On a grim and rainy night in February 2020, I was running late for a first date. I shared my location with him so he could see I really was in an Uber and not standing him up. He sent me a photo of a beer and glass of red wine along with a thumbs up emoji. I made it to the bar, apologised for my lateness and then fell head over heels for him.
It turns out he felt the same way. After a first date that lasted a whole weekend, we spent as much time together as we could. At this point, the pandemic seemed like a far-away concern, and, like most new couples, we felt untouchable. Nothing could tear us apart, especially after a week self-isolating together in early March due to sharing flu-like symptoms. Then came lockdown.
Suddenly, we were both living alone, in different towns, and unable to travel. After two weeks of spending hours every day on Zoom, Netflix Party and WhatsApp (I think we hit the four-hour mark in a phone call at least twice), he moved into my flat and left his house temporarily vacant.
As we approach our first anniversary, there’s no denying we’ve moved fast: I’m selling my flat and have moved into his (now our) house permanently. But with our usual lifestyle massively curtailed by restrictions, will our relationship be so seamless when we can go back to normal life?
I know I’m not the only one who is worried about what their warp-speed relationship will look like when lockdown ends. Anna, 22, began a relationship in February 2020 with a fellow university student, but moved back to her parents’ in March. One year on, she’s feeling insecure about defining the relationship.
“We haven't had a conversation about whether we are 'together' or 'official' or 'exclusive'. We are by necessity, but whether we would be after? I guess that might have evolved naturally in another situation where we could have dated others and chosen each other, but it feels like we've become exclusive by default rather than an active choice. I'm not sure if he'd really like to be with me. I know I could ask, but if it was a no it would end something that's getting me through lockdown!”
In contrast, Alma, 30, is feeling excited for lockdown to end so she can finally go on proper dates with her new partner. “We initially met on Tinder three years ago but ended up breaking up after about six months. Then we reconnected in August and never looked back! We’ve moved in together and try to do as many lockdown legal dates as possible. After lockdown, I think our relationship will change for the better because there will be more activities for us to do together, and we’ll also be less on top of each other because we’ll be going out to work.”
Rose, 33, met her partner during the first lockdown, and chose to become each other’s support bubble. When lockdown ends, she hopes to gain some of the early relationship experiences she’s missed out on.
“We're so lucky because we both live alone, so haven't had to move in together. Through lockdown two and three we've incrementally spent more time together. In many ways, we have accelerated our relationship massively. I think the biggest thing will be the fact we can do some of the things we've missed out on in early relationship experiences. We managed a few meals out in between lockdowns, a gallery visit and the cinema once or twice, as well as seeing friends a little, but it'd be nice to go to the pub with his pals or vice versa. I'm really looking forward to meeting some of his family members who live abroad. I think that lockdown has given us so much time and space to build a really solid foundation.”
I spoke to Dr Jacqui Gabb, Chief Relationships Officer at the relationship app Paired and an Open University professor of sociology and intimacy, about why many relationships have moved quickly in lockdown, and what we can expect to change when the world returns to relative normality.
“Lockdown has altered the rhythms and routines that ordinarily structure our lives and the yardsticks by which we measure ourselves,” she says. “We have shifted our perspectives on what ‘normal’ may be and how we might ordinarily behave when starting out in a relationship. If there’s a possibility that a relationship may work, then with lockdown restrictions in place, if you want to move beyond a social-distanced walk in the park, then ‘bubbling’ with a partner can feel like the obvious course of action.”
“When regular routines start back up, the suspended animation of our relationships will need to adjust – and quickly. It may be that you’ve got on wonderfully over the box sets and enjoyed domestic bliss, but whether a relationship will thrive when the commute to work returns alongside socializing with our friends and family remains to be seen.”
“Couples need to be prepared to compromise. Emerging from lockdown may pose many personal challenges as well as those experienced by the couple so try and be flexible and listen to how your partner is feeling. Make plans that are realistic. If partners fill up the calendar with dream dates and flights of fancy then there’s likely to be bitter disappointment. Cherish the time spent together - challenges and all.”
Any huge shift in our lives can impact a relationship, but the measure of a good partnership isn’t only how you weather the storm, but how you co-exist during the calm. There’s no doubt in my mind that the end of lockdown will result in a seismic shift for everyone who has entered a serious relationship in 2020, myself included. Not all relationships will survive when we’re each others’ only choice of company, but I will admit to being optimistic about my own. After all, if we can get through 12 months of living and working together in a small space, our relationship will only improve when we can actually get away from each other for a while.
Personally, I can’t wait for him to be able to go out to a gig with his friends, listen to music I can’t stand and have the time of his life. Meanwhile, I’ll get a night-in alone. I’m planning on a takeaway, a full packet of chocolate cookies and the kind of movie he’d absolutely hate. I’m coming for you, Netflix rom coms.