Can I Break Up in Quarantine?

Papi, I want to see other people. Like, several weeks from now.

¡Hola Papi! is the preeminent deranged advice column from writer and author John Paul Brammer, now living on Substack! If you’ve ever wanted advice from a Twitter-addled gay Mexican with anxiety, here is your chance. Support this column by sharing it and subscribing below, and send him a letter at holapapiletters@gmail.com

¡Hola Papi!

I need some advice. I’m seeing so many articles out there about how to quarantine with your partner without killing them, how to quarantine away from your partner and keep the spark alive, how to deal with a breakup in quarantine, and even virtual first date ideas. What I haven’t seen (and trust me, I’ve looked) is how to break up with someone during the COVID-19 crisis. In a time where everyone is more emotionally fragile, I’m finding it hard to find the right time (and the right method) to end things. 

It’s a healthy relationship with someone I care about deeply, which makes it even harder to justify causing hurt in hard times. You’re probably wondering why would I want to break it off now if the relationship is good. Well, in short, all this social distancing has helped me reflect and realize what I care about the most, and what my priorities are. I guess it’s a classic case of falling out of love, during a not so classic time of a pandemic. 

I’m still working full time, and by the end of the day all I have energy for is self-preservation. If I do have energy to FaceTime, my instinct is to dial up family and friends (even distant ones, like that college roommate I haven’t spoken to in years, or that middle school friend I lost touch with). So, how do I end this in the most compassionate way possible? Should I just wait until social distancing lightens up so my partner can have more support? Should I do it during a phone call, a FaceTime, a letter, or perhaps a socially distant talk on the front porch? How can I deal with my guilt about ending a relationship when the world itself feels like it’s ending? 

And finally, Papi, am I heartless for wanting to end a three-year relationship at a time when everyone else seems to be clamoring for connections?

Signed,

Heartbreaker


Hey there, Heartbreaker!

Wow, you’re right. There’s not a whole lot of literature out there on this subject. Probably because other advice columns are for little wimps and perfect victims whereas this column is for the bad boys. Bad girls? Bad thems. Whatever. It’s the seedy one where you sacrifice goats. The Tepito of Agony Aunt Alley. 

Sorry. This is “about you,” evidently. Well, Heartbreaker, let’s address the obvious: You’ve been with this person for three years and you elected not to quarantine with them. That does make me wonder where this relationship was headed pre-COVID. It’s not a requirement for all couples, mind you, but it does speak to the relative “health” of this relationship.

Speaking of, that part of your letter really jumped out at me: “healthy relationship.” My hot take, Heartbreaker, is that too often we assume a relationship must be rotten or nakedly toxic in some way before it can justifiably be called off. There ought to be a transgression, a guilty party, a sin, or else the idea of ending things appears to come completely out of left field. 

But I would submit that two “healthy” people can enter into a perfectly fine dynamic, and nothing could go terribly wrong, and the relationship could still just not work. You’re not a villain for wanting out of a partnership you’re not feeling anymore. Nor are you a heartless ghoul for wanting to express that. Breakups can be heartlessly done, but they are not, in and of themselves, heartless acts. 

Yes, there is such a thing as bad timing when it comes to these things. One wouldn’t want to break up with someone, say, on their birthday, if one could avoid it. But we’re on a pretty irregular schedule, Heartbreaker. In the past, you could wait a week to have this discussion on a more opportune day. We have been in this COVID thing now for, what… fifty days? I don’t know. They don’t pay me to count. They don’t pay me at all.

What I mean is: these are strange times, and there’s no telling when we’ll be able to go out with friends again or break up with someone in a quaint coffee shop. I suppose you could wait it out. But while, sure, you’re a cloven-hoofed monster from hell for “wanting out of a relationship,” aren’t you a person too, Heartbreaker? Isn’t there stress involved for you in maintaining a dynamic you’re no longer into? I understand and admire the urge to want to keep your partner from being in pain. But what about your pain?

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On top of that, what is your partner really getting out of this right now outside of the occasional half-hearted FaceTime chat? Yes, a sense of normalcy is a precious resource right now. But they, too, deserve a relationship that is meeting their needs. I think a lot of us are clinging to the idea that some things haven’t changed. I don’t know about you, but that impulse hasn’t brought me much peace at all.

As for the method, well, you know this person better than I do. Though I think FaceTime is acceptable, given our situation. I also think maybe you should enter into it with dialogue and conversation rather than have it be a hammer you’re dropping down on them. Ask them how they feel about the relationship, and make it more of a conversation between two equal parties.

I don’t anticipate it being easy for either of you; but these things are never easy even in the best of conditions. There simply isn’t a good time for it. I think it’s great of you to consider your partner’s feelings, and I too hope they can get through this.

But pushing through a relationship out of obligation is never the answer, Heartbreaker. And while we have way too much of it right now, isolation can, as you yourself have seen, inspire clarity and self-reflection. It’s why I’m so clear headed about everything. I haven’t seen another human being in years. The same could be true for your partner, who will undoubtedly need time to heal and process the breakup.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to date someone to love them. Love can shift, rearrange, and call itself by any number of names. I hope that, with time, we all see ourselves in a better, less stressful environment, and that you and your partner are on some level sharing a mutual, loving bond. Or at least that’s what happens in my fanfic.

I’m rooting for you both, Heartbreaker! Breaking up with someone doesn’t make you the bad guy. Maybe you’re awful for other reasons. I don’t know. We haven’t met, and never will (I don’t intend to leave the base of this mountain even after social distancing eases), but in this case, I think you’re fine. 

Con mucho amor,

Papi