to help you through this painful period.
SHOULD YOU GET BACK INTO THE GAME?
Now it can be very tempting to hop back onto that dating app to ease your pain – but don’t do it immediately.
You need to give yourself time to heal and better yourself before you attempt to jump into another relationship. Two heartbreaks in a row is not fun.
Think of it this way: Work on yourself first to the point where you’re overflowing with love, where you’ll want someone to share that with you. Don’t try to fill the void of your loss.
Of course, if the break-up was amicable and you feel ready to move on, feel free to dive right into the dating world.
The circuit breaker has forced people to slow down and foster more authentic connections.
With bars, museums and concert halls still closed and wearing masks mandatory – taking away some of the magic of a first date– it’s an excellent time to get to know someone virtually before you meet.
Plus, you get to take things slow, and figure out what you want and don’t want in a partner.
Cherlyn Chong is a breakup recovery and dating specialist at Steps to Happyness, as well as host of the free Get Over Him Breakup Recovery Group for Professional Women on Facebook.