I had to self-isolate with my ex after breaking up – now I'm single and living my best life
Beth Peters had envisioned a life together with her partner. While she was sitting in a mortgage consultation office back in August, she tells me that she had already started to mentally decorate the house in her head.
As the 24-year-old says: "The man doing the meeting was talking about marriage and kids. It all fitted in with my long term goals, and I was happy about where my relationship was at that point in time."
In October of this year, Beth had been with Anthony* for two and a half years. Though, as she notes, they'd "unofficially" been together for four. They'd been living together for nearly two years when the first wave of the coronavirus hit the UK in March.
"I thought we did really well as a couple during the [initial lockdown]," Beth says. "We were isolated in a one-bedroom flat, and both working from home, which is obviously tough. But our communication was good, and we did what we could to support each other during what was a hard time for both of our mental health."
But, following the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions in the summer, things had changed for the couple. Several weeks after the mortgage consultation, Anthony said that he no longer wanted to buy a house together. "He just did a U-turn. I was shellshocked."
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Beth did what she could to reassure her boyfriend. She told him that she was happy that he'd raised his concerns, and that they could take a step backwards as they focused on getting through 2020. "But from that point on, things weren't the same. It was very clear that his heart wasn't in it anymore, and that the relationship was on its way out.
"It quickly transitioned to us feeling like flatmates rather than romantic partners," she tells me. "And there, there was a series of bereavements in his family, which I supported him through. He got made redundant as well.
"It feels selfish to say, but it felt like the relationship was secondary to everything else that was going on. We were in survival mode, really, just trying to get through a really rough time."
Beth concedes that they perhaps stayed together longer than they should have. "We were both scared about what 'uncoupling' would mean in terms of me moving out of a flat that he couldn't afford by himself, and all of the other practical things that come with ending a relationship. I knew that if it ended I'd have to sever ties with all of our mutual friends in Oxford, and almost start again in Sheffield."
The eventual breakup was, by all accounts, "intense".
"He got a positive Covid test on Friday, and by the Sunday morning, I'd had my own positive test result too." The pair were forced to isolate inside, with no contact with friends or family, per government regulations, and it was this time that allowed them to have the conversation that they'd been putting off for so long.
"It was the elephant in the room," she continues. "We weren't going anywhere, so I realised that we might as well talk about it. I said, 'the relationship is over, isn't it?' and he said, 'yes'. We didn't realise at that moment that we'd have to spend 10 days isolating together in a one-bedroom flat – both with coronavirus."
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Although Beth says that it was a "weird period" – which wasn't helped by the tight quarters they were living in – she explains that she was ultimately grateful for the time it gave her and her ex-boyfriend. As she explains: "It helped us realise that [the breakup] really was the right decision for us. We care an enormous amount about each other, but we're not meant to be each other's forever person.
"Often when you break up with someone, and you immediately go cold turkey, you always have things you wish you said, and questions you want answering. But [the time in isolation] actually gave us the opportunity to ask those questions, and be quite philosophical about what went wrong, and what we can change in future relationships. It was quite cathartic in a way."
Still, Beth was worried that she'd return to her parent's home in Sheffield, and as she puts it, "have a meltdown".
"I was concerned that I hadn't had the time to grieve," she pauses, "and have the 3 AM Taylor Swift cry." But the opposite was true. Initially, Beth noted her lack of emotional response.
"I've been weirdly zen," Beth tells me, two months on. "My parents have made comments like 'you seem to be living your best life' and 'you seem so happy'. I've reflected on what they've said and wondered if I'm a terrible person. But really, I think it's rooted in the fact that I know it's been over for a while."
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And Beth really does seem like she's in a better place than she was during her relationship. She tells me that she just landed her biggest freelance writing commission recently, and that she generally has more time to focus her time and energy on her professional development.
"I felt like I was walking on eggshells around my partner in that one-bedroom flat," she continues. "Now, I have my own room at my parents' and I can do what I want without being accountable to anyone else. It's made me quite keen to have a period of being single, and not having another person determine my social calendar."
Still, she's definitely going to take some lessons into her next relationship, whenever that may be. "I've leaned that communication really is so key," she pauses, "I was quite selfless and that's why we stayed together so long. I was prioritising his wellbeing above my own at some points – because he's had lots of family and job difficulties.
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"I've realised that I need to be more selfish. I have a tendency to squash down my own feelings and put my partner first. It's something that I'm going to watch out for more in my next relationship."
At the close of our conversation, she adds: "The funny thing is that it took having Covid and being forced to isolate for us to have the difficult conversation that we'd been putting off for months."
*Anthony's name has been changed to protect his privacy