This is the first installment of my new advice column, Dear Jilla. You can listen to me read the column outloud above. Please let me know if you like having this option!
Submit your question on change, heartbreak and healing here, and I could answer it in a future edition.
My long-term boyfriend broke up with me last July and it’s been really hard, but I'm getting over it and your newsletter has helped! Surprisingly though (or maybe not), the pandemic has made me miss him more? In general the pandemic has just made me feel even MORE single? With everything that’s going on right now it is all just so hard and it just feels so much harder because I have to do it alone. Every time I Zoom with friends I get more sad when I see the ones who are quarantining with their partners, and when I turn off the camera and am once again alone in my apartment, it just feels so much worse. The reason I want a partner is to have someone to ride the waves of life with, and this is one big wave! And I can’t help but think that my ex would have been fun and easy to quarantine with! I guess my question is, how do I not feel this? Is it weird? What can we do about it? Probably nothing! Thanks!
-Mary, 33, Brooklyn, NY
For three-and-a-half months, we’ve been living in an alternate universe. That’s not even a third of a single year. Constant uncertainty has made this stretch of time feel like a decade, but it’s really been no time at all. In that time we’ve lost jobs, income, stability, a mental and physical sense of freedom, physical touch, community, and loved ones. Even those among us who stumble over ourselves to reiterate that we know we should feel so lucky and grateful because we still have our jobs and homes and health and “not that much has changed for me, I guess” have experienced shocking levels of change. We live with the grief of these losses every day, and we will continue to for a long time.
You’re grieving so much right now, Mary. Give yourself space to do so.
Recently, a date and I were talking about our time in New York, and he asked me what my best year here had been. “2018,” I said. “I was madly in love, happy at work, making good money, having so much fun.” Sitting here typing this to you—from my darkened bedroom where I’ve spent all day inside, slightly sweating because my window AC unit barely works, my back hurting from my ramshackle work-from-home setup that has me switching from lying in bed to sitting in a squashy chair—my body physically aches to think of 2018. I feel pain when I wonder when I will feel that happy and fulfilled again.
I let myself feel all of those feelings. I close my eyes and sink into the tightness in my chest, breathe into it, acknowledge the heartbreak that still lingers within me. I do my best to befriend it. Then I remind myself: There is nothing worthwhile in the past for me. 2018 was a good year, but there are other good years in store for me. That moment in time was temporary, and thankfully so is this one.
Mary, your mind wanders to thoughts of how much fun you and your ex would be having during quarantine, how comforting his presence would be. But that world doesn’t exist, and to live in it will only cause you suffering. This toxic daydream weighs you down more than you may know. Free yourself from it. Banish it from your soul. I understand well that’s easier said than done, but you have to commit to working at it, every single day. There is no universe in which you want to be sharing your life with a person who does not fully want to be with you. There is a much better love than that waiting for you.
This reality is the only one we have, and we have to build it for ourselves. I will not sit here in my barely air-conditioned bedroom and tell you it is easy. When you’re single, you only have yourself to come home to, only yourself to comfort you and cheer you up. It’s fucking hard work! I’ve done it for most of my adult life, and sometimes I get exhausted and bitter. But in the past year, I’ve learned to talk directly to my fears.
“Jillian,” I’ll say to myself, sometimes outloud, “I understand why today was hard. I know you wish you could have that easy comfort of sitting close to someone who is not encased in a phone screen. But I am right here with you. I’m not going anywhere, ever. We are in this together and we will make it through. This hard part is just for now. Remember, there is so much more for you. But you have to keep making choices every day to get yourself there. No one else can do it for you, but that’s okay, because we are going to do it together.”
Mary, you can’t not feel your feelings. We don’t get to choose our feelings of loneliness, jealousy of those with partners, longing that things had ended up a different way. There is nothing weird about what you’re feeling. I feel it too. We are grieving happier times, and sometimes our exes live in those happier times. But it’s important to face feelings with facts. The truth is that we have had happy times without our exes, and we will again. The truth is that even when we feel alone and unloved, we can look to the phone calls, texts and emails we’ve gotten recently to know that people are thinking of us, holding us close in the ways that they can. There is so much more joy to be found in embracing the love we do have right now than ruminating on the love we do not.
You’re right, this is one huge life wave. So hold on tighter to the people you love. If it hurts too much to talk to your coupled-up friends, I give you permission to ease off conversations with them for awhile. Do whatever you need to do to protect and care for yourself, and do it unapologetically.
I know you probably don’t want to hear this right now, but I have to remind you that this time all to yourself is rare, and fleeting. Your next boyfriend is on his way. He will likely not arrive on the timeline you wish he would. But he will join you, and you will be so happy to be with him, but also long for the days you didn’t have to watch that stupid TV show he loves or keep the bedroom the freezing temperature he likes. Squeeze every bit of juice out of this time with yourself. Fill your free time with personal passions and luxuries. Even when loneliness looms over the gifts quarantine brings, look for them.
Above all, keep building your community. You are physically isolated out of necessity, but be careful not to isolate yourself further. You know that you want a partner to experience life with, and you should pursue that. You can date right now. You can join an online group to meet new people who share a passion of yours. The world is still available to you, just in different and more thoughtful ways.
Life is not on pause. This is your life. Don’t stop living it.
Do you have good advice for Mary? Sound off in the comments.
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