Welcome to Love Lockdown: a weekly column about how people are navigating romantic relationships in the time of coronavirus.
When lockdown was announced, everyone had to process the fact that life as we knew it had changed. I’d been planning to see my then boyfriend, Michael*, that day and my first instinct was to cancel.
I remember having jolts of anxiety as I imagined how he would take the news. I hoped that he’d prove me wrong and agree that it would be dangerous for me to trek back and forth to his house.
"I’ve been speaking to my mum and we’re worried about putting her at risk, so it’s best we don’t meet up today," I texted, with an apology. One of my best friends had recently been hospitalised after she and her parents contracted COVID-19; I hoped Michael would understand the severity of the situation.
What came back was an explosion. I hid in my bedroom so my family wouldn’t see my face crumple as WhatsApp messages began pinging into my phone.
"You do realise this will probably end our relationship, right?" he threatened. "I don’t believe in what’s happening in the same way you do: it’s all lies [from the government]."
I let every call go to voicemail, knowing I could best control his impact on me by not hearing his voice. Eventually I gave in and slipped out of the house, out of earshot of my family, and answered the phone. He fired shot after shot, his reasons for being upset with me fluctuating between self-centred (he needed me as a distraction from his dingy house and annoying housemates, and I was depriving him of a more manageable lockdown), condescending (why would I follow all the hype like a sheep?) and fury (my mum was getting too involved in our relationship).
I spent the rest of the day feeling shellshocked and questioning myself. Had I been over the top in my decision? Was I not being sympathetic enough to his needs? The following morning I woke up to texts that had been sent at 2am, 3.30am, 6am: essays expressing regret at his reaction and affirming that I had made the right choice.
At this point in our relationship, I’d lost count of all the variations we’d had of this argument. The blueprint was always the same: arguments that spanned several hours, with the big ones resulting in us breaking up only to reconcile in the morning. We had the routine mastered.
One time he berated me for showing up at his place 10 minutes earlier than Citymapper had predicted. Then there was the night he drunkenly told me that because I was skinnier than his usual type (thick women with big bums) he had struggled to be attracted to me when he first saw me without clothes.
We were two years into the relationship at this point and my confidence was shattered. When I finally managed to tell him, months later, how his comment about my appearance had made me feel, he vehemently denied it. He questioned my memory of that night before breaking down into apologetic tears as he admitted that yes, it was how he felt, so it "must have slipped out".
I became so drained of my vitality that I didn't recognise myself. Family and friends said the light in my eyes had gone out.
Every other week something happened that left me feeling dejected and confused, unable to trust my own gut reactions. Michael's default response was to go on the attack in order to defend himself. I was stuck in a cycle of humiliation, pain and disbelief at how I was being treated, which started all over again whenever Michael delivered an apology containing everything I wanted to hear. I became drained of my vitality. I didn’t recognise myself. Family and friends said the light in my eyes had gone out but I'd brush off their concern, keen not to let them know the chill I felt at catching my dead-eyed reflection in the mirror each morning.
The impact that Michael's behaviour had on me started to bleed into other areas of my life. I began perceiving comments from colleagues and loved ones as personal attacks. In conversations I would overly explain my thought processes and actions lest the person I was talking to got my intentions twisted. I started getting night terrors and was off work with illnesses which, in hindsight, were probably caused by stress.
By March of this year, I was exhausted. So when lockdown provided an opportunity to take a break from Michael and our routine, it sparked something in me. A small part of me hoped that time apart would weaken my attachment to him, so I’d have the strength to end things for good. A larger part wanted to cling on to him, for us to be a team during this difficult period, to count down the days until we’d see each other again, like a normal couple.
The smaller part of me won. Once our relationship was reduced to calls and texts updating each other on the mundanity of life at home, I was able to evaluate what I was truly getting out of it. I realised that I dreaded communicating with him; we were still arguing frequently, mostly about articles and videos he sent me that 'proved' the virus was a hoax. He sent them under the guise that he "loved conspiracy theories" but I was able to get enough clarity to understand that, really, he was hoping I’d cave and go and see him.
Without the chaos of commutes and office life, I could properly feel the effects of the relationship: soaring then plummeting moods, and a listlessness in between. In the middle of what would be our final argument, I heard myself ending things. After a night of staring into space and bursting into hysterical tears, I woke up with a vision so startlingly clear, I felt like I was free and floating.
As difficult as lockdown has been for so many of us, I’m grateful for the enforced restriction which has kept Michael and me from reuniting. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time and feel back in touch with my old self. I'm making my family laugh like I used to and I'm no longer tiptoeing around everyone. It feels like a reincarnation.
*Name has been changed.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an abusive relationship please reach out to Refuge on 0808 2000 247.