Dating in a pandemic

When I first met my boyfriend earlier this year, I didn’t expect everything that followed to be so movie-esque. It all unfurled slowly, like the lead up to the conflict that inevitably transpires before the predictable Happily Ever After we all want, wish, and hope for. The search for a Happily Ever After sinks in from childhood, all those fairytales whispering sweet promises of love everlasting, never really looking at the reality of life, but continuing to yearn for the dreamy haze that always comes with a relationship when it first begins.

We become blinded to the darker side of life, but then it hits us like a slap of cold water, sending us crashing to the ground from the clouds amidst the fairies and daydreams, skinned knees and scared hearts. For me, there were two hits: one I knew would be an all-encompassing, terrifying ordeal with the culture clash and the second came when ‘lockdown’ began.

The pandemic brought with it the intangible fear of getting sick and losing loved ones, and its plus one was a decline in mental health—depression and anxiety fighting to be the stronger one taking control of my mind. It was a slippery slope to navigate whilst dealing with not seeing John for ages, because during the lockdown, he’d gone to stay at his sisters’, over an hour away, to help her. This long-distance, even without a pandemic, would’ve been hard, but as it was, we weren’t allowed to see each other anyway.

I’m sure we all remember Boris Johnson saying “If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no,” since it became a meme pretty much a few minutes after the broadcast. With the imminent fears as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, and my father being high-risk, it was harder to focus on any positives; I couldn’t see any silver linings, and not being able to be with John during this time was heavy. Any relationship is hard, especially when you’re not able to see each other. But for one so new and in the early stages, it was terrifying to think of what would happen and whether we could get through it.

I found it comforting to talk on the phone, gaze at pictures and to Skype whilst watching movies or play games together online, but for him, it only made the distance more difficult. It became an issue of finding the right balance, where neither of us would have to struggle because what helped me didn’t help him. We made the decision to talk once a day, once the sun had set and we’d crawled our way into bed at night, watching films like Scott Pilgrim Vs the World or Moana. During the day, we’d play games but not talk—there was still that comfort of knowing, even without being in the same physical space, we were still together.

But I wanted to have him with me, to be able to see his smile in person, to hug him, to lean into him when talking or watching whatever show we were into at the time. This feeling and want bombarded every rationale, swept through my mind when darkness crossed the horizon and the sun dipped into the earth, headlights from cars dancing in through the parting of my curtains. I would lie awake at night, longing for the sweet bliss of sleep, but trapped in the anxiety and worries of an unknown future and whether we would come out stronger, wishing away the moments just so I could be with him again.

It was weird to be so shaken by a plague gripping the lives and minds of so many, affecting us in ways we never saw coming.

Prior to the pandemic, I’d say most relationships were built on convenience and the ability to see each other on a daily. This all, obviously, changed with the virus, lockdown and the need to prioritise the health of yourself and loved ones. Like all things, this new distance and adversity required finding new ways to ensure the relationship had depth and meaning.

Connections and relationships, in all aspects, are forever changing, even more so by the pandemic and the laws in place because of it. Looking back on how the majority of our relationship took place during the lockdown, John said “it actually wasn’t that difficult—was a bit long briefly due to the restrictions but otherwise, it was alright. If anything, it made us stronger.”

Reporter, Ashley Fetters, writes a lot of romantic partners came out of quarantine with a newfound sense of clarity about the future of the relationship and themselves as people. The pandemic brought with it the urgency of important conversations, which I can attest to, about the goals of the relationship and where we want it to go.

Stella Jacobs, 23, said “our whole relationship prior to lockdown was very activity-oriented. My partner is a very sociable person whereas I’m a bit more introverted so I’ve coped with lockdown better than he has.” She and her partner have been together for two and a half years. Stella’s partner, 27, enjoyed social activities such as badminton and football, which were no longer viable. This, with the addition of no longer being able to go out or travel as a couple, resulted in the decline of his mental health for most of lockdown, which had a knock-on effect on the couples’ sex life and relationship. “As if that wasn’t bad enough,” Stella goes on to say, “my partner lost two grandparents during lockdown (one Covid-19 related, one not). That was obviously difficult for him, on top of everything else.”

Stella and her partner were living and working together in the same space, in a small one bed flat, in survival mode. There was a lack of interaction, not even arguing, just doing completely different activities. In recent weeks, they have had some productive and honest chats about how bad things hadgotten and are actively trying to repair the relationship. But the pandemic has definitely highlighted the differences between the couple, resulting in them trying to figure out whether there was enough there for them to make it in the long run. Post lockdown, their relationship has definitely improved, with Stella’s partner visibly happier now that he can do things like sports again. However, the issues that arose during the lockdown and the ongoing pandemic haven’t disappeared; it’s a slow process to work on rebuilding their relationship and working on being together. “As the government imposes more and more restrictions, I do wonder whether we will cope if there is another full blown lockdown,” Stella said, after revealing that she and her partner are talking and having the right conversations about sometimes difficult topics.

Engaging in solitary, independent activities, whilst living together, are needed for space and to strengthen any relationship. Of course, this can lead to finding out about the differences, or similarities, between you, which can be a refreshing change. For couples like Eliza Lita, 22, and her partner, 22, the pandemic was a positive adjustment.

Eliza has been with her partner for over 3 years and they lived together during lockdown. “Because we isolated together, paradoxically, lockdown made us both more independent. We were always around each other, which became monotonous quite quickly and the usual things we loved to do together, like playing board games or cooking, became less and less exciting,” she said.

Developing a nice dynamic was key for their relationship during this time, which involved the two of them doing their own thing separately, each in a different room, and then coming together to enjoy their meals and maybe spend some time with each other in the evenings. Even after lockdown, this has stuck—independence in their activities.

“I feel like it drew us closer. Being in a long term relationship can make things tedious the more time you spend with your partner, so we found it refreshing to make a change,” Eliza said.

Kate Downey, 21, entered a new relationship during lockdown with her girlfriend, 22. To keep the relationship going, they FaceTimed every day, as well as scheduling Zoom dates. “We were forced to get to know each other a lot more because it didn’t just jump straight to physical. It’s definitely different in terms of my other previous relationships because for once life had come to a halt, so we had ample time to actually ask any questions we had and get to know one another before jumping into anything which tended to happen before lockdown,” Kate said.

Her new relationship was unintentionally long-distance, given that she was in Spain whereas her partner was in the UK. Due to the travel restrictions, Kate was unable to come back a few times, like she wanted, which was difficult to deal with for both of them. I found being over an hour away from my boyfriend to be difficult, so I can’t even imagine how hard it was for Kate and her girlfriend being in two different countries.

To cope with the distance, they completed activities like quizzes on their Zoom dates, and watched a lot of Netflix movies, adding a lot more depth to the relationship. Not being in the same physical space, and having to get to know one another, without the levels of certain expectations or anticipation of a physical level of intimacy, brings more meaning into relationships. It has allowed Kate and her girlfriend to peel back all the layers and truly get to know one another, on a more personal, connected level.

When Kate came back to the UK last Friday, she said she saw a huge difference in terms of their stress levels. “I feel happier and like there’s a bit more structure and normality in our relationship compared to over the past few months,” she said.

Surviving the pandemic and long-distance was earth-shatteringly relieving, as well as being a tough journey to overcome for a lot of couples. It took effort and communication for John and I, to make sure we were on the same page. To keep a relationship alive, it takes listening, talking and understanding, seeing things from the others perspective, and patience, as well as setting (much needed) boundaries.

We rose above the distance and it’s crazy realising that majority of our relationship was, and still is, during a global pandemic and a lockdown.

Published by Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed is a Muslim student, poet and freelance features journalist, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light.

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