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pandemic partners [feature]

it pulled us together and broke us apart

This Q&A piece explores the narratives of two real, distinct relationships as they crest and trough before, after, and during the global pandemic. The development of these relationships coincided with the emergence and spread of Covid-19, which left partners with no choice but to turn to each other, support each other, and—towards the end—hurt each other. As the urgency of the virus and the memories of their relationships pulse and ebb away, the interviewees reflect on the beginnings and ends of it all. 

For anonymity, pseudonyms were chosen by the interviewees and are: Lemley, he/him, queer; and Lucy, any pronouns, queer. The responses have been edited for clarity, length, and style. 

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Take me back to the beginning.

Lemley: We met at a party two years ago. I was in a glowing room and he was passing through it from the bathroom. He turned and looked right at me. He shouted, “You’re cute.” I found him dancing in the next room and we started making out. That’s how we met. After that we started hanging out without having a structure. It was my first time meeting someone not from an app. As a queer person that aspect was refreshing. 

Lucy: We met at a party of sorts two years ago. Our mutual friends were pre-gaming in her friend’s dorm room. At that moment, I felt as if I knew she would approach me when she did. She was wearing dark colors and asked me about myself. We talked the whole night and she asked for my contact information. I invited her over a few nights after and we started seeing each other every other night or so. 

What happened after that? How did the pandemic affect your relationship?

Lemley: It started turning into regular meetings, seeing each other about twice a week. We would study for our chemistry class together. I eventually asked the age-old question: What are we? We talked and both came to the conclusion that we wanted to be each other’s boyfriends. So we decided to call it that. When we first found out about the pandemic, it was heartbreaking for us. We were both in a really happy place. I think it was harder for him mentally. All the things were aligning. And then the pandemic hit and we had to go back home. It was a lot and we were multiple seas and time zones apart. But I think the pandemic brought us closer together. 

Lucy: We started spending almost every night together and going on dates and such. It was my first serious relationship. We went to the RISD museum, built snowpeople, and made each other playlists. She was afraid of being in another relationship but she said she trusted me, which made me feel good. We fell in love. We spent a lot of time in bed, not thinking about anything besides each other. The pandemic hit and it was really hard to say goodbye to each other. I think the pandemic brought us closer together, too. 

Tell me about the beginning of the end.

Lemley: The semester before last is when our dynamic began to change. We basically lived together and I think he started to resent me. When we came back the next semester he said that he didn’t want things to be the same. I was taken aback. If that’s not what he’s looking for, then that’s not what he’s looking for, but I think I was trying to hold on to that level of closeness. He started to take me for granted and then I started to take him for granted. 

Lucy: I think I had some doubts early on. Does this person fully understand me? Can they? Do I even fully understand myself? I wasn’t sure. But I made myself as emotionally available as I could and I put in a lot of effort and energy to be there for her. That took energy away from my friends and I began to resent her a bit. During the pandemic it felt like everything was crashing down all around us, but at the end of the day, we always had each other. We did everything together. I did start to feel a little bit suffocated. I suggested we take a break a few times but she refused. There were needs we couldn’t meet, I think. Things we couldn’t fully understand about each other. Things we ignored because of how much we loved each other and needed each other. Things we didn’t know how to talk about. The spaces between the words in our story were large.

What happened at the end?

Lemley: After he distanced himself, I also distanced myself. Semester after semester we became more and more detached. I think the pandemic brought us closer but at the end there was a strangeness. During the pandemic he went through a lot of personal changes, and he was caught up in it all, and sometimes I felt undervalued. I guess it ended with a lot of problems. We were just having a lot of fights at the end about the stupidest shit, and we wouldn’t really know how to resolve it. 

Lucy: The end came fast and hard. One night she came to my room and told me she was breaking up with me. Just like that. After everything we’d been through I was shocked. But she said I’d been hurting her. That she didn’t know how to say it. That I needed to change but that change is hard. I asked her for another chance and she reluctantly agreed. She broke up with me again not long after. I get the sense that she doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. She said it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done, that I was her best friend. She asked if I was proud of her for standing up for herself. I said yes. Even though I was very hurt and very confused. I would never be able to do what she did. Shouldn’t it be something to be discussed more? Shouldn’t it be more mutual? Well, beggars can’t be choosers. It’s over.

How did you feel right after? How do you feel now? 

Lemley: Right after I felt like shit. Even though it was a grown up, sit down situation instead of an on-a-whim breakup, it still felt a little rushed. It felt unreal. I was in shock and I was like, okay, later he’ll come and be here with me. And then I realized that’s not going to happen, that there’s not going to be another time. There’s not going to be a text saying he’s here. Since the initial shock I’ve just been riding out the wave of getting into my own routine again. I feel a lot better now, especially since he texted me Happy Thanksgiving. I still love him. But I also resent him for a lot of things. It’s kind of a mixed bag. 

Lucy: Right after, I actually felt good, because after we broke up I begged her to stay the night and she did. We watched Netflix until late. We woke early because she couldn’t sleep and we talked. I wept sporadically. I asked her if she thought we could be together in the future. She said maybe. She said that we need to be different people. I still think about that. I think she’s right. I was frustrated by the feeling of powerlessness, though. I felt futile in my rejection. Now, I don’t know. I feel better than the beginning for sure. I didn’t know how to exist without her. Now I do. I still miss her and love her, but I’m becoming more confident that I don’t need her to be happy. I want to be friends but I’m not sure she does. 

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What would you say to them if you could?

Lemley: I would say I’m sorry. I think if you’re breaking up it’s never completely one sided. Even if I was the one hurt, I did do things to break his heart without even realizing it. I think towards the end, neither one of us had time to sympathize with the other person and to understand how the other person felt.

Lucy: I would also say I’m sorry. I know I didn’t treat her well towards the end. I feel sorry and guilty for being both the person closest to her and the one who hurt her. At the end I told her I just wanted to make her happy. I suppose she thought I couldn’t at that point.

What do you look forward to?

Lemley: I’ve been spending more time with my friends which has been the best part. I feel like it allowed me to allocate more of my resources to myself, studying, and those around me rather than having to funnel it into one person. I’m looking forward to living my best life during my senior year.

Lucy: I recently had a heart-to-heart with my mom. She told me to focus on healing myself and not jump back into dating. Who would want to date someone so mopey anyway? It was a backhanded comment but I get what she was trying to say. I’m working on myself and I look forward to being the person on the other side—someone who is independent, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.

***

The pandemic created unique circumstances that changed the way people exist in relation to one another. The interviewees established romantic connections that were magnified by a public health crisis; their narratives highlight both the strength and fragility of human connection. They believed in and relied heavily on their partner which increased intimacy and, in some cases, resentment. This period of human history will forever be intertwined with their relationships—that shared experience will stay with them forever. It is with the stories and lessons they learned from these pandemic partnerships that our interviewees step forward into the next chapter of their lives.



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