Single and Ready to ... Nevermind: What It’s Like to Separate in the Middle of a Pandemic

Breaking up is hard to do, but especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
Breaking up is hard to do, but especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
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Breaking up is hard to do, they say, and that’s without factoring in the additional stress brought on by a pandemic, an economic crisis and the loneliness of lockdown.

There are many ways of coping with breakups, and some of the most foolproof (albeit unhealthy) have been severely altered by the coronavirus: Taking a quick detour into Slutsville, swiping right on what would normally have been a left, going to bars and picking up something for the next day (usually a hangover and an awkward exchange) — none are allowed. Likewise, common post-breakup rituals like getting together with friends and expecting them to act as our therapists, for free, by obsessively analyzing the what-went-wrongs are also a thing of a past.

The internet has spurred endless jokes in the last few months about the imagined increase of sexual activity among couples, prompting the term "corona babies," a potential nickname for children conceived during lockdowns. But, unsurprisingly, the threat of a deadly virus and the stress, depression and uncertainty of the modern times can test domestic relationships, and the prospect of being in an isolation together has broken many camels' backs.

While it can seem difficult to stick to the smallest of plans at the moment without being plagued by doubt, some couples are making irreversible, milestone decisions by going through separation or divorce. Some are trapped in domestic violence and other difficult situations, or divorcing and forced to continue living together. Some couples, though, are making the decision to pack their bags and move out, recession or not.

Stephanie Drenka, a writer and photographer from Dallas, recently published an article for Thrive Global called “Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus,” in which she detailed the painful and awkward experience of being quarantined with her husband, two weeks after asking him for a divorce.

“My first thought when the order took effect was that the universe was playing a cruel joke on me,” she wrote in the article. “The beautiful open space where we’d built a home together suddenly felt like a sort of prison. Limbo. Purgatory. There was no way we’d be able to live under the same roof and preserve our sanity.”

It was a peaceable separation, and Drenka describes through the story the practical ways in which she and her soon-to-be-ex were able to make use of their forced time together, like packing and separating their belongings, and teaching him how to use a Crock-Pot.

Drenka tells the Observer that she couldn’t move on with any other form of writing until she “got this off my heart.” She also wanted to share her story for those experiencing similar situations; the messages she received confirmed those people to be many.

“The lockdown was sort of a nice transition for us,” the writer says. “We got time to figure things out together and ease into the huge change.”

The circumstances of the last few months have not made Drenka reconsider her divorce, and, in fact, they solidified her decision.

“I think the pandemic reminded me how short, precious this life is and also that we are more resilient than we realize sometimes,” she says.

It’s a sentiment shared by Trey, a funeral home and cemetery director, who began proceedings to get divorced in early March and had moved out right before stay-at-home orders were set.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” Trey says of divorcing mid-coronavirus. “While the waiting for the court system has kept things dragging on ... the ability to step away completely, lack of contact or opportunity to see one another has actually helped in various ways.”

For example, Trey says he appreciates that he won't have to run into his soon-to-be-ex-husband at court or elsewhere, as all court proceedings have been rescheduled for close to two months from their original date, while mandated mediation was done over the phone. Trey says the delays in the process have been frustrating to navigate, and he hasn’t even begun to think about dating.

“It’s been a lonely quarantine,” he adds. “I’m displaced from the home we picked, most all of the material assets we acquired. My dogs are there — that’s the hardest part. Then, the person I thought would be around in this new world isn’t anymore.”

Alexandra, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, split up from her longtime partner before the pandemic and went from couch surfing to staying in a friend's spare room, to finding a permanent place to live during the lockdowns.

Moving is not an easy task when you’re avoiding physical contact with movers as much as with your ex.

“There's furniture in my old place where my ex is … not ideal, but I'm not even close to having movers transport things while social distancing is suggested by the CDC,” she says. “I will sleep with my mattress on the floor, thank you.”

The biggest way in which the pandemic has altered her plans, Alexandra says, is the fact that she’s not dating.

“Not that I intended on jumping into another relationship after the last, but I haven't been single this long since I was a freshman in college, and it's been two months,” she adds.

But the only thing Alexandra misses is her furniture. She also says that the pandemic loneliness has not made her reconsider her separation.

“Not at all,” she says. “I had and have an incredible support system. I don't miss that life with him one bit.”

Angelina, a film producer who had her first child in October, says her relationship was already on the rocks, and the tension of raising an infant only intensified with the news of the pandemic.

Her partner, she says, was not happy at the prospect of being quarantined with his family, and she believes the pandemic provided an ample opportunity for him to make an exit. Her child's father was “phobic” at the thought of facing weeks or months on lockdown “just the three of us, without going out,” she says.

Angelina says that while becoming a single mother is always difficult, it is particularly so during a pandemic, but she prefers it to being in hostile company.

In-person dating may not be possible at the moment, but singles are still finding ways to connect. OkZoomer is a dating service partly created by Dallas students to help singles find their quarantine match. Other couples who are still together but social distancing from each other, are having long-distance relationships, sometimes in the same city.

The bright side for those going through separations and divorces, is that they get to order food without judgment and binge-watch trash TV with the gusto of an involuntarily single Bridget Jones. And if clichés like “misery loves company” are any consolation, the whole world is with you at this miserable time.

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