Boundaries in a pandemic...

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Boundaries in a pandemic...

Unread postby LisaS1234 » Fri Apr 03, 2020 10:30 am


Over the last four months I have been seeing a woman who has a number of health complications which make her really vulnerable to complications from COVID19 (both chronic heart and lung conditions and a history of hospitalization for these things). Our relationship was really special since there is a significant age difference between us (both consenting adults) and we really both viewed it as a chance to explore things we hadn't had the opportunity to before. We also both recognized that due to the difference in our ages, and general things we need in life, there would come a time when one or both of us would end things and that that was ok. We were friends before this part of our relationship began and we both hoped (and do believe) that there is the potential for a genuine friendship afterwards as well. I feel overall very good about how we treated one another and communicated while together. About six weeks ago she got word that she had received an offer of a dream job in another part of the country and decided to take it. This seemed like a really natural place to end our romantic relationship. I was sad, but also knew that ultimately it would be ok -- but of course then the pandemic hit...

The last three weeks have been kind of wild because she was in the midst of this move across the country as things have been locking down. For financial reasons (I have a lot of privilege she doesn't), and because I have wanted to, I have been helping her find safe places to stay before she could move into her new place. At the same time, I also moved across the country to stay with my family for mental health reasons; didn't want to weather this thing alone in my apartment. We hadn't ended things "officially" before this all happened so in a lot of ways it has felt like an intense continuation of our relationship; all of a sudden we've been working through logistics, coming out to my family about our relationship, (they have fortunately been supportive), and also had some negative interactions between us; I'm realizing how we both react under stress and how that creates a dynamic I don't want to have with a romantic partner. At the same time, none of this was planned ---- I never thought we'd be in this position, we were never planning to be a couple who hurdled all these challenges together, etc.

What I want is to be able to transition in to a friendship with this person. I really admire her, and she's someone I genuinely see being in my life for a long time as a friend. But I know from past, difficult experience that this is only possible for me if I take a period of no contact with a person. I need to process the loss of that kind of relationship and also reconnect with myself to actually be that person's friend. I also have a lot of feelings about our romantic relationship ending --- feelings of anger, inadequacy, self-doubt, sadness, loneliness... I'm also quarantined in my parents house, have lost my jobs, am scared of people I love dying --- including her ---, feeling like I have nothing to look forward to, etc. I'm just not doing great (who is though).

She has finally moved into her apartment in a new city and is close to supports there. I talked to her yesterday and it sounds like she is doing well. In normal circumstances this would be a time when I would choose to take a step back. Establish some boundaries ie. "I need us to take a break from contacting one another for a couple weeks (or more) so I can grieve things and reset a bit. Because I don't feel like I'm able to be your friend right now; I hope to be one day, but I need some space before I can." I have sort of brought up that I am struggling with this issue, but haven't outright asked for anything from her. It doesn't seem like she needs that space from me; she also isn't contacting me as much because her life is filled with new things; this also hurts me and makes me feel sad. I feel angry at myself for being depressed.

But things are changing so fast. I'm genuinely terrified that she could fall ill within the next weeks. I also recognize no one is immune from this, including me. She has moved into a large city, and there is a limit to how much she can protect herself (living with unknown roommates etc). I don't want my last communication with this person to be one asking for space; and I'd want to know should she fall ill. (Though at the same time, if that happens there's not much I can do, other than let her know I care for her). What if she passed away or was in hospital and I didn't know? I want to be able to love people well during this time, and be caring, and I feel like I don't know how in this situation.

Thanks for listening.

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Re: Boundaries in a pandemic...

Unread postby Sam W » Fri Apr 03, 2020 10:50 am

Hi Lisa,

Being in the midst of a major relationship change combined with all the upheaval and fear this pandemic is causing is incredibly stressful, so it's little wonder you're feeling so many rough, intense emotions all at once.

You've clearly done a ton of self-reflection in terms of knowing what you need during and after a break-up, and in terms of what your fears are around setting those boundaries this time, which is awesome (knowing what about a situation is scaring you can be really helpful, because it gives you something to address). I wonder, would a modified version of the boundary make you feel more comfortable? So, maybe saying that you need that distance after ending the relationship, but that if she falls ill, you'd want to know so you could offer her support (assuming that's what you'd want to do). That feels odd even as I type it, but as you pointed out, things are not exactly normal right now. You still get to ask for the space you need after a break-up, but you also get to decide if you want to tweak them a bit for your own peace of mind during a crisis.

Too, to make sure I've got the picture right, are you and she on the same page about the romantic relationship being over? Or is there a chance she thinks it's still going on?

I also want to make space for you to talk more generally about those fears and feelings of isolation the pandemic is bringing up for you. What does your day to day look like? Are there things that are helping? Things you're grieving?

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