In mid-March of this year, 27-year-old *Miles and his boyfriend were going steady. Coming up to the six-month mark, it was longer than any relationship Miles had been in for years. They'd met each other's parents. Gone on holiday to Greece. Spoken about moving in together. But then lockdown happened, and soon they were spending more time together than ever before.
"Lockdown was basically a slow process of us realising we were incompatible in ways that hadn’t been clear beforehand,” says Miles now. “We’d stopped having sex so much, and things were getting really cold between us; he’d have these long silent moods and get really critical, and I’d be thinking, 'I should be having fun right now!'"
Miles started talking to a guy he’d been flirting with before he'd met his boyfriend. “Nothing happened, but the fact I was even thinking about it was a sign. We broke up in late June, I guess when things were easing. I said I wasn’t happy – and he was feeling the same way, obviously, although it was sad on both ends. It felt easier to do that once there wasn’t this added pressure of having to remain in one house together."
Miles isn’t the only person suddenly going through a break-up now that lockdown is easing. A lot of people seem to have found that lockdown made them finally realise how they and their partner were ultimately incompatible. And for many, the logistical difficulties of the pandemic (not being able to move out, losing their job, dealing with illness) meant they’d been putting off the inevitable until now.
Ryan, 22, had been seeing someone for a few months. When the UK went into lockdown, they ended up cohabiting at his place, but by June, Ryan says, he'd got "the ick". He knew he didn’t want to be with this person, but decided to hold off on ending things. "I kind of gritted my teeth and didn't say anything for her benefit,” he tells me sheepishly. “She didn't really have anywhere else to stay and was having a rough time mental health-wise.”
Once lockdown started lifting though, breaking up felt easier. "As soon as lockdown relaxed and we were both going and meeting friends basically every other day, I decided that she had enough support from other people for me to end it, so she wasn't entirely cast out on her own," Ryan says. “In the end, the break-up was amicable. She totally understood and I thanked her for being my lockdown girlfriend.”
While lockdown may have brought incompatibilities to the surface for a lot of couples, for others, breaking up was more to do with finally being able to explore other possibilities now that lockdown is easing. "I’ve always struggled with monogamy,” 26-year-old Khira tells me. “In the past that’s occasionally led to cheating, which isn't something I'm proud of – I don’t want to intentionally hurt people. Anyway, long story short, I’d been trying to open things up with my ex for some time, but he wasn’t keen on it.”
“Lockdown was making me feel stifled in general, and tied to the fact my ex definitely wanted to be monogamous, I realised it wasn’t working on a few levels,” she continues. “I need different experiences with different people; that’s just how my brain works. When seeing other people became more of a possibility, me and my ex had a chat about everything and I realised I wasn’t happy. I’m not ready to date yet, but I’m not ready to not-date either, if that makes sense."
Pippa, 27, was on the receiving end of a break-up relating to her now-ex wanting to explore other options. “We'd been together for a few months, and then he turns around and says he can't be 'someone's boyfriend' right now. I feel really shit, honestly, because I'd spent the whole lockdown supporting him and being there for him, and then it was like, 'I don't need you anymore,' as soon as we could go out again. I'll get over it – I've been through enough break-ups – but it left me feeling super used up.”
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the ever-present and definitely-not-over pandemic – other than the meaning of "epidemiologist", "cluster" and "zoonosis" – it’s that relationships are constantly fluctuating and fragile to outside forces. And while people get together and fall apart all the time, coronavirus has clearly enhanced existing relationship problems. Some broke up when lockdown hit. Others hastily moved in. Many experienced strengthened relationships. But for a huge wave of couples, it seems, lockdown easing was a sign that their relationship should probably ease up too.
See you for the second lockdown!