Everything is harder during a pandemic, and love is one of those things. Love is hard during a pandemic because we all need so much more of it and many of us have less to give.
Highly sensitive people
As a highly sensitive person, I’m very in tune with pain. My pain, my partner’s pain, other people’s pain, the pain screaming out from all sides of the world. The loneliness and heartbreak in the world is visceral right now. People are sick, dying, separated, hurting and lonely.
Being a highly sensitive person is difficult even in the best of times because of how regularly it breaks my heart. But it’s also incredible because of how deeply I feel joy and pleasure. It can be utterly amazing, but I also have to deal with the hazards.
While I would like to be an expert at practicing the Buddhist principle of detachment – which is essentially what can keep the incredible pain (and incredible pleasure) on a more even keel – I am not yet there. So, there are times when I just want to prevent the pain. There are times when I want to build a big fortress around my heart to protect it. The problem with trying to avoid the pain, though, is that I would also miss out on the joy and good feelings.
This year has been filled with pain. There is the pain of missing the closeness of my friendships (that have always involved lots of close contact and hugs), the pain of financial stress and uncertainty, and the pain of your loved ones feeling stress and anxiety. It is too much for anyone.
Loving someone during a pandemic
I met my partner six months before the pandemic began. He was on his path, and I was on mine, and for a brief moment we were on the same path together, and it was magical. He brought energy, affection and laughter into my life.
We found joy in each other and in engaging in activities together – events, dancing, socializing. He called me his social director because I had fun lined up for us at all times. When the pandemic arrived, many of those activities became unavailable to us and deprived us of our outlets for experiencing joy together. Our relationship was new enough that the pandemic caused significant interruption. My business began to decline. Things became tense and difficult. Life began to feel very serious instead of lighthearted and fun. On top of that, we were each something new for the other – an attempt at trying something different to get better results than before. That is a great thing on the surface but can be bumpy in execution.
My partner’s path grew very difficult, and it was too much for him to sustain our relationship. Try as I might to love him, he ran out of love to give back. As much space, understanding and support I tried to give him, his cup could not be filled. And the more I gave, the more resentful I became (even though it was my choice). In the end, he left to find solace in isolation, leaving my battery completely on empty and my sensitive heart torn open.
Staying open even when it hurts
I took immediate steps to protect myself and prevent further pain – putting up walls, securing doors, and locking gates.
But when my anxiety waned a little, I thought, “My heart is made for loving. How sad if it could no longer do that.”
So, I looked around, and I realized there was love all around me. Not only that, love was needed all around me. And so, I poured my love into the people around me. And I loved as hard as I could and as much as I could. I accepted all the love that was offered to me. And I started to heal.
Even before my partner left, I could feel my heart wanting to harden under the burden of this pandemic. I wanted a reminder – something I could look at and remember that I must, must, must keep my heart open. Not only for myself but for all the people I needed to love and who needed me to love them. I did not want to become an emotionally unavailable person… someone incapable of love. I needed to stay open.
And so, four days after my partner left, I [safely] sat in a tattoo shop and endured the temporary physical pain required to ornament my body with a message that might help alleviate future emotional pain. The blooming flower in the center of my tattoo represents openness, and the many leaves and petals represents the connectedness of my life to others. That openness and that connection are the cornerstones of my life. They make me who I am, and they sustain me. If I ever lose those two things, I will lose who I am, and I cannot let that happen.
Holding space for love in a pandemic
With an abundance of love and empathy, I understood why my partner did what he did and forgave him almost immediately because I knew his heart was broken, too. I held space for him while he was gone to allow him to process and heal. When he returned to my doorstep a month later, he held space to listen to the hurt and anxiety I felt when he left and in his absence. We honored each other with our presence and our love. With love, you can want what’s best for yourself and for a partner even if those things don’t take you down the same path.
I don’t know what the future holds for my partner and I, but I know that if we continue to act out of love, we’ll both end up where we need to be.