I begin quarantine very much in love with my boyfriend, Robert*. The weekend before lockdown is to start, we are cuddled up, in a dimly lit cantina, slurping down strawberry margaritas. Robert lives with his family outside of the city, and I alone in a small Brooklyn apartment, and we know we’ll be quarantining apart. “It’s just two weeks…,” he says, kissing my face.
I reassure myself that is right. We’ll have nightly FaceTime dates, he’ll send flowers, and when the 14 days are up (surely couldn’t be more than that), we’ll be reunited in a post-coronavirus world. We in our naive, maskless bliss, actually believe this. We have no idea what is ahead of us. We have no idea that two weeks will turn into a year that will separate us and make life completely unrecognizable.
Fast-forward to a hot June day, as I sit next to Robert on a cement bench overlooking the Saugatuck River. We’re now four months into the pandemic. His living with his elderly parents means there are strict rules around quarantine. So it has taken months, and rigid isolation, before we feel safe enough to see each other again. The sun is high as we sit, watching elderly groups of women walking, socially distant, along the river and restless teens silently on their phones, leeching WiFi from the nearby public library. A breeze moves through the park, rustling trees and drying the beads of sweat on my forehead. I’m staring at his large hands holding mine. It’s the only human contact I’ve had since early March. I’ve held his hands dozens of times before, but now it feels different. And despite the global pandemic and isolation, at this moment I’m perfectly happy.
The breeze catches my hair, and I look up to find him staring. “Fuck. Why are you so hot?” he says, leaning in to kiss me, inconspicuously sliding his fingers up my skirt, into my panties. Now completely unrelated to the summer sun, I feel flush. At that moment I don’t care about the elderly women on their walks or the restless teens. It’s been months since we’ve been “alone” together, and I need him. Releasing my thighs, I invite him in as he kisses me deeply. To any onlooker, we are simply making out, but secretly I erupt as he strokes my insides.
I don’t know it at this moment, but this will be the last time he makes me cum in a public place. The last time I hold his hands. The last time we’re together in person. Despite our efforts, we don’t make it. Come the first week of August, he unceremoniously ends our relationship with a phone call. I wish I could have foreseen how painful it would be, prepared myself somehow. Despite having been living on my own the entire time, without him, now I feel truly alone—as if six months’ worth of solitude is catching up to me all in one moment. I don’t eat for five days.
Breaking up during quarantine is hard. There’s no cushion. No safe place to fall. I can’t pick up any of my usual post-break-up patterns. I can’t exactly go get drunk with my girlfriends and hook up with men in dark corners of bars. I spend two weeks of uncontrollable crying and forcing myself to eat. In search of distraction, I return to the dating apps.
Tinder is a trove of what feels like every single New Yorker with nothing to do but swipe, flirt, and hope for a safe hook-up—or at least some small form of human interaction. That’s how I meet Pat*.
Pat drives more than an hour from New Jersey bearing breakfast sandwiches and juice for a quick picnic. In truth, I know I have no right dating anyone right now. But Pat is in his late 30s, runs his family’s successful business, is a homeowner, goes to therapy, and has a daily meditation practice. In my 30s, this resume reads like erotica. Plus, the alternative is sitting alone in my apartment, sinking (deeper) into a depressive state.
I slip on the only summer dress I’ve purchased this year and text him my address. He picks me up and compliments the dress as he opens my car door. He speaks to me like I’m someone he already knows as he leads me by the hand into the park. There’s something charmingly proprietary about the way he treats me—and it’s only been 20 minutes.
It’s late August, and the leaves haven’t started to shift yet. A warm breeze moves through the park, muffling the sound of neighborhood kids laughing in the distance. I wait for the perfect moment when the wind catches my hair and I glance up at him. The scene feels familiar. My long hair dancing wildly in the breeze, our eyes meet, and at this moment I know exactly how I look to him. For a second I forget it’s a pandemic and that my heart is broken, and remember that I love this feeling.
We walk for a moment in search of a place to sit. There are no awnings or French café seats, so we settle at a dirty, faded cement picnic table. He’s so animated as we share stories of divorce, healing, and dating. In between bites he tells me his home in New Jersey has a movie theater and a dedicated sauna, and yoga rooms. We both love the ocean, travel, and mindful living. I try to picture myself in his life, and it’s not hard. He is successful and attractive, and I like how he dotes on me.
On paper he has all the right stuff—but can he understand me the way Robert did? Can anyone?
The following Friday I’m in bed by 7 p.m., paralyzed by my sadness. Thoughts of Robert are heavy and there’s nothing for me to do but lay in the dark and cry. I’m under several layers of my down comforter and repeatedly listening to the Pride and Prejudice score when a text notification from Pat lights up my dark room. “How are you doing?” I want to write something charming and sexy, but I have no desire to lie to him. All I can muster is “Not good. I’m spiraling.” I hit send fully expecting to never hear from him again.
But to his credit, the next morning I wake to a message. “You had a rough night. I’m going to be there in an hour with doughnuts. You don’t need to do anything.” An hour later I open the door to see him standing there in a faded T-shirt, smiling and carrying a brown box. I look inside to see a half dozen doughnuts, all different flavors, colors, and textures. The sight makes me happier than I’ve felt in weeks. One is a Boston cream covered in sticky chocolate frosting. Another is pink topped with delicate dried hibiscus flowers, and in the corner is the one I know will be my favorite; it’s white frosted and covered with Fruity Pebbles. I cut them in half, excitedly sampling each flavor. I wish more men understood how many problems could be remedied with snacks.
He sits on my couch and signals for me to join. I rest my head in his lap as he tenderly runs his fingers through my hair. He smells like patchouli and clean laundry, and with a deep breath I am overcome with relief. Then just as I settle into Pat’s embrace my mind unintentionally drifts to Robert. The temporary relief fades, even at just the image of his face in my mind. Pat knowingly, leans down and kisses me for the first time. It’s not the kiss I’m used to, but it feels incredible. As he pulls away, he releases a deep sigh. “Wow. I knew you were going to be a good kisser.”
Before he can say another word, my mouth is searching for him. I’ve forgotten that we’re in a pandemic, and at that moment I don’t give a fuck about the coronavirus. My hands grip his unruly brown hair, his hands cup my face. Before long he’s ravenously exploring my body, pulling my housedress down, and taking me into his mouth. I remove his faded T-shirt to reveal tanned skin and a meticulously sculpted six-pack. It’s not long before we’re in bed consuming each other. His one hand grips my hair, the other my hips as he continuously pushes into my depth from behind. He’s dominant, deeply passionate, and well-endowed. My sexual trifecta.
I fight off thoughts of Robert and try to enjoy the pleasure. Despite being broken up for weeks, somehow, it feels like I’m being unfaithful. Pat completely unaware, throws his head back and groans. I feel him pulsate inside of me before he laughs and withdraws. “I’m so sorry, it’s been a while—just give me a minute and we can go again.” I laugh with him. “It’s been a while for me too.” I press my back to his chest, and we lie in bed, covered in his sweat. I think of the first time Robert said “I love you” and how he used to hold me this way. I begin to silently cry.
What the hell is wrong with me? I’m naked, with a hot man. Why am I crying? Pat is smiling and completely unaware as tightens his grip around me. I feel like a sponge being pressed of its liquid as my few tears quickly turn to steady streams. Embarrassed, I use the pillow to quickly wipe them away. And before they can return, I roll over and ask, “Are you ready to go again?” His eyes light up, he pulls me on top of him. “Careful what you ask for, girl.” His next release isn’t so quick.
Pat and I never have another date. Crying after is was a new experience for me. It is startling enough to make me realize that no matter his résumé, I simply am not ready.
It’s October before I decide to try again. I still think about Robert every day, but I’m horny and hope maybe enough time has passed. Plus, predictions of a second wave loom, and the thought of repeating another quarantine alone is terrifying. I meet Victor* on Tinder, and after a few weeks of half-hearted back and forth, we finally make a plan to meet. He assures me that he’s recently been COVID tested and proposes watching the newly released Savage x Fenty show together at my place. Only two people have entered my apartment this year, and one of them is the monthly exterminator. But I can’t think of a sexier first date, so I clean for the first time in weeks, light my candles, and cook a vegan dinner.
We sit together on the couch and within the first two minutes, we’re screaming and cheering at the screen. When the show ends, we spend hours talking and laughing. It’s simultaneously so normal and so foreign. After all these months in solitude, I hadn’t been sure if I still knew how to be with someone new. But with Victor, it isn’t hard. We discuss divorce, military life, and living abroad. He is handsome, charming, and effortless. I find his ease intoxicating.
Our conversation pauses but doesn’t feel awkward. We let the tension build as we stare at one another. Smiling, he leans in and kisses me, and I kiss back. Then, gripping my hips, he pulls me onto him. His tongue fills my mouth, and my hands are lost in his dark curly brown hair. We furiously undress each other on our way to my bedroom. I pull away only to use my tongue to trace invisible paths along his body. I want to drink his deeply tanned skin. His fingers fill my mouth as he crawls on top and enters me in one fluid motion. I shut my eyes, willingly receiving him in every space he fills. His hands quickly grip my face, forcing me to look deeply into his eyes as he takes me. He moves inside of me with deep, rhythmic intensity. When he senses I’m close to climax, he lowers his lips to my ear and speaks to me in Spanish. I erupt under his control, but we don’t stop. I lose track of how many times we have sex that night. We fall asleep sometime around 5 a.m.
In the coming weeks Victor meets my friends for pumpkin carving and samba lessons. We stand on a rooftop overlooking Manhattan. He holds me, humming “The Girl from Ipanema” in my ear. The last weekend in October, he enlists my help to redecorate his room. He snaps selfies of us on his phone as we share home-cooked dinners and screaming couch karaoke sessions. My friends love him. Everyone loves him. And as I watch him chop garlic in my kitchen, shirtless, wet, and wrapped in nothing but a towel, I love him too.
We date for a blissful month, before Victor disappears as quickly as he arrived. I have no space to feel heartbroken. Honestly, I’m not even sad to see him go. Instead, I feel an overwhelming swell of gratitude for the time I spent with him, knowing that we served a purpose in each other's lives. He had been exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. And then my needs had changed.
It’s been three months since I’ve gone on a date or taken a lover. The truth is, despite my attempts, I’m just not ready. At the end of the day, the very thought of Robert carries a hundred unanswered questions. If the pandemic had never happened, would we still be together? Would we have gotten the chance to follow through on all of our plans?
Normally when I go through a breakup I try and put as much life as possible between me and it. I’ve always believed that new love and new life experiences help contextualize time. But quarantining in a strictly locked-down city has forced me to sit with my feelings and reevaluate the truth behind my patterns. I can no longer delay my healing. I have to allow myself to feel all my love and all of my pain.
I think about how my quarantine lovers have shown up for me in beautiful ways, and I feel tremendous gratitude. To me, these men are reminders that even in a pandemic, life does exist outside heartbreak. There have been intense lows this year, but whether it was with chocolate doughnuts or soft romantic songs in my ears, these experiences have given me a renewed sense of faith in my own journey. A renewed sense of faith in love, and the possibility of a happy ending—even in times of corona.
*Names have been changed.
Originally Appeared on Glamour