It started with the support bubble. On 13th June, people in England who lived alone and were not shielding were given permission to join another household. Those inside the bubble were permitted to hug, kiss and even fuck. They could lick the cupboard handles or drop a load in the toilet and not even need to reach for the Dettol wipes. It was a move to end the loneliness that had struck Britain after months of lockdown. Many people – including myself – wound up feeling lonelier than ever.
For those of us who live in houses of multiple occupancy (in my case: a hostel-sized warehouse), how would you even begin to have a conversation with your housemates about which single bubble buddy you'd add? The person who hasn't seen their girlfriend in months? The guy whose best mate has been alone for weeks on end? Or would you make your own rules, adding both, with the other housemates left to silently judge?
Most headlines at the time ran with the "single" tagline, as if the age of the video date was over. “Single people can stay the night with loved ones, PM says," said the BBC. "Love is back: support bubbles mean our three-month sex drought is over," declared the Times. Metro wrote: "Boris lifts sex ban (sort of) as he lets single adult houses meet up."
But it's not like every single person in London has a majestic, fictional fuck buddy who lives alone that they could finally throw themselves at. The fine print that “single adult houses” meant houses comprising of one single adult, rather than houses containing people with no monogamous attachments, was clearly glossed over by people like [redacted], a lockdown pen pal who immediately texted me that day to say: “Single people are allowed hugs now!” I did not reply.
I should have taken this as a warning sign of things to come. On 4th July, our pubs, cinemas, theme parks and hairdressers will reopen. Also reopening: people’s homes. The rule is, you can blend two households, so long as they are the only two households coming together.
Like absolute fuck is that going to happen. Already, my Instagram Stories are full of mate-on-mate mask-less action. On one end of the spectrum, people are having park drinks with extremely lax interpretations of the one-meter social distancing rule. At the other end, people are filming themselves leaving illegal raves. In the vast middle ground are mates who are already going to parties at other mates’ houses, and the guy who texted me on Sunday to ask if I fancied going for a drink and making out in the park. I politely declined.
FOMO mixed with anger does not make a happy blend. Now I feel like a mug, a stick in the mud, a loser and a sheep, because I know my OCD and anxiety would never forgive me if I was inadvertently responsible for someone’s death by sacking off lockdown early.
And I know this because I have not been a perfect lockdown-er. After we were permitted to spend time outside with friends, provided they stayed two meters away, I met a mate, got drunk and gave him a hug, then lay next to him on a rug for the afternoon. I spent the next 48 hours in one of the worst anxiety spirals I’ve ever experienced, wracked by guilt and impending doom.
If I say no to every offer of sex before it is legally permitted, am I essentially cucking myself out of the second summer of love, to sit at the sidelines waiting for COVID-19 to disappear while everyone else gets into gooey, illicit relationships? If a friend asks me over for a birthday party that eventually migrates inside as it gets cold or rainy, is that my cue to leave while everyone else just says “fuck it”?
I feel like the protagonist of a high school anti-drug propaganda film – I should just say no. But taking drugs is a personal choice. Fucking off lockdown is about the invisible chain reaction of consequences that can lead back to you, and your mistakes.
People with medical anxieties like myself are often obsessed with their sexual health. For me, this isn't because of fears for my own health – nihilism is easy. It’s the fear I could have an invisible infection that I may have passed to an innocent player in my recklessness, even if I use protection. So much danger centres around the fear that one day, that text will be sent to your ex that you’ve tested positive for something, and now they need to be tested too. The COVID-19 test and trace system, though absolutely necessary, terrifies me for the same reason. If I tested positive for coronavirus, how many close contacts would I have to reel off to the healthcare workers?
Which is all to say; surely this is too soon. With one UK city already back in lockdown after only a few weeks of lockdown easing, and 36 local authorities potentially going the same way, it’s hard to see how England can claim any sense of control over our numbers. We see our friends hugging and hanging out in Italy, Spain, Denmark, and think we’re just a few weeks behind them. But no one wants to admit that it took weeks of total isolation in those places to get their numbers so low. As it stands, if the air corridors get opened up on July 4th to allow quarantine-free travel between certain countries, it will be more permissible for me to fly to Rome than go to my friend’s for a dinner party. Which is tempting – because at least at the Colosseum I can keep my mask on.