friends forever?

My Big COVID Breakup Cost Me My Friends

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Getty

Five months into the pandemic, my partner of four and a half years broke up with me. We had spent the early days of quarantine making elaborate dinners, watching documentaries, drinking natural wine, and playing costume-clad themed games with friends on Zoom. Despite the occasional argument, I thought we were happy. So when he told me he wasn’t sure I was “the one,” I was devastated.

There was an immediate, almost frantic push to ceremoniously pack up our stuff and start new lives. Our small one-bedroom apartment was no longer habitable, the reminders of each other impossible to escape — his still-drying paintbrushes, my tower of books, his messy desk with the color wheels, my plants scattered across our kitchen counters. But my new life was only a couple of miles away from my old life.

Instead of traveling, indulging in an Eat Pray Love moment, I was in lockdown, in the depths of a global pandemic, without my partner and in a new apartment. And I didn’t just lose him; I lost his friends, the ones we grabbed drinks with every Friday to decompress after a long work week. The ones who made us dinner during our attempt at a supper club. The ones who left warm crullers from the donut shop down the street in our mailbox when we were too hungover to meet for breakfast. The ones who trusted us with their dog while they were out of town. The ones whose weddings we attended all over the world, who I thought would one day attend our wedding.

Most of them were in my ex’s industry — he works in graphic design — a ballooning group that swelled with each new job he worked. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was always wary of industry types (you know, editors, producers, casting directors, photographers), labeling them as fake and shallow. But these friends were different. They were mostly kind, generous, and down to earth; they accepted me as one of their own, as an artist — even though my day job as a marketing project manager at a public-transit agency was more bureaucratic than creative. We exchanged TV show recommendations at parties, asked one another about our latest projects at work, laughed at photos of dogs in silly Halloween costumes, lounged in backyard Jacuzzis at cozy mountain Airbnbs we rented as a group. My partner and I spent most of our free time with them, and it soon felt as if they were as much my friends as his.

But a quiet shift occurred in my early months of singledom. My ex’s friends, who at first checked in on how I was doing post-breakup, began to slowly, subtly disappear. After a few awkward Zoom happy hours and socially distanced walks in which I tried but failed to not talk about the breakup, the texts between us became more scarce. These friendships I thought would last a lifetime were gone, reduced to squares and circles on my Instagram feed.

I felt abandoned — by both my partner and our friends, left to fend for myself and build an entirely new life during a global pandemic. Alone, in quarantine, with all my baggage literally and figuratively surrounding me, I was forced to reckon with my own deep-rooted insecurity about feeling unworthy, about not being good enough.

If it wasn’t for COVID-19, I might have tried harder to keep in touch with them. We might have run into each other at coffee shops and bars and grocery stores since most of us lived in the same part of town, but masks and social distancing created a clean cut. In some ways, this helped the healing process, allowing me to move on. I started seeing a therapist, focused on my WFH job, settled into my new studio apartment, applied to grad school, met my new boyfriend on Hinge, and grew closer to my own group of friends (an assortment of women from various stages of my life, from my childhood in L.A. to studying abroad in college).

We had drifted apart while I was dating my ex: I spent most of my time with him and his friends, and many of my previous friends bought houses, got engaged, had kids, moved away, went back to school. They pursued stable, comfortable lives, while mine still felt incomplete. But after my breakup, these women came through when I needed them most: They drove me to the beach, texted me meditations, mailed me an essential-oil diffuser, listened to my circular reasoning about my relationship’s demise.

These reunions were nice if not essential. Without them, if I leaned on only my ex’s friends, I would have taken much longer to move on. I would have mined his crew for more information about his new life. I would have obsessed over the bread crumbs, wallowing in self-pity and false hope.

When I started an MFA program in January 2021, I began to make new friends: other aspiring writers, like myself, eager for community. I began to enjoy time spent alone; I went on long walks with a film camera, danced around my new apartment in my underwear, talked to myself in the mirror like I used to as a child, and obsessively jotted down story ideas throughout the day, reacquainting myself with the imagination that sustained my lonely only childhood.

Now that things are almost “normal again,” I know I will likely start running into some of those mutual friends I lost. I know they’re still around because even though I muted my ex, I still follow our — his — friends on social media. Their presence looms in my Instagram feed, sometimes causing pangs of FOMO for the life we once lived together. I hope enough time has passed and enough dust has settled that when we have a chance to reconnect, we may even become friends outside the confines of my past relationship in a post-COVID world.

If not? That’s fine, too. I have other friends.

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My Big COVID Breakup Cost Me My Friends