What I’m learning from being trapped in quarantine with my ex-fiance

Lifestyle

I’ve been forced to spend the last few weeks with the man I thought I would marry. I’m reminded of why we fell in love – but also of the tensions in our relationship

Just about any aspect of the current global situation sounds like a dystopian movie. But if you’d told me that I’d one day find myself hiding from a deadly virus in a small apartment with my ex-fiance, I’d probably have run on to the streets screaming.

Which is not an option available to me right now.

Instead, I’m stuck in lockdown with the person I once thought I’d marry but who I belatedly realized – to borrow a metaphor – would never renounce dogs and become the cat person I always dreamed of.

Is it possible to make it through such a bizarre scenario unscathed? Here’s what I’m learning.

The breakup
We had a great origin story. I met him at a night-time videogame event outside a castle. I muttered something to myself, and the darkness laughed in reply. After some conversation with the shadowy figure, we went back inside and I was delighted to find he was handsome and interesting. We became friends, and several years later when his girlfriend was out of the picture, a couple.

We moved in after just six weeks together, into a cupboard-sized apartment. We bonded over a mutual love of birds and quickly started adopting rescues: at one point, we had 23 and couldn’t hear ourselves above the chirping. He reluctantly allowed me to fulfill my dreams and get a cat, although he was less pleased about the second and downright angry about the third.

Disagreements over the cats were the first crack. I longed to be married, which led to a very unwise engagement after three years together. The final year was peppered with volcanic arguments – he was working all hours, I wasn’t helping enough at home, the third cat kept throwing up everywhere.

As luck would have it, we broke things off just after we’d signed a year-long apartment contract. I made plans to move out and find a replacement tenant, and then coronavirus hit.

The arguments
We hadn’t seen a whole lot of one another before lockdown kicked in because my ex was doing the healthy thing and getting on with his life. He was out almost every night and weekend, so we’d have short, snatched conversations in the kitchen about whether we needed any more dish soap, and not much else.

Sheltering in place meant we were in the same room a lot more. Inevitably, we talked.

I learned the hard way that even a casual, funny story about how badly online dating was going for me was not welcome. He hit the roof and made it very clear that there would be no discussion of dating, new partners, or that guy I went out with for a few weeks after him.

And of course, our breakup raised its unwelcome head.

The resulting arguments were some of our worst. We rehashed the problems that caused the split, the unsolved grievances about how each of us handled it (me: terrible rebound boyfriend, him: stonewalling), and whether we still loved each other (yes, surprisingly). No one gained anything from it but resentment.

Reconsidering the relationship
A few weeks of cabin fever later, I was seeing him with new eyes. He was no longer at work all the time, we’d had some fun conversations and movie nights, and our former love nest was the only safe place left. It was intoxicating, like being the last two people on earth.

We slipped back into our former way of communicating. With the little in-jokes and made-up words, it started to feel so much like old times that I even accidentally called him “baby”.

Add to this the fact that we were being kind to one another – I’d make him hot drinks, he’d bring me back little treats when he ventured outside, and offered warm hugs and reassurance when it all got too scary and I broke down crying – and it’s easy to see how our next terrible argument started.

Sitting on the couch gazing at the man I’d loved for so long, I wrote him a long text message about trying again. It seemed too huge to say out loud.

It didn’t go down well. In fact, the response was a bit like splitting up all over again, only with no exit door.

He told me unequivocally that it was over for good, and that our breakup had done exactly that: broken us. The kindness and gestures were partly because he still cares about me, and partly because he’s a nice person in a strange situation. I’ve had to learn to stop reading into them.

Old intimacies
One of the best things about living with a partner is getting to be unashamedly yourself. I’ve realized that this applies even with an ex. Those lines have already been crossed, we don’t have to uncross them just because we’re in a pandemic.

We had separate bedrooms when we were together because he kicks like a mule in his sleep, so there was no awkward bed situation to navigate. But he still comes to shower in my en-suite bathroom, even when my underwear is all over the floor. And I’m still my most authentic self with him – the worst jokes, the stained pyjamas, the craziest quarantine hair.

And when we both fell ill at the same time (not with Covid-19, thankfully), we were still able to laugh about the symptoms. Thankfully, he’s someone I can count on to bring me another toilet roll in my time of need.

Reflections on the oddest time of my life
At this point, no one knows how long lockdown will last. Everything feels surreal, but nothing more so for me than sharing takeout with my former fiance, laughing at old jokes, knowing he’d rather be anywhere but here.

This extra time with him has reminded me why I fell in love with him, even as I know there are painful parts to come, like splitting up our shared belongings.

The birds are going with him. But the cats? They’re mine.