Lockdown has put relationships under the microscope. Here, one woman explains why this time has been an accelerator for problems that would have always come to the surface.
I knew that lockdown had the potential to change our lives forever but I never predicted that it would change mine so acutely. I was prepared to get used to working from my sofa and socialising over Zoom, but I couldn’t have anticipated that it would put my relationship in a time machine and expose all the problems that I now see would have eventually come to light, forcing me into the knowledge that I needed to end my year-long engagement.
My relationship wasn’t perfect before lockdown. We’re very different emotionally – he’s loud, impulsive, passionate and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. I’m much more introverted, have a tendency to people-please and struggle with confrontation.
But we always connected on what I thought were the important things. We wanted to live the same kind of lifestyle, we worked in similar industries which involved a lot of socialising after hours and this was something I loved that we could do together. These parties, restaurants and social events were glamorous and I really enjoyed that aspect of our relationship.
This is the kind of life I’d always been working towards and with him, we could enjoy these things as a couple, neither one left at home or resentful. But once lockdown put an end to that lifestyle, it was like the bottom fell out of our relationship.
Initially, we both found it difficult to let go of our social selves, but as we changed and grew in the space that our formally busy calendars had left, it became clear that this time was the expediting of a process that was always going to happen.
I think that flaws come to the surface in times of stress and it’s interesting to see how people close to you react. When faced with months of being cocooned from the outside world, with only me and him in a small, one-bedroom flat, our reactions were different on a polarising scale.
He had let his job define him and his industry faded, the person he wanted to believe he was started to slip away, too. He had put a lot of value in who he was when around others and when he couldn’t get affirmation from industry peers, he just closed down.
From here, his primary instinct was to numb himself. He’d zone out for hours, not really speaking or moving. He’d come to bed at 2am because he was playing video games all evening with no sense of time or reality, and no desire to keep things functional at home with me.
By contrast, I saw this time as an opportunity to invest in self-care and deep self-reflection. I have this picture of us in my head which I think, almost comically, represents us throughout lockdown. There I would be, sitting in one half of the living room, painting, meditating or doing yoga. While he would occupy the other half, staring gormlessly into the television as he shot zombies, the sound of bullets ricochetting throughout the flat for hours and hours.
At the beginning of March, I set myself the challenge to discover how to spend my time well. I started a side hustle, as I know a lot of people have – 85,000 new businesses have actually started in the UK in lockdown. But as I went further into this period of immense growth, I felt him slip further and further into a hole.
This isn’t to say I’m perfect – far from it. I know that I let myself become isolated from him and that I numbed myself in a way too, letting the distance open up and not making myself easy to confide in or communicate with.
At first, we tried to set some routines in place to bring us back together. From scheduling a morning walk to a cleaning rota. But it was clear that the social element of our relationship had been such a huge focus for us, and probably a distraction from the problems underneath the surface, that we couldn’t stick to plans we made and the mood between us didn’t improve.
I realised that this pandemic has been like an accelerator which showed how we both react in times of stress and brought the truth of our compatibility to the surface. It made me look ahead to other times of stress, big milestones like getting a mortgage, having a child, planning a wedding – if we couldn’t handle this, I lost confidence that we could handle the future together either.
What lockdown has forced us all to do is confront ourselves, look ourselves in the mirror and recognise our bad habits. I’ve asked myself: “what do I love? Who am I?” A friend of mine compared it to being in an accident and then the time that comes afterwards, when you’re in hospital and thinking about what you really want from life.
Lockdown has prompted me to re-examine everything I had been silently, blindly going along with and I now know my relationship has been one of them.