When students zipped up overloaded suitcases and lounged outside The Boot, sipping on one last drink with friends before heading home, we were unaware that it was just beginning. These last few days of freedom were a blurry blend of masked and unmasked faces, all equally confused. This confusion simmered slowly before the nationwide alarm truly enveloped the United States.

The haunting aura of the virus was no more than an overheard conversation; our waitress at Saba speculating to the table next to us that the restaurant might eventually be limiting its capacity. As we frowned at a semester cut short, we also longed a bit for the comforts of home – a guaranteed cockroach-free kitchen – and the coasting ease of online finals. This was coupled with the assumption of a virus free return to campus in the fall. 

A text lit up my screen at lunch the day before I left; “When are you coming home?” My long distance on-again, off-again, and (at the time on-again and official) boyfriend. I glanced at the text and began typing, then placed my phone face down on the table. Ten minutes later a buzz; an emphasis of the text “When are you coming home?!!”

I was truly looking forward to being reunited with my boyfriend. For anyone who has attempted to grapple with the highs and lows of distance, you know that getting to see and hug that person is one of the best feelings in the world after months of only semi satisfying texts, snapchats, and Facetimes. Yet, I was a bit exhausted from our back and forth commitment and had found happiness in being away by filling my time with school and friends.

However, by the time I was home, we couldn’t wait to see each other. After we had waited out the two weeks, I raced to his apartment, heart pounding with excitement at the thought of seeing his face once again. I was met with the same enthusiasm. Energy matched and heart full, I felt myself breathe a sigh of happiness; maybe my previous hesitation had been unfounded. 

The thing about a toxic relationship is that it can take on many different forms. The unhealthy habits are disguised by love, and your attachment to your partner masks them brilliantly. The mental gymnastics you are willing to do in an attempt to create excuses for that person could win a gold medal. From the outside looking in, your friends look on in shock and horror, swearing they would never let someone treat them so poorly. 

As I felt my days filling once again with school, workouts, and family dinners, the time spent with my boyfriend became shorter. Although I didn’t mind his absence, he hated mine. His anger wasn’t fierce or aggressive; worse it was dull and indifferent nights of texts oozing with passive aggressiveness; “Yeah I get it. I’ll see you when I see you I guess.” 

I worked too hard in school, he said. I actually read the textbooks, he joked. I ran too many miles, or too few. I was too focused on my family. These seemingly innocent comments stacked up and piled against his surmounting anger at my ambition to potentially move somewhere other than our hometown for my future career. My people-pleasing heart lived in agony, it was like trying to hold onto wisps of smoke that kept slipping through my hands. I was desperately reaching for a glimmer of the sweetness and love that I would receive occasionally. 

His puppy dog eyes beckoned, and his normally composed demeanor melted at the mention of me wanting and needing a break. The loneliness of quarantine loomed like a dark cloud as I attempted to disentangle myself from the relationship. What I couldn’t seem to see was the storm cloud I was already engulfed in.

I knew the validation I was seeking from him and the affection I constantly chased in the glimpses of love I would get was destructive. I knew how desperately I longed to prove myself in this relationship and the way it drained me. Yet, now I wonder why. Perhaps in the midst of the loneliness of quarantine, I found myself in a situation I never would’ve envisioned. I was armed with experience from previous relationships, knowledge of psychology and friends’ and family’s perspectives that I let slip away in favor of just “having somebody.” 

I had lowered my standards as the loneliness and sadness of the global pandemic descended upon the world. The endless hours of quarantine can make even the most introverted person long for a bit of human connection. In the end it was not that I didn’t love this person; it was that there was no trust or respect left to accompany this love I had for him. 

If you find yourself lonely during this time, learn from my mistake of holding on to a relationship for longer than I should have. Even during a time when it feels like the world may be ending, don’t let that change your heart, your standards, or what you are seeking in relationships or life in general. Look to the people who love you and you will find that although it may feel distant and your best friends may only be able to console you through  FaceTime calls and flowers, or wine and ice cream left on your doorstep, they are certainly still right there beside you.

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