I remember walking into my apartment the first time. After my girlfriends helped me move my boxes, after I’d purchased a new IKEA bed frame for my first bed (a queen fit for a queen), I’d settled into the floor of my studio apartment alone. It was all mine. It felt momentous. Signing my first lease sola, finding a studio within my price range in San Francisco? Spring 2020 was looking up. New apartment, new me, I quietly told myself as I proudly and nervously looked around. Not even a week later, Mayor London Breed announced the city-wide lockdown in response to the COVID pandemic.
Going through a breakup and beginning a new chapter is liberating. Going through a breakup amidst a global virus is the stuff of transformation. Living alone at a time when connection and community are prohibited or strongly discouraged isn’t easy. Working through the ups and downs of an emotional rollercoaster without your people? Not something I’d wish on my worst enemy. And doing it twice? Well, I think I’ve definitely got some insight into how you can genuinely support a friend when they’re going through a pandemic breakup.
Get Clear On What You Have to Offer
First things first, want to support your friend going through a breakup? Get clear on what capacity you have in this moment, in your week, or in general.
During a breakup, one’s “normal” routine is completely destroyed. A disrupted routine is only amplified by the odd sense of time during a pandemic. Days fly by while somehow feeling so long, forgetting to eat all day is the norm, as is only getting up to pee maybe a handful of times to then burrow deeper into your duvet cave. There are moments where pints of ice cream with a side of family-sized crinkle-cut salt and ground pepper chips dipped in Bitchin’ Sauce were my only sources of fuel.
Night time is the worst during a breakup. The darkness magnifies the loneliness, the absence of someone lying next to you is amplified by the inability to sleep. What was once a part of your nighttime routine—maybe sleeping next to each other or checking in at night, needs to be completely refigured. Nights were when I needed people the most. In the early days of the pandemic, it felt limiting not being able to stack my evenings like I usually did to avoid the pain: boozy dinners, nights out dancing, anything to get me out of the house and hopefully exhausted enough to sleep.
How to Support a Friend Through a Pandemic Breakup
Send a Meal if You Can’t Share One Together
The number one thing I learned going through two breakups during a global pandemic? If you want to support a friend experiencing heartbreak, deliver them a meal.
When people are recuperating from surgery or delivering a baby, when others are mourning a loss or undergoing medical treatment, we coordinate and offer meal trains to keep them well-fed and nourished during a time of transition. Why don’t we do the same for our friends going through a break up?
Two girlfriends sent me dinners throughout the break up and it was the most healing way to support me at the time. Whether you’re mindlessly eating what’s left of your oft-neglected pantry or forgetting to eat thanks to a loss in appetite, the last thing anyone thinks about is meal planning. Those meals delivered directly to my door gifted me energy through a restored sense of normalcy. Those pockets of comfort set up some groundedness for me in a time of groundlessness. It made me feel so seen—that those friends knew that the real support I needed was, on a basic level, simply to eat. Since eating out with my girlfriends was no longer an option, receiving a meal felt like the closest thing to a physical hug.
Remind Your Friend to Prioritize Themselves Right Now
Eating isn’t the only foundational routine disrupted when you’re going through a break up. Sleeping, working out, basic hygiene practices—all get thrown out of the window. As hard as it was, another way a friend supported me through my break up was to inspire me to create healthy habits, which, through repetition, reminded me to come back to me and the practice of focusing on what I needed to do for myself, prioritizing that over others’ needs.
As someone who bucks consistency and believes discipline to be a creativity killer, I quickly noticed that a routine was a way to help me move forward during the pandemic. Another thing I struggled with was finding a way to get physically active again. Working out seemed to be insurmountable. With massive fires stretching all across the west coast, I needed to find a way to move indoors, while balancing out the ever-present Zoom burnout. The additional layer of complexity was finding a way to move my body that didn’t cause my adrenal fatigue to flare up.
Move Your Body
A dear sisterfriend recommended The Class to me. Those 45 minutes gave me something to look forward to after waking up: A space I needed to literally move the emotions through my own body (read: the perfect mix of sobbing, yelling, and sweating). For a while, waking up felt like its own personal tragedy because you instantaneously remember the void. Dropping into my body instead of my head was such a welcome thing. During a breakup, you get to a point where you’re finally exhausted from living within the tragedy and begin looking for ways to move beyond it.
Giving myself the freedom to simply focus on moving my body to support my mental health versus trying to slim my waist or figure was revolutionary. It felt like the perfect way to fuck the patriarchy, channel some of my heartbreak, get my body fierce and strong, and discover tiny moments of me again. Finding pleasure in the little wins created a momentum that was easy to keep the ball rolling, encouraging me to find joy again.
Supporting a friend during a break up means reaching out when you can reach out, answering the call if you’re able to hold space.
Create Connection and Community—Even Virtually
Living alone without human interaction is tough. As humans, we thrive on connection and community. Just as important as human connection is, the foundation of nutrition and movement are equally supportive to our wellbeing. How does one preserve connection or celebrations when we can’t physically be with the people we love? As a person whose love language is food, I couldn’t imagine doing one without the other.
Early on during the pandemic, a friend of mine had a brilliant idea of organizing a Ladies’ Night In call on Zoom where we invited some incredible womxn to dress up, get fancy, bring a drink or a few, and connect. It was a total hit. For most of us, it was the first time we’d felt sexy and fun, wearing our favorite lipstick or our most babe-alicious dress. Bringing a group of bad ass womxn together to hear each other’s experience of the pandemic was healing and soul filling. Making new friends and reaffirming current friendships made for such a fun way to pass the time.
We all know that break ups are inconvenient, but the most inopportune break ups are the ones that happen around holidays and birthdays. My second break up happened around my birthday this year and with the global pandemic continuing to surge, it made things difficult to make plans when all I wanted to do was be around people I loved in a big old house and hang.
Leading up to it, I wanted to keep things low key and had asked if a couple friends were free for dinner. A girlfriend ended up taking charge behind-the-scenes, reading beyond my request and planned a lovely dinner in the park birthday, inviting another friend who I thought was busy, toting homemade soup and surprise desserts in addition to our take out, complete with a candle, lighter, and presents. The day afterwards, another girlfriend living abroad ended up having desserts delivered to my doorstep.
Create Space to Actively Listen
A global pandemic is the perfect opportunity to assess one’s capacity to be available for others. With so much shifting on the daily, it became a challenge to know (but quickly see) who was able to support me during my break up and who could not.
COVID whittled my friendships down to a handful of people I could comfortably rely on. Luckily for me, I ended up having a girlfriend who was also going through a break up at the time. Rarely do we ever get the opportunity to go through a break up with another friend. In fact, during my break ups I’m constantly worried about being a burden on my loved ones.
When you are supporting that friend during a breakup, make sure to create the space to actively listen to them and be available in that moment. Your undivided attention and ability to be present with them can go a long way.
Most friends want to support their friends, but get resentful or distant when the support exceeds their capacity. If you can send texts every now and again, do that. If you can call in, do that. If you can send desserts, do that. If you’d prefer not to, please do that. Being crystal clear as to how I could rely on which friends and in what capacity took a lot of the guesswork out of feeling supported.
When my friend list shortened, I noticed all of them possessed the same qualities: being communicative with their capacity, being fully available when I truly needed them, and actively listening to me whenever I connected with them. No one wants to be a burden. Most people want to help. In actively listening and being present, they helped me feel understood, made space for me to continuously talk about my exes, my feelings, and what felt insurmountable in that moment of need. Most of the time, it was space for me to process and move through my own emotions instead of wallowing in them. And that for me, meant the world.
The greatest things people did to get me through two pandemic break ups were in the small places they could love me—by covering my basic needs, supporting me in getting back to me, and most of all, being fully present and self aware enough of their capacity to be generous of spirit and care when they could.