You Need Help: How Do I Break Up During a Pandemic?

Q:

My partner & I have been in a relationship for over a year. I have realized that this relationship isn’t something that I want to be part of and want to break up. I know it’s the right thing to do but it’s a pandemic & they have health anxiety so their stress level is at an all-time high. I told them that I don’t feel comfortable going to their house for a little while and they cried and said it’s the worst thing they could possibly hear. If me saying that upsets them that much, how do I even begin to end the relationship?!


A:

My advice for folks who KNOW that they want to break up with their partner is almost always the same: Break up with your partner! You’ve made your decision, and now you need to follow through on it. I promise I do have a lot of empathy for you, and I do believe you are trying to be a kind person, but knowing that you want to end things but not doing it can ultimately be a cruel thing to do to someone else.

Yes, breakups suck. Yes, breakups especially suck during the pandemic. Ro wrote a very eloquent and vulnerable advice article about breaking up during the pandemic from the perspective of someone who was broken up with right at the start of the pandemic, and I encourage you to read it, because while Ro acknowledges how painful it was, they also write truths like this:

“Is it wrong to end a relationship when we’re all contemplating our mortality? I thought so for about a day, until I realized how awful I would feel if my girlfriend had stuck with me through this pandemic only to dip out at the first sign of normalcy. No one wants to feel like an obligation.”

You clearly don’t want to hurt your ex’s feelings, but sometimes that can turn into a selfish endeavor. By not breaking up with someone you don’t want to be with, you are being more hurtful to a partner—they just don’t know it. You’re asking how to end a relationship when the act of you merely asking for space for them upset them so much, and the best answer I can tell you is that you have to accept that they’re going to be hurt and that that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You ultimately cannot control how another person reacts to you breaking up with them. It’s possible that they will feel hurt, rejected, sad, angry, betrayed, any slew of bad feelings! But their reaction belongs to them, and none of it means that you’re a bad person. You can’t force a relationship that you’re not feeling. It’s not fair to you or your partner. It’s simply dishonest and unfair to put off breaking up with someone just because you’re scared of how they might see you or because you don’t want them to be upset. Staying with someone you’re not actually into could lead to even worse feelings of resentment, negativity, and hurt.

Staying with someone for reasons other than truly wanting to be with that person passively ends a partnership. No one’s on the same page. It’s not a real relationship at that point, but to make matters worse, the other person doesn’t even know that it’s not a real relationship anymore. It’s true that the pandemic has worsened existing mental health situations and stress levels for a lot of folks, but even something as major as a global pandemic is not a good reason to keep dating someone you don’t want to date. It’s possible that you’re going to have to set some clear boundaries in the wake of this breakup. Determine how much emotional support you’re willing to provide while keeping in mind that it’s usually the healthiest option to take space and distance in the immediate aftermath of a breakup, especially if emotions are volatile. Encourage them to seek support from their friends and be wary of falling back into old patterns with them. It’s possible to be empathetic toward their stress and health anxiety without being their immediate support system. They can’t use YOU to process your breaking up with them—that won’t help anyone.

From what I can tell in your letter, you don’t live with your partner, which does simplify some of the logistics of breaking up in the midst of quarantining/social distancing. Which I don’t say to suggest that it will be easy, but it’s one less thing that you have to think about in terms of how the pandemic might impact a split.

I understand not wanting to see your partner in pain, but if you don’t break up soon, that pain will likely just compound. Be honest with yourself and with your partner. It won’t be easy or pain-free, but it’s ultimately the kindest thing to do.


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Kayla

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 323 articles for us.

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