Moving from Brooklyn to West Virginia after a breakup left me more alone than ever
- My four-year relationship failed the pandemic test, and I moved from Brooklyn to West Virginia.
- Large amounts of free time forced me to confront loneliness and depression like never before.
- Here’s how I imperfectly reshaped my life in a virtual world.
I met my ex-partner on a bus at a bluegrass festival in North Carolina, the first time I had intentionally said hello to a stranger. Throughout our four-year relationship, it always gave us a comforting sense of foreordained inevitability.
We both saw things in each other that we didn’t have as individuals. He was obviously nicer than me, and cared enough that I never had to question it or ask for more. I grew up in a difficult family situation, so this was like medicine. His appreciation for the little things — the weather, the food, the YouTube videos — dragged me, kicking and screaming, from behind the walls of my home.
For my part, I think I gave him a sense of direction. He admired the way she struggled, fearful and earnest, to create a role in the world, and he wanted to help. I needed all forms of help. He’s the only reason I pay my taxes on time.
Like many couples, we went through the toughest times of the pandemic, then separated once society recovered.
He blamed our decline on the virus. And it’s true that we never “did New York” the way people in their 20s are supposed to do it without any obvious responsibilities.
But I didn’t blame Covid. If we can’t find happiness when there’s nothing to be had, then I think we’ve failed the pandemic test.
This conclusion set me on a lonely path.
We moved in together and 6 months later, the world shut down
After two years of long distance, I was about to finish college; He worked in Pittsburgh, and we moved to New York in the summer of 2019.
I was looking for jobs in journalism. He was working in finance, at a new gig, and was more nervous than he wanted to admit about my chances. We had no idea what we were doing. By some miracle, we landed in a 400-square-foot box high above the southwest corner of Park Slope in Brooklyn. The tall glass windows, in theory, allowed people in nearby buildings to see us, which he hated. But they also let in the orange light from the sunset over the East River, which I love.
When the city began to shut down in March 2020, we fled to Maine, where we sat through the cold, dark months, and then Michigan, where the sun finally came out. During this period, we learned how to be goofy. One night, I placed an empty LaCroix bottle, a lemon essence-flavored crown, on my head while we watched DVDs. We returned to a city that had changed a lot in the fall.
Over the course of more than two years of working from home, our friendship has undoubtedly blossomed. Within a few feet of each other at any given moment, we become fluent in the language, the rhythm, and the stresses of each other’s jobs, which unfortunately always come first. Every time I got a scoop, he would play Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” then carefully monitor Bloomberg for any mention of it. He was constantly on the phone, moving millions of dollars, and his career took off like a rocket ship. I still have videos of him spouting bank bullshit over the phone.
“In terms of shock, we are targeting one billion five hundred and seven,” he said in April 2021. “We are flexible in terms of fixed float.”
But our romantic relationship suffered as our differences grew. I felt alone wondering about life. He felt lonely tasting it.
On New Year’s Eve 2021, I wanted to watch a rerun of Battlestar Galactica and create the universe like a weirdo. He wanted to go out with friends and have fun, like any normal person.
When the world restarted, we didn’t. He was ready to escape the “heavy” atmosphere she created. I was hoping, I guess, to find someone who would accept it more easily.
The breakup was devastating. After the conversation, I went on a four-hour walking tour, numbly wandering through Brooklyn. When I returned, he had placed a bouquet of red roses on the kitchen table. The three weeks before I left were like that, defiantly pleasant.
I’ve only seen him once since then. We sat on his stoop—the one we had before—at Cobble Hill. It was a cold night in February. His grief was sharp and quick. Mine has lingered like a chronic disease. But we both had new wrinkles under our eyes.
In West Virginia, I had to face a vacancy
Keep anthurium. I put the orchid, philodendron and cactus in the passenger seat of a 10-foot U-Haul truck and headed south.
Driving over the Verrazano Bridge, an orchid, a treasured gift from my aunt, offered a parting view of Manhattan.
I stayed in my friends’ guest room in Durham, North Carolina for a while, sharing the space with their curious rabbits. After that, I moved into a duplex in Morgantown, West Virginia, a small town with a high regard for soccer.
I placed the lizard inside a windowed structure in the kitchen. The hot summer sun instantly burned two black wounds in its leaves. Between that and the shock of the trip, the flowers, stems, and finally the main stem withered and died.
The plant has become a measure of time. I stacked the books under a small blue table so they had access to refracted light from the south-facing window in my bedroom, and watered them on a schedule. When the sunspots started turning green, I became optimistic that we could survive this.
I’m not completely sold on West Virginia. But I fell in love with someone. As awful as the timing was, we first met in high school, so he had an unfair advantage over my decades-old crush. Now there’s a coal miner on my driver’s license.
He had to go through the first and most difficult year of medical residency. I had to face my grief and large amounts of free time.
I’m an introvert and a workaholic. Once I got here, my phone remained quiet, proof, I feared, that I had taught everyone to forget about me. By the afternoon on many Saturdays, a panicked physical pain would settle in my chest. In my imagination, I would see the faces of people I love, but I forbid myself to contact them. Wasn’t there something cheap and cruel about waiting until the crisis happened?
Loneliness, depression and fragile joy
I remember the moment I realized I was depressed, sometime last fall, and I laughed out loud. I’ve been using a timer to force myself to work in 10-minute increments, without pants, in the middle of the afternoon. The internal dialogue was: “Oh, you think so?”
I was the picture of grace—always home, ordering groceries via InstaCart, and wearing the same not-so-rigid black pants. Whenever I let clothes pile up on my bed, I would fight over nonexistent threats, trying to find the upper limit of my new partner’s tolerance. Never finding it, I backed away in fear anyway.
I had very happy moments too.
I try to take care of my new partner the same way my old partner took care of me. His rich, slightly negative world – “heavy”, if you will – is very similar to his inner world. But I wash his socks and tell him it’s okay. Through our communication, we can make something out of nothing.
He taught me how to skateboard, dance, and hit someone in the ass with a kitchen cloth. In the absence of a “scene” here, we invented the “Wal-Mart” pass, where we wander around the store without an agenda. One time, in December, we strolled down the Nerf-gun aisle. When we got home, he beat me up in an epic melee, shooting me directly in the forehead with a foam projectile. “You got your ass,” he said. We laughed on the floor.
Joy is fleeting. This is how we designed it. But when I look back at the past year, it’s sad to see moments like this, where I thought things were okay, and I gave way to the fear machine.
I forced myself to tell people that I cared
Apparently, there is Loneliness epidemic. I suppose this is somewhat convenient.
Those of us who suffer from measurable levels of it — about one in two Americans, according to research sponsored by Cigna — can thank some societal trends, at least in part. For one, we are Move oftenbreaking up societies.
I am part of a generation of workers who graduated from university to begin their careers through the screen. Our older colleagues celebrated their newfound flexibility while we faced questions we were not prepared for, such as where to live and how to build a personal social fabric. For the most part, I didn’t make “work friends”; I made “Slack friends.”
Slowly, imperfectly, and with my injuries, I tried to swim against the current. I joined a soccer team. I bought flights, train tickets, and a typewriter to write a little creative work. I still find it difficult to be consistent, but I have been checking in with my friends and family more. I’ve explicitly told a few of them that I’m sorry for losing touch and that I care. Forcing the words out left me a tearful wreck. But most of them didn’t know what I meant. Outside of my dark hole, there were other people too busy living their lives to resent me.
In mid-July, one of these conversations led to a week-long stay in New York. A friend took me up on an offer to dog sit.
While there, I invited a director in my newsroom to coffee outside One Liberty Plaza. I was suffering from burnout and nervously admitted to having no urgency about what to cover.
I thought he might be involved in the most important stories in health care, which I still cover as a business journalist. Instead, he said, life is like a house with closed rooms. You follow your curiosity in small steps towards new experiences, picking up keys that allow you to return to those rooms afterwards. You don’t solve problems with the big answer; You experiment until one day it’s actually solved.
As I headed to the airport the following Saturday, I had the familiar feeling of rediscovering that maybe things had been okay all along. Can I not hold this feeling any longer, like a prayer?
I’m still trying to change my mind
Swimming against the current may seem like it is changing your circumstances. But most of my work over the past year has been about changing my perspective.
Many of the studies commonly cited in today’s discourse about the loneliness epidemic are based on surveys. These surveys ask participants not only about their isolation but also about how they relate to themselves and the world around them.
“How often do you feel like there is no one you can turn to?” a Joint survey He asks the question, and continues: “How often do you feel that people are around you and not with you?”
The pain that plagued me on so many Morgantown Saturdays could follow me anywhere, from a crowded Rüfüs Du Sol concert pit to a two-person campsite ideally located next to West Virginia’s Cranberry River. There was always someone to turn to. But this was not always the case Feel admire.
I started calling it my “original wound.”
My therapist, who I need to get back to, called it “mommy and daddy stuff.”
I had a privileged childhood, to some extent. I never wanted things and experiences. But I could have used a little more TLC.
My mother and I have only recently begun to build a relationship.
On a cold September evening, I went with her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The topic of the day was tolerance, or as one attendee said, “Live and let live.”
It was my last night in our city, a coastal tourist trap that grows on you with age. The constant wind was whipping up sand in the parking lot. After the meeting, we sat in her car to talk. I can’t remember doing that before.
She told me about her original wound, a pain that struck her at a young age. And you never learned to deal with it. She would choose alcohol for fear of how it would make her feel. Now she chose faith.
I asked her if I could write about all this.
“I hope this helps someone,” she replied.
I wonder about other people like me. Is it just a crisis of loneliness that we face, or is it also a crisis of faith – in ourselves, in the sense on which existence is based, in each other?
My orchid grew a new stem, followed by stems that produced 15 flower buds, more than ever before, followed by flower after flower, as silky and smooth as cotton sheets shiny with a damp layer.
When I began to feel that his recovery had overtaken me, all the flowers withered. It was that time of year. But she’s turned over a new page, and she’s working on another one.
It was always two steps forward and one step back.
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