Am I completely and utterly alone in what I'm going through right now?
(No, you're not, and all those Instagram engagements are not the norm.)
Welcome to can’t relate, a newsletter from me, Maria Del Russo, that I write biweekly. Here, you can expect essays from me where I grapple with the weight of relationships — romantic, familial, friendly, and everything in between. If you like what you’ve read, consider subscribing so you’ll be notified whenever I publish.
COVID-19 has fucked up relationships.
I feel like I need to start right there — right in the apex of it. Because if you are anything like me, you’d have reason to believe that everyone except for you is thriving in their relationships. They’re getting engaged. They’re planning weddings. They’re having babies. So. Many. Babies.
Somehow, in the midst of all of the death, and the illness, and the violence, and the climate anxiety, and the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, anti-helping-people-in-a-crisis ball of shit that has been steamrolling our lives for the past 18 months, some coupled-up folks are finding ways to flourish. And because everything else is hard, they’re sharing the good in their lives far and wide.
And I want to be clear that I want to be happy for them, and most days I get there. Truly. This newsletter, while a weird one, isn’t the ranting of an embittered woman whose own relationship doesn’t match the perfectly filtered relationships of those on her social media feeds. It is, however, a clear message to people, like me, whose relationships have been tried during this pandemic, that you aren’t the only one out there.
When I actually sit down and speak with people who are in relationships, all I hear is how difficult things are. For the past few weeks, I’ve been having the same conversations with friends in their 30s who are unmarried but coupled. How living and working next to the person they love has nixed any version of a sex life they may have had pre-pandemic. How one partner is suddenly feeling trapped, and like they want to take the next step, but the other partner is feeling left behind. How the fights have gotten uglier, the weed and alcohol budget has increased to cope, and how the person they used to imagine as the one they’d walk down the aisle towards is now a person who they barely look at throughout the day.
COVID-19 has taken so much from us. And I am not saying our relationship turmoil is more important and more painful than the unnecessary death of a loved one, or permanent chronic health issues, or the loss of full-time employment. But I am here to tell you that it can be as important or as painful if you are the person experiencing the grief of a relationship that currently feels like it’s in free-fall. And that pain can be magnified when what you see on social media, which is the only way a lot of folks are able to see and interact with one another right now, is images of people who seem stronger than you taking forward-moving steps when you feel stuck in place, drowning in quicksand.
I’ve recently experienced the dissolution of a once-happy relationship, and I find myself getting angry about this sometimes. I’ll burst into tears making tomato toast, or scream into my pillow when I feel overwhelmed. It’s anger brought on by grief. I’m grieving a life that I thought I was going to have in March 2020, before our worlds changed overnight. I’m grieving the idea that love is enough to fix the cracks brought on by external pressures. I’m grieving the idea that things will always work out the way you wanted them to.
This grief is amplified when I see how others have made it work, which then triggers a guilty response when the happiness doesn’t follow. But the idea that we always need to be happy for everyone all the time when they’re going through a happy time is toxic. Sometimes the best way to heal our wounds is to retreat and to surround ourselves with people who are also feeling soft due to pain. The moment someone close to me says, “Hey, I’m feeling this, too,” is a moment of relief. I’ve found those moments more and more these days, and find myself gravitating towards people who validate and share my pain instead of covering it with their happiness. I think that is how we heal.
If you’re feeling deep, blunt pain, surrounded by wedding hashtags and baby registries, wondering why you can’t just muster happiness for a person you’re supposed to love, let me be the one to say hi! You aren’t alone. I know it feels lonely because the relationship that’s meant to be your rock is on shaky ground. But you are part of a larger group of people who are also grieving the malady that has infected their once-happy relationships.
We have been through so much in the past year and a half. It’s normal that, after a seismic shift like this, things feel sad and uncomfortable, and things are ending. I’m trying to remember that. And I’m trying to remember that, at the end of all of this, those of us who are suffering will find some root of happiness that will eventually grow into something we want to celebrate. But in the meantime, you are okay here, unsure of what comes next, just trying to get through the day, because you are not the only one. I am here, too.