It began as many relationships do. Apprehension. A feeling out process. A brief moment of intimacy.

Since then, it has grown. One meeting led to two. Two to five. Five to 10. It’s been months, many months. By my count, we have now had 22 dates. That’s a lot, no? Twenty-two? You should know how you feel by then.

And I do. Know how I feel. I am still nervous before we get together. Still hesitant about our connection. After a rendezvous, when I am driving home, I sometimes shed a tear and need a tissue.

But always, without fail, my partner sends me a comforting note in the days that follow, and that note makes me feel better.

Looks? Well. I’ll admit, my partner is not a beauty. Small. Thin. Always wrapped in the same outer clothing. But looks aren’t everything. It’s how your partner makes you feel, right?

And my partner makes me feel — well, actually, to be honest, my partner makes me feel pain. There’s a whiff of “Fifty Shades of Grey” going on. Yet I keep going back. Some dates are less hurtful than others. But always there is a twinge. Followed by a yelp. Followed by a teardrop.

My partner’s name is COVID Test. We are coming up on our one-year anniversary.

The nose knows.

Making the first move

How did it begin? How do any of these relationships begin? You go out once, on someone’s recommendation, just to see what it’s all about. Next thing you know, you are going back, again and again.

I mentioned 22 dates. That might be an underestimate. We first connected at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Pontiac last spring. I’ll never forget. A snowy parking lot. A roll-down of the window. We made eye contact. I turned away, shy and unsure. I think I may have closed my eyes. But COVID Test went for it, as bold as Clark Gable suddenly smooching Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind” — except COVID Test went for my honker.

“YEOOW!” I exclaimed, or something romantic like that. But COVID Test didn’t pull away. It stayed there twirling until my eyeballs felt like they had rolled back in my head. Then, before I knew what hit me, COVID Test was in the other nostril, doing the same. A double dose.

And then, gone, without so much as a goodbye. It even stuck me with the bill. Honestly.

But say what you will about the gruffness of that first encounter; it’s not something you forget. And so, when the second date was forced upon me — urged on by a doctor — I was more prepared. This time, I made eye contact. I braced myself. When it was over, I whispered, “That’s it. We’re not doing this again, understand? That was the last time!”

But COVID Test barely looked over its shoulder.

“You’ll be back,” it said.

And sadly, it was right. Thanks to the pandemic and its endlessly changing rules, I kept coming back — for work, for travel, for surety when I was exposed to someone, for peace of mind when I started sneezing or coughing.

One time, we met up in Colorado, after a relative had tested positive during a vacation. Multiple times, we rendezvoused in Haiti, through a clinic, thanks to the airline’s demands that a test be presented every time you fly.

There were even encounters in my kitchen, with a home testing kit, to make sure everyone at a dinner was safe. By this point, we were brazen about our intimacy. We did it right there at the table, with everyone watching.

A few minutes later, a small plastic tab showed a single line. A cheer went up. Negative! Yes. In this relationship, negative is positive. Love is strange.

A relationship that’s run its course

But recently, something happened. An outsider has threatened the affair. It goes by the name of Johnson. Actually, Johnson & Johnson. There’s only one of them, but two names. Go figure.

The two Johnsons and I had a single date at a Detroit clinic. It was brief and to the point. A pull-up of the sleeve, a fast encounter, a pulldown of the sleeve, nothing but a tan-colored bandage to mark the encounter.

And yet, things have changed. My heart has shifted. Suddenly, my dependence on COVID Test is less fervent. The other day I sneezed, and I heard it cooing in the wind, “Come see me! You know you want to…”

“Nah, it was just a sneeze,” I said. “I’m good.”

This is how a relationship slowly dies. You grow apart. You go different ways. I know my partner will never run out of other nostrils. Heck, I’m pretty sure it’s been seeing other nostrils all along.

But I’m OK with that. Like Gloria Gaynor, I will survive. Sure, COVID Test and I may still get together now and then, if the circumstances call for it.

But you can feel the passion dying. Things are not the same. The other day, I drove past a clinic and heard it singing the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”

Sad.

Humphrey Bogart said, “We’ll always have Paris” and I say, “We’ll always have the St. Joe’s parking lot.” It’s not you, COVID Test, it’s me. My body is surging with antibodies. My nostrils are slowly starting to regain feeling.

So farewell, my thin and twirling mate. It may seem cruel to break up on a one-year anniversary. But people change. Noses change. It hurts to say goodbye. But, to be honest, not as much as it hurt to say hello.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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