This article was originally published on VICE Netherlands.
You wouldn’t have thought that pandemics and romantic relationships would really go hand in hand. But since the global lockdowns kicked in, dating sites have reportedly enjoyed huge spikes, presumably because people have literally nothing else to do but flirt with strangers.
Dutch photographer Jonnah Bron noticed the phenomenon in her own friendship circle after the virus hit: “Although at first people were a bit more hesitant on dating apps, I suddenly saw all of these new couples pop up around me.” Fascinated, she decided to document these very real relationships, initiated in a year that has at times felt completely unreal. “I wanted to show that despite all the setbacks, people were still able to find love,” she says.
Jonnah visits most of her subjects in their homes – at a safe distance – and asks them to pretend she’s not there. Friends of hers, Roos and Rosa, were the first to be photographed, and from there she sought out couples through Instagram, receiving responses from Antwerp to New York. Anyone outside of the Netherlands, she captures using Zoom.
Jonnah has also taken a self-portrait with her girlfriend, Geerten. “Geerten is my housemate and because I spent a lot of time at home [during lockdown], we got cosy rather quickly. Eventually, I kissed her,” she says. “Although I was dating another woman at the time, things moved really fast between us. Eventually, I fell in love with her.”
Jonnah recognises a similar theme in the stories of other “lockdown couples” she’s met through the project. “Things get serious much more quickly with that one person you’re dating,” she says.
I spoke to the couples in Jonnah’s series about how they met, and the impact COVID has had on their relationship.
Deen (25) and Lotte (23)
Deen and Lotte met on Instagram. “A friend of mine said: ‘You should follow her, you two are the exact same person’,” recalls Deen. They had planned a physical date for the end of that week, but that plan quickly changed after their first FaceTime chat. “We talked for eight hours. It was pretty obvious we didn’t want to wait any longer to see each other,” Lotte laughs.
They met up in a restaurant in August. “Because everything shut at 10PM because of coronavirus, we went for a walk through Rotterdam and made out on a little square until seven in the morning,” Lotte says. “That date ended up lasting 17 hours.”
From that point on, they were inseparable. “The pandemic has really sped up the intimacy in our relationship, mainly because we had dates at each other’s homes,” says Deen. “The morning after our first date I already met Lotte’s sister and mum, and the next weekend she met my mum.”
Roos (26) and Rosa (22)
Roos and Rosa met on Tinder in March. “We’d been talking for about a month before we dared to meet up,” Roos says. “I was in quarantine at my parents’ place, so I thought it was too big of a risk to see other people.” On their first date, they went for a walk. Roos had one condition: they couldn’t date other people.
Since then, they’ve been going on walks nearly every day. “Our first dinner at a restaurant was incredibly exciting,” Roos says. “We had already known each other for three months, and were also already a couple, but because I hadn’t met up with anyone in public for so long, I just didn’t know what to wear and how to behave. It felt like a first date.”
Noah (22) and Noralie (26)
Noah and Noralie met in January at a youth climate conference in Switzerland. Three days later, Noah went to Nepal for six weeks. “While I was in Nepal, we spoke a lot,” says Noah. “When I got back to Schiphol [airport in Amsterdam], she was there to pick me up.”
With Noah in Utrecht and Noralie in Deventer, the couple live a train ride away from each other. The Dutch government has advised people to use public transport as little as possible, so the couple have tried to make the most of their dates. “Our first date lasted four days. Our second lasted two weeks,” Noah laughs. “When your social life is temporarily on pause, you can’t imagine what life outside of the pandemic would look like. But apparently we have a lot of mutual friends, so it’s turned out really well.”
Luna (18) and Sam (22)
“Sam’s ex is a friend of mine,” explains Luna. “I used to spend a lot of time with him when they were still together, and during lockdown the three of us formed a bubble.” Luna and Sam always got along well, but it wasn’t until Sam’s relationship ended that sparks started flying.
Eventually the two of them decided to meet up and watch a movie at home. “Because we’d seen each other so often during lockdown, we didn’t have to stay at a distance during our first date,” Sam says. “I think we fell in love much faster because of that close contact.”
Josef (22) and Boisé (21)
Boisé first noticed Josef when she walked into the shop he worked in. “Neither of us are the type to make the first move,” Josef explains. “We ran into each other later that day at a party. But even then we were too shy,” adds Boisé. It wasn’t until they matched on Bumble in February that they decided to go out.
“We were both extremely nervous,” Josef says of the first date. “But as soon as we saw each other, we clicked.”
By the time The Netherlands went into lockdown in March, they’d been on two dates. “I suddenly had a lot more free time. It gave me the necessary headspace to really think about my connection with Boisé,” Josef says. “If it hadn’t been for COVID, it would’ve probably taken longer for us to get together.”
Eva (22) and Lara (20)
Eva and Lara matched on Tinder in March and and had their first date on FaceTime. “I was really nervous – I rarely video call anyone, let alone someone from Tinder,” Eva says. Eventually, they decided to meet up.
At first, since Eva works with elderly people, the pair decided to only meet up in a park, at a safe distance from each other. “I really wanted to kiss her on the first date, but that wouldn’t have been fair to my patients,” Eva says.
“When I started seeing Eva, I was still intimate with other women, so kissing would’ve been irresponsible anyway,” Laura adds. “When I texted her to say that I’d stopped seeing others, we met up and kissed for the first time.”
Raoul (24) and Ishara (23)
Raoul and Ishara were set up by a mutual friend and started chatting on Instagram in April. “From that moment on, we were in contact 24/7,” Raoul says.
For their first date they had planned to have a drink in the park, but the weather was terrible, so Ishara invited Raoul to her place for lunch. “He stayed for the entire weekend,” Ishara recalls.
The both agree that corona has been a good thing for their relationship. “Lockdown meant there wasn’t any background noise coming from other people,” Raoul says. Initially, he had planned to go to Kazakhstan for four months in April, before starting a master’s degree in Denmark. “If corona hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know Ishara.”
Imke (23) and Elisa (20)
At the start of the pandemic, Imke was living in the Netherlands and Elisa in Belgium. Elisa came across a picture of Imke on Instagram: “She looked like the woman of my dreams, so I followed her.” Imke was also immediately taken, and sent Elisa a DM. “We talked for hours on end, every day,” says Imke.
The pair desperately wanted to meet, but the border between Belgium and the Netherlands was closed. They sent each other artwork and envelopes of seeds to plant in the post.
“We were already a couple before we’d even met. We had even introduced our families to each other on video call,” Elisa says. “As soon as we were allowed to cross the border, we did.” Currently, they’re living together in Antwerp. “I still wonder how I met someone so perfect for me,” says Imke.
Sophie (17) and Natalie (17)
Sophie and Nathalie both live in New York. They met last year during a climate protest hosted by Greta Thunberg, and became friends.
Nathalie had fancied Sophie for a while, but the day she finally decided to ask her out was the day New York announced its lockdown. Sophie went into quarantine in another state.
“Nathalie finally told me how she really felt about me on FaceTime,” Sophie says. They were able to see each other again for the first time when Sophie moved back to New York in June, and by then they had already been dating for three months.
Now, they’re making the most of being able to physically see each other. “We meet up in the park, cook for each other or go to cute little bars,” says Sophie. “Despite the scary prospect of a second lockdown, I truly believe our relationship can handle anything.”
If you’ve met your soulmate during the pandemic and want to get involved in Jonnah’s project, you can get in touch via Instagram.