Relationships are hard. That's an old adage that's become only more accurate during lockdown. For at least two months now, many couples around the world have been confined to their homes every single day. It's an unprecedented sociological experiment, with outcomes that are only beginning to emerge. It seems divorce rates in China spiked in March, although most articles cite just this one report. Meanwhile in the UK, The Telegraph found that divorce rates were down "contrary to popular belief."
To get a small taste of how couples are actually feeling, I contacted a few friends. These are young-ish people from around Australia, and all live in major cities. I asked them about their competing needs for closeness and privacy, and how their relationships have changed after two months of living in each other's pockets.
Thom, 37, and Eve, 22
VICE: Hi guys. Do you live together?
Thom: We do now! We both lost our jobs and then moved in together. It’s our first time being a couple in a place of our own without housemates.
How have you found living together during lockdown?
It has killed an element of romance, because a huge part of dating is being able to go on dates. We’re going to start having date nights in the house, where we dress up and have a nice dinner or something. We don’t want to end up treating each other more as housemates than lovers. It’s a strange feeling to have to maintain your relationship the whole time you’re awake every day.
What’s been the biggest hurdle for you with all the changes?
Our biggest hurdle is Eve’s disability and compromised immunity. She has Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, so she has whole days where she can’t move or interact on a personal or physical level, which sometimes creates even further isolation for me. But honestly, lockdown is generally a huge weight of social anxiety lifted off my shoulders. You mean I don’t have to go into crowded places? Fucking amazing.
Has there been a lot of learning to do in such a short space of time?
Yeah. My dad calls it a baptism of fire; he thinks if we can make it through the early stages of a relationship being cooped up together like this, we’ll be fine. But it is hard. It’s a huge amount of personal stress for both of us. We can’t go a single day without having a difficult moment that needs dealing with. If you don’t communicate how you feel and work on it together, you are more likely to murder each other over who’s turn it is to do the dishes or some bullshit right?
Has the lockdown inspired any new activities for you to do together?
We’re delving into exploring our cultural differences a lot. I’m a white country boy and she’s an Israeli Jew. I had my first Passover over Zoom and I’ve decided to keep my foreskin. Eve's background is Sephardi so her family are very involved in her life. Her grandmother lives two doors down and her mother and aunt live in the neighbourhood. So I’m basically Deborah from Everybody Loves Raymond…
Mitch, 26, and Katy, 25
Hey guys, has lockdown changed anything about your relationship?
Mitch: Katy has made an effort to be more tidy and clean because she knows I hate it when she leaves shit around.
Katy: Mitch has been wanting us to spend more quality time together. Like, usually he would come home and go straight to the PlayStation, but he’s been suggesting watching films together! Basically: more gins and movies, less video games.
How has COVID-19 affected your work lives?
Mitch: We both work in hospitals, so we’ve been working four days a week. Katy works as a radiographer and I work as a nuclear medicine technologist. We have direct contact with COVID positive patients, so it’s super important that we isolate properly in case we’ve picked up anything unknowingly.
Has being around COVID first-hand had an impact on your personal lives?
Katy: There is a bit of responsibility and stress that comes with living as though you could be virus-positive at any time. We haven’t really been overwhelmed with the news or social media side of things, because we’re receiving the most up-to-date info on the frontline. It gives us the benefit of not being irrationally worried or doing crazy shit to avoid it, like hoarding toilet paper and pasta.
Does the day to day as a couple feel different at all?
Mitch: Not really, because we’re both still working a lot. Like normally there’d be a lot more socialising but everyone’s going through it and it’s actually been really nice to slow down.
Christian, 29, and Ben, 29
Have the lockdown living conditions been tough for you?
Ben: Different, but not tough. They must be super restricting for so many people, but they’re actually really liberating for us. They’ve improved the quality and quantity of time we can spend together. It feels freeing.
There’s no such thing as too much time together for you guys?
Apparently not! When we met, we became amazing friends as well as lovers and even though our bond developed into a romantic relationship, we’re still best friends too. So far, we haven’t run out of ways to entertain ourselves. We turn into kids when we’re at home in our own space and run amok—it’s difficult to imagine things ever being boring.
What do you do to keep busy?
Today we created a training circuit in the backyard and have been following a fitness program. We’ve been drinking heaps of wine too (obviously) and having some conversations about our future. It’s nice to have the time to really talk about shit. We’ve also been cooking heaps more than we ever have before.
What have the “future conversations” been about?
We’ve been talking about short and long-term goals in terms of self-improvement and things we want to achieve together. We really want to invest in an old property that we can renovate ourselves; we’re both keen to get back into studying, like furthering our careers or branching out into something new; and we’ve also been discussing starting a family. Just small stuff.
Has anything changed about your everyday lives?
Our moods have been a lot more stable. Before the pandemic hit, we were both super busy with work and other life things, and we were finding our moods were clashing pretty frequently. Now we’re so much more in sync with each other. I also think it’s just given us more time to like, enjoy each other. Life can get crazy busy sometimes and things get in the way of you appreciating the people that you love, and those who love you.
Have you been finding more time for intimacy?
We’re pretty good at finding time for intimacy. We’ve always had lots of sex, but we’ve definitely found ourselves becoming more explorative with the lack of time pressure—which is always fun.
Josh, 29, and Jess, 28
Has lockdown changed anything significant in your relationship?
Josh: Well I just did the supermarket shop using my partner’s card, which is definitely different. We usually share the load completely but I lost my job, so Jess is the only one working. I’m relying on her much more financially, and there is basically no personal spending, which feels super different.
What would you usually be spending money on?
Usually on drinks and food. We’re trying to combat our need to go out by cooking and mixing drinks a lot at home. I think another big thing that’s getting to me is the social isolation from friends… it’s what I enjoy about going out.
Has not socialising with friends changed your at-home dynamic?
Yeah definitely. It’s forced me into things I wouldn’t normally do: old hobbies, backyard garden projects... stuff like that. I’m also drinking much less. It’s changed our relationship dynamic because we’re spending a lot more time together again and working back towards what we liked about each other at the beginning of our relationship. I think our relationship really needed this kind of attention, because the appreciation for each other was lacking a bit. We’ve been together for five years, living together almost four, so things can become a bit monotonous.
Are you also being reminded of what you don’t like about each other?
Yes! I don’t like how hyper-critical she can be—quite condescending at times—and she’s very OCD about a lot of things I’m not. When I get annoyed with her, I either go do something in the garden or go for a walk, which she doesn’t like. I think most of what she doesn’t like about me though is who I am when I drink.
Who are you when you drink?
I change a lot. She barely drinks so there’s always a stark contrast there. Jess says I turn into an unreasonable asshole, which honestly sounds accurate.
Do you feel like being stuck at home together during such a weird stressful time has been positive or negative for you as a couple?
Both, I think. I often feel very strongly about us and then other times I feel the need to be distanced. I think we’re in a weird spot in our relationship regardless of the pandemic. As we both near 30, we’re sort of closing in on the whole marriage-and-kids thing. I feel like the pressure of our future affects both of us, and being so physically close right now is accelerating those feelings. Jess is less vocal about her feelings, but I really want us to be communicative of what we want from this relationship and our future.
Do you see yourself instigating more conversations about it?
I think that probably depends on how long we stay in lockdown (laughs).
Interviews by Laura Roscioli. Follow her on Instagram