My boyfriend of four years, James (not his real name) and I booked a vacation together for mid-March to Pensacola, Florida. Then we broke up. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. with full-force. Then we moved in together to quarantine.
This might seem like a non-traditional order of events, but we’re not exactly a traditional couple. We’ve been in an on-again-off-again relationship for years, and it wasn’t until recently that I finally mustered up the courage to introduce him to my parents. A week later in early February, right after this milestone, he dumped me. We had broken up several times before, and always knew in the back of our minds this isn’t final, it’s just a break. It was like we were in 50 First Dates, but it was our impulse to move on that had amnesia.
But this time was “for real” (his words), signaling there wouldn’t be another “on again.” I could see his hands shaking and struggling to get the words out: “I’m breaking up with you for real this time.” It cut me like a knife. We both felt our chemistry had been dwindling for a long time, but after spending our formative years together, we were very much codependent. We didn’t want to experience life alone. But, with me three years out of college and him still an undergraduate (he’s taking his time), I couldn’t deny our universes were growing further apart.
Before leaving my apartment after the breakup, James assured me that he still wanted to remain friends, but needed some time apart before entering that stage. In the days and weeks afterward, I unexpectedly felt relieved. I had always dearly cared about him, but I realized that I’ve been losing pieces of myself by dragging the relationship out.
Here we are, broken up but physically closer than ever, quarantined together in the middle of a global crisis.
When we met in college, I was a junior, and he was a freshman (though we are the same age). Navigating the dating world while still in school is difficult for everyone, but having a physical disability makes it even harder. I have cerebral palsy, which affects my speech and mobility and in school, I used a wheelchair (though I have since developed enough strength and balance to walk independently). My junior year of college was one of the most grueling times in my life. I was working on processing a decade-long trauma for the first time with a therapist and working through the intense fear I had of intimacy. So I fed myself into the hookup culture of college and considered myself lucky to be a woman with a disability whom guys found physically attractive. With each hookup and shallow conversation, I could feel myself slowly withering away.
James was different. From the first moment we met, he saw past my disability while still understanding I have certain limitations. He has never made me feel ashamed of having incapabilities, but instead, always worked to fill in those gaps. Countless times, he has caught me from falling, both literally and figuratively. I feel at home and at peace with him. No other person, romantic or platonic, has ever fulfilled me emotionally and intellectually in the same way he does. Four years later, here we are, broken up but physically closer than ever, quarantined together in the middle of a global crisis.
After the breakup, I tried to cancel our upcoming vacation, but it was nonrefundable. We decided if we were going to lose that money, we might as well go on the trip. A month would have passed and surely that’d be enough time to be okay with hanging out together on an island, we reasoned. The pandemic was the last thing on our minds.
Things changed. When New York Governor Cuomo ordered a shelter-in-place mandate on March 22, James had already packed his luggage and come to my place ahead of our departure. Now, we found ourselves with an entirely new predicament. I’m an extreme extrovert and even though I’ve been living by myself for a long time, I’ve never gone longer than two days without seeing someone; the thought of sending him home to spend weeks—or months—entirely by myself in my apartment made me feel nauseous.
“Wanna…move in?” I asked after moments of contemplation.
It’s a strange situation to be in. Even when we were together as a couple, spending a week together was difficult. We’ve seen each other at our worst and developed severe pet peeves—James hates that I can be bossy and somewhat cocky, and I get impatient when I feel like he’s being immature and impulsive. But still, it felt like the right decision. Neither of us had other places to go to be with people during the lockdown, and misery likes company, right? We thought the statewide quarantine would last, at most, three weeks, so why the hell not.
Living together has been humbling, to put it nicely.
Since my ex moved in with me, I’ve realized that for a long time I’ve been holding onto the idea of who we were and what we meant to each other in college. He was my first love—and as a woman with a disability, my insecurities about not being able to find love can be consuming. But I’m not the same person I was in college, and we aren’t the same “us.” I don’t want either of us to settle out of convenience or familiarity.
Our quarantine together has provided us with time to reflect and start a new chapter in our (platonic) relationship. Living together has been humbling, to put it nicely. It has forced us to communicate in a way that we never had to before. In a 460-square-foot studio apartment, there is no way two individuals can coexist without clear and thorough communication. Forced to actually talk things out, we are learning things about each other without the pretense of being in a relationship.
He now sees me as one of his bros, and I treat him like he’s one of my gal friends. It’s not perfect—we broke the no sex rules we set for ourselves more times than either of us want to admit—but we eventually got to a truly platonic friend zone. Now, our interactions seem more natural, rather than having to force something that’s not there. He still catches me from falling when I lose my balance while making my disability seem like a distant thing in the background. I even have gotten to the point where I’m giving him good pick up lines to use with his Tinder match in this strange time of virtual dating.
Maybe we’re not romantic soulmates, but we are best friends.
Whether he is the man I walk down the aisle towards or one of my bridesmaids (screw gender norms, right?), my gut tells me he will play an important role in my future wedding. It is a weird sensation to simultaneously grieve and celebrate two very different stages in our relationship. And I don’t know what our next chapter will look like. But for today, I know I’m glad to be quarantined with my best friend.
Sarah Kim is a freelance journalist and writer based in Brooklyn. She mostly reports on diversity and inclusion in the realm of disability. You can follow her work here.
Originally Appeared on Glamour