My ex-boyfriend and I decided to have a temporary pandemic relationship with a set expiration date.
The arrangement was unusual, but it led to incredible personal growth.
We knew it was risky, but we are still friends six months later.
As it became clear we would measure the pandemic in months or years, I began to craft ways to fulfill my need for an in-person conversation. I carefully spaced camp chairs around the perimeter of my yard and invited people over. I placed hand sanitizer, bug spray, and beer in the middle of the circle. It was like setting up the world's worst game of Duck, Duck, Goose — one where you can't even pat each other on the head.
Despite many valiant attempts at safe socialization in a pandemic, loneliness still found ways to creep in. It had been eight months since I last touched another adult, and I was skin hungry.
Some weeks, what became known as "YardBeer" consisted of me and my ex-boyfriend and two camp chairs on either side of the 10-foot kiddie pool in my driveway. We'd dated for a few months and broken up shortly before the pandemic, remaining caring friends.
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Neither of us liked the idea of the first-date hamster wheel when everything felt so fraught. We faced this indefinite time frame with our futures on hold, but we didn't want to be alone.
After tentative and sometimes awkward conversations, we decided to be a temporary couple. In keeping with the YardBeer theme, I declared him my "PandemicBoyfriend" — a relationship that had an expiration date from the start.
We set an end date for our relationship
The "define the relationship" talk was different than most, as we set an expiration date of September 1, 2021. This would be the end date no matter the status of COVID-19.
We knew it was risky. The last thing we wanted to do was jeopardize our friendship. But the comfort of having a shoulder to literally lean against was immeasurable. Aside from the intimacy of physical touch, I found that growing a relationship in a container garden brought unique lessons and benefits.
Predictably, some thought this was a terrible idea. And we all agreed that a relationship with an expiration date that wasn't based on relocation was the weirdest thing we'd ever heard. My therapist and I spent many hours going over it and agreed it was a situation built for only this time in history.
We were together for almost a year
For 10 months we went on vacations, celebrated our 40th birthdays, and had someone to hug. We had alone time together, and we had weekly pizza nights with our kids, who adore each other. We laughed. A lot.
Much as therapy sometimes feels like practice for the real world, our relationship felt like practice for the partners we hoped to one day become. If we were going to do this, we wanted to make it count.
We were open in ways that are often difficult in romantic relationships. Without constantly trying to present the best version of ourselves, we actually became better versions of ourselves. We worked to identify the baggage we brought into the relationship, baggage that weighed us down in our prepandemic dating lives.
I didn't have to worry much about scaring him off. We didn't have to stress over commitment, because it was clearly defined. And as much as we both want to find that person who is all in for all time, this bookended relationship gave us a perspective we couldn't get elsewhere.
It would be inauthentic of me to say that when September came it was easy to flip the light switch from who we were to who we were going to be. Of course, there were growing pains. But more than six months beyond our expiration date, we still get everyone together for the occasional pizza night, and once or twice a month we even find time for a YardBeer.
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