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Here’s how to leave a situationship during lockdown

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESPER HEDE

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

File this under heartache, hibernation edition.

I’m sitting on my bed refusing to wipe a tragic mudslide of Nars Climax mascara off my jawline. Another situationship has come to an end. 

For those fortunate enough to have never experienced this phenomenon, a situationship is an entanglement of sorts. Urban Dictionary defines it ever so eloquently as “Let’s just chill, have sex, and be confused on the fact that we are not together but have official emotions for each other.”

In lockdown, ending a romantic situation of any kind can feel akin to severing a limb. It was, most likely, your singular source of solace during this time. It’s your something to look forward to when cocktails on Chapel Street are reserved for bygone eras and distant dreams. It’s really just something (read: someone) to fucking do. But if you were leading your 2019 life, you would probably be so much less available for them. You are typically a very busy operator.

Somewhere in the middle of tangled arms, familiar duvets, clinking glasses, Friday night footy and brilliant sex, a routine forms with your Intimate Partner (IP). All of a sudden, you associate your time together as security, steadiness and normality. It feels like intimacy and it appears to be special, but the only reason you’re not crying over them in the back of an Uber at 3am is because the current situation has mandated a solitary togetherness that usually denotes a fledgling relationship.

The thing is, no external forces are at play right now. You can’t astutely judge each other’s friends or watch how they move on a dirty dance floor. Would you even go to the same bars? How would they treat you in the real world? Is this just convenient for the present tense? 

But just because we’re in this weird state of purgatory, it doesn’t mean your situationship should be. If these ‘unprecedented times’ are being blamed for the lack of your romantic progression, you may need to do a serious audit on your IP. I recommend Sundays post-sleepover for this.

If you feel the need to make a pros and cons list, it’s probably already doomed. These lists are where we can get a bit like a desperate PR consultant trying to glorify a totally stale product. We embellish and distort until reality is irrevocably tangled up in fantasy. You’re a forlorn, fucked-up fool for the idyllic mirage of love, but the pros-to-cons ratio of happy times to anxious times is probably way out of whack.

That’s the thing about a situationship. Essentially, you are deliriously dehydrated in the desert, convincing your best friend via flurries of frenzied, excuse-laden messages that there is a watering hole on your horizon. You clamber, climb and struggle further but it’s all an illusion.

That promised land is empty, so you’re left utterly parched and reaching for a bottle of red wine instead. You turn to your friend and apologise for being so deluded. They tell you they’re proud. They say they’re glad to have you back, even though you were convinced you hadn’t been gone until just a moment ago.

I’m rewatching Sex and the City (for the squillionth time) and in a peculiar, perhaps symptomatic turn of events, I am taking a strange liking to Aidan. This is revelatory for me. It’s like an impassioned vegan asking for a cheeseburger, or Greta Thunberg using a ziplock bag. I simply adore the excruciating lovesickery to which Big subjects Carrie in that starcrossed, meant-to-be, fateful entanglement.

The chasing and the yearning and the cyclical pining is just all so red hot. It’s the cure and the cause of her agony. While Aidan is there and wanting to be there, Big is a giant, misleading, deeply selfish sack of dicks with a limousine. He’s hot and suave and cool and funny, but he’s also what ends up jilting you at the altar after the series dies and the movies come out.

After a couple of months of this fast-forwarded, mind-fucking mishap of an almost-relationship, I can finally tell you when it’s time to walk. This is the checklist to go through with brutal honesty if you have an even moderately similar situation on your hands. It’s time to end it if:

  • If you’re confused
  • If you’re anxious
  • If you’re making excuses for their actions and if you’re left wondering if ‘actions speak louder than words’
  • If you’ve got that gut feeling that this won’t work but you smush it down and squish it and pancake-flatten it until it’s tidily filed away in the cabinet system of your mind
  • If you feel your sense of self has been eclipsed by your desire to woo them
  • If you feel like a husk of yourself
  • If you forgo draping yourself in a pair of sensational black silk pants because he thinks they look ‘baggy’ on you and wishes you would wear heels more often (in lockdown)
  • If you proceed to do an audit of your entire wardrobe and SS20 wishlist
  • If he questions why you are averse to cooking and how you’ll ever make your way into a man’s heart without spontaneously morphing into Nigella fucking Lawson
  • If, when you work up the courage to ask them “What is this?”, they kiss you on the forehead and smirk instead of giving you an honest answer
  • If you are a better person without them, you should be without them
  • If they need “more time”

I just finished reading Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House. She described moving on from a painful person or situation in such a deeply profound and beautifully sad way, detailing “The space that yawns open in your life” when you walk away from something toxic. If someone doesn’t want to be in your life after you deal them the all or nothing ultimatum, think about the space it frees up and the malaise you are about to wake and stretch from.

In that weird, feverish waking state comes slow yawns of movement and renewal that amount to bringing yourself back into focus (and reclaiming the freed up space in your bed). You’ll just need to take a few baby steps first to appreciate that a situationship is ending, especially in lockdown.

Sit in the sads

Introspection is a necessary bitch. In isolation, you are left alone with your thoughts. Every feeling is held under a magnifying glass in solitude. For a little while post-situationship, you’ll probably clamber out of bed feeling heavy, lethargic, lonely, dreadful and drained. My advice for the mornings and evenings when you feel tsunami waves of irrational longing and tears coming on is to simply surrender to it. Sometimes the best thing to remedy the choking feeling of wanting to cry is crying.

Eat something comforting, watch some sheer trash on a streaming service of your choice and slather on some skincare if you feel like it. Get Zoe Foster-Blake’s ingenious Breakup Boss app to receive daily pep talks on your phone and curate your TikTok For You Page to be soaked in see-you-later energy. This stage is vital because if you fight these feelings, they will only creep up on you later with a vengeance. 

Cocoon yourself (from afar) with your absolute favourite humans

Your usual outings and coping mechanisms (insert: cocktails, brunches, day trips, shameless flirting) are cancelled. This doesn’t mean you are alone. If this is a classic situationship-gone-wrong, your network will most likely bring out the party poppers for its demise. Let them. All the people that want to be there for you will become so apparent. They’ll notice and acknowledge your return from the dark side and surprise you in the most thoughtful ways, like daily check-ins and cute gestures. Issue Friday night Zooms (if you can still tolerate Zoom) or simply FaceTime a friend with a G&T in your backyard.

Your friends will get really mad for you at the IP when you’re too busy romanticising things. Try to check in with them and their lives in lockdown, as you’ll soon realise you’ve neglected to care about the stuff and people that actually matter. Have a Netflix Party and watch something anti-romantic, or call every single mate up in a row if you must. You will swiftly realise how stupidly loved and valued you are, sans IP.

Give where it’s better received

You probably feel like your bandwidth for love and generosity has well and truly snapped at this point in time. But I cannot stress how enriching it feels to redistribute your time and energy into people that will show you how it should actually be received and reciprocate your kindness. They will gush over you and your consideration. Ordering a preserved posy arrangement for a mate struggling through a grim workday or sending a letter via snail mail to your actual soulmates will not only prompt reflection for you but generate warm fuzzies elsewhere.

If you feel yourself doing that hopeful thing where you consider catching up with your IP again to just ‘talk’, transfer a friend a lump sum of money – I suggest $500 – on a Friday night and tell them they can only transfer it back to you on Monday morning if you successfully make it through the weekend without contact. It’s called the Break the Cycle Bond and it works.

Cultivate a new regime

Were weekends your time seeing the IP? The weekends will now likely trip you up and send you into a dizzy spell of misery and boredom and restlessness and temptation. Instead of texting them something you will inevitably regret, forge new routines. Book an early AM walk on both Saturday and Sunday morning with a friend in your radius (if you are truly isolated, get a friend booked in for a walk and talk via phone) so that you cannot wake up in a bed other than your own. This will add structure and beginning to your day with someone you can vent to. You’ll also get blood pumping in your body in a new, more constructive way.

Same goes for downloading a new workout, yoga, or Pilates app in the name of simply clearing your mind and generating some endorphins. Maybe, the new routine is something as simple as reading X pages of a book you’ve been dying to get around to each day (it goes without saying, but Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love is a must here). If you have a nine-to-five from home, it will initially feel tough to slog through. What you might not expect is how brilliant it feels to throw yourself into that again, generate some small wins and build on them to help you settle into your new groove.

Get on the tools

This whole theory is so wrought with cliches because it’s true. Here’s the part where you hustle on a project, hobby or goal that has taken a backseat while your energy was being leeched by an irreverent IP. There’s something you’ve been meaning to get around to since Tiger King iso era and you know exactly what I’m referring to. Take this new excess free time to obsess with this project. I’m not a proponent for the toxic positivity part of lockdown – we’re all beyond that. This is not about shimmying your days and achievements on Instagram or rubbing it in the IP’s face. It’s a lesson in putting the onus on what matters to you and what makes your heart really sing, rather than sacrificing this time for a situationship that causes you to stagnate, stress and slip away from yourself. 

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