‘Will My New Relationship Survive the Pandemic?’

‘Will My New Relationship Survive the Pandemic?’

The last time I went out with Nick*, it was clear that things were not right. I don’t mean between us—although yes, there too, if I’m being honest. I mean in the world.

It was Tuesday, March 10, and the only reason I was even free to see him that night was because a gathering I’d planned had been postponed due to fears of the coronavirus. (At the time, the decision to delay had still felt a touch hysterical.) Earlier that day I’d told my boss that I was no longer totally comfortable taking the subway at rush hour and so would prefer to work from home “for the next little while.” But as a longtime freelancer, I’ve always preferred to work from home. It didn’t exactly feel like a sacrifice.

I had a vague idea that we weren’t really supposed to go out to eat. But because my daughter would soon be returning to our apartment with her sitter, and Nick lives in a relatively distant part of Brooklyn, we couldn’t really think of a good alternative. We squabbled, briefly, over whether it would be safer to visit a small restaurant (fewer people) or a big one (better ventilation) before settling on sitting in the backyard of a medium-size place in my neighborhood.

Nick is the first person I’ve dated since I decided to end my marriage, a little over a year ago. I waited six months before signing up for Bumble and then proceeded to go out with, on average, one man a month. Nick was the only one that I wanted to see a second time.

Like lots of couples who hadn’t yet reached the move-in stage, the only relationship that’s going to be available to us for the foreseeable future is one that’s socially distanced.

We are very different people—he is a Latino social worker from the Bronx with longstanding interests in Eastern religions and martial arts, while I am a Jewish writer from the Virginia suburbs with longstanding interests in literary fiction and popular culture—but I was drawn to him right away. He’s easy to talk to, and kind, and very, very handsome. He’s also extremely emotionally astute, which I suppose makes sense given his profession.

He told me early on that he’s looking for something “long-term,” and in theory, so am I. But I guess maybe I’m in less of a hurry to find it. I’m still healing from the dissolution of my decade-long marriage (a dissolution that is still ongoing, and leaving me with new psychic injuries at irregular intervals), and I’m the primary caretaker of a five-year-old, whom I feel comfortable leaving with a sitter two nights a week, max. The basic conditions of my life are suboptimal for falling in love, and that was before people started getting sick.

So I was fine with ignoring the things about Nick that I didn’t enjoy as much. Many of them were superficial, like the dad-ish leather jacket that he wore on several of our early dates. Some of them were not, like when he started texting me too often for my taste and with too much familiarity, before we’d been seeing each other for even two months. In that case, I pushed back: I felt as though he was trying to force, or perhaps fast-forward to, a level of intimacy that simply hadn’t been earned. Maybe I’m a little gun-shy because of my situation. But I also wanted to enjoy our limited time together for what it was. I didn’t want to feel I’d suddenly been plunged into a long-distance relationship. Mostly, though, the question I asked myself with regard to Nick was, “Do I want to see him again?” And the answer was always yes.

Now, though, that’s not an option. Even if we thought it was worth the risk—and it’s not clear to me whether either of us do, given that we are both carrying not only our own germs but those of our kids and, via them, our exes—I’m with my daughter nearly 24/7. Like lots of couples who hadn’t yet reached the move-in stage (and can’t, or won’t, jump ahead to it now), the only relationship that’s going to be available to us for the foreseeable future is one that’s socially distanced. And I’m not sure that’s going to work for us.

I’m scared to offer serious emotional support to someone new.

Our physical connection was immediate and, frankly, kind of intense—it’s been one of my most consistent sources of happiness over the last few months. And I think we’ve really relied on it to smooth over our conflicts; the last time we saw each other, on March 15, we stayed a responsible six feet apart while we ran the stairs in Fort Greene Park and, perhaps not coincidentally, were slightly less than thrilled with each other when we said goodbye. I was irritated that he’d disbelieved me about the cost and necessity of a decent pair of haircutting scissors, an utterly insignificant fact of which he has no personal knowledge, and he was hurt that I’d ended a discussion about something his ex-wife was doing by noting that it really didn’t sound like his problem, and it definitely didn’t sound like mine.

Since then Nick has accused me of pulling away, and I suppose I have been. Like everyone, I’ve spent the last few weeks struggling with this scary new reality. He thinks that we should be able to lean on each other, and while I’d love to take him up on it—he’s a great listener, generous and nonjudgmental—I’m not sure I can keep up my end of the bargain. I know that he’s right, that this whole catastrophe can bring people together. (Metaphorically, at least.) But after everything I, personally, have been through over the last few years, I’m scared to offer serious emotional support to someone new. I don’t know if I can trust him not to ask for too much.

Where does that leave us? Nowhere great. Nick seems eager to have the kind of define-the-relationship conversations that he’d ordinarily have orchestrated at the four-month mark; I’d prefer to pause things, more or less, at wherever they were when we all went inside, and then see how we feel in a few months, or next year, or whenever we finally get to head back out again. As far as I’m concerned, we can keep talking—I want to keep talking—but I don’t know if I’m going to have regular childcare or a job a couple of months from now. It seems impossible, or irresponsible, to make emotional commitments.

I’ll be sad if this is it for us. I don’t think it would have been, otherwise. But it’s a sadness that’s been dulled, a bit, by my sharper grief over what we’ve already lost—him and me together, but also everyone. We’ve lost so, so many things that I didn’t even realize we could lose, and I’m terrified of the losses still to come.

*Name has been changed.

Lauren Waterman is a writer in Brooklyn whose work has appeared in Elle, Vogue, and The Cut. You can follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her newsletter.

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