When Quarantine Breaks Relationships

There is no immunity to break-ups.

While it is likely that Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green broke up simply because things were cracking apart before the pandemic — Fox had met her new paramour Machine Gun Kelly during filming of “Midnight in the Switchgrass” prior — the same case is less clear regarding fantasy author Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Apparently, their relationship hit a rough patch in New Zealand as quarantine hit full force, leaving Neil Gaiman to flee the lockdown in New Zealand for a town in Scotland. On his blog, Gaiman and Palmer deny a divorce is imminent, rather, they’ve hurt each other’s feelings and needed some space.

All of which may be true, but for many couples all over the world, the efforts to social distance and shelter in place have hit hard in unexpected ways. ABC News in their report on the issue put one of the reasons that coronavirus is taking a toll on married couples quite elegantly: “Tension bred by forced proximity”.

So what happened before the quarantine? What were these couples doing differently?

It raises questions about how long it takes to truly know another person. Our modern day life has made it easy to fill our every waking moment with distraction, so we are only compelled to meet our significant others for a limited number of hours.

What happens when the tables turn, though, and we are consigned to be in front of each other for days at a time? There is no way now to hide our ugly parts. We are painfully exposed for all our less pleasing habits, forced to jostle up against the uncomfortable nature of our vulnerable, naked selves.

We can pretend to be perfect for a long time before we are caught off guard on the wrong day. But being held captive in one location changes everything, and we are not able to keep up the pretense.

There’s a lot to be said for the art of romance. One of the concepts most of us intrinsically know is that to attract and have a partner, you too must be attractive, and sometimes that requires extra work on our part, work that takes effort to maintain. We wear a personae, to some extent, the personae of that ideal lover that can be all, perform all, and love through all.

Some may scoff at that sentiment, but this serves as the dividing line for lovers who aspire to work hard in their romances and those who want to do a minimal amount of work and call it “honesty.”

Of course, you want some measure of authenticity in your relationship, to be able to have open communication. But making no effort to couch your terms in consideration of someone else, or making no effort to be pleasing to another person isn’t “honesty” — it’s doing what comes easy, and most of the time, what comes easily is also low value. We recognize low value when we see it. And often, that low value is someone who is not trying.

This is why quarantine partners are falling apart. Being forced into close proximity isn’t necessarily the problem — it’s proof that these were people who loved each other greatly, but the work required to demonstrate that value is too great, and exhausted them in the long run. The mask of the personae slipped away, or people simply couldn’t recharge to take on the job of romance. Underneath all the effort, we need love and care, and sometimes that love and care must be administered alone.

Couples need time apart to continue this level of romance. Too many marriages and relationships grow stale over time, but are considered successful because they stayed together. 

That’s just not so. Being in a relationship without satisfaction is a failed relationship, even if you’re still together. A lesson that the pandemic is forcing us to know, whether we like it or not.

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