What has a year in lockdown done to our love lives? Stylist spoke to 10 women daring enough to share their lockdown love stories to find out how they’ve navigated finding and keeping love in a pandemic.
In a study from relationship experts Relate, 61% of respondents said the pandemic made them realise that relationships are one of the most important things in their lives. In a world where options for dating have become extremely limited, dating app usage soared to new highs. YouGov found that a fifth of single Brits who were actively dating pre-lockdown turned to apps to continue their search.
Tinder users made three billion swipes worldwide on Sunday 29 March last year – the most the app has ever recorded in a single day. Fast forward to February 2021 and Bumble rocketed, with a new market value of over £9.5 billion. Mentions of “coronavirus” on OkCupid profiles increased over 2,200% in February this year, and around four in 10 people would cancel a date with someone who didn’t want to take the Covid-19 vaccine or socially distance.
Those numbers show that while Covid is high on everyone’s minds, there is still an unfaltering determination to not let the pandemic spell the end of their search to find love.
Despite the rise in people looking for love via apps, there is also evidence of cracks forming in relationships with one study stating that more than one in eight people who currently live with their partner are having doubts about their relationship. 23% said that the current circumstances are causing a strain on their relationship. Searches for divorce have risen since April 2020, shining a light on the extent of the struggles and strains the pandemic has caused. Basically, it’s been a tough year for love whether you’ve been single or not.
Stylist spoke to women willing to share their lockdown love stories and how they’ve navigated love in a pandemic…
“My husband’s Covid conspiracy theories nearly ended our marriage”
“5G is weakening our immune systems… it’s radiation. We’re in a deep state of manipulation… we’re guinea pigs in a mass experiment testing complicity”. My husband’s voice became white noise while I made breakfast. He’d spend hours googling theories surrounding Covid. It ended up creating daily tension, a repeated pattern of him preaching and me getting irate. There was nowhere in our flat to cool down after a row, leading me to furiously march around the block. “The death rates are totally inflated to scare us into submission,” he insisted. I cracked and stayed with a friend. We questioned whether our marriage could survive. I felt I didn’t know him anymore. We started talking about divorce in August, which felt heartbreaking. He chatted in depth about his conspiracy compulsions, revealing it stemmed from anxiety. He wanted to find reasons to explain the reality of our crazy world. Realising the extent of his anxiety made me begin to understand. It’s been a tough year, but we’re working through it – we’ve found a new strength in communication.”
*Michelle, 52, London
“I’ve never kissed, held hands or slept with my boyfriend and we’ve been together almost a year”
An old friend from school got back in contact with me via Facebook – we started chatting and never stopped. He lives in Newcastle and I’m in London, we still haven’t been able to meet up in nine months, which has been really tough for us. In January this year, we became official. I totally feel like I’ve found my person, so it doesn’t matter that we haven’t actually met up as a couple. I never expected to get a boyfriend before we’d even had a chance to date in person. It’s really difficult not being able to physically be together. The positives are that we’ve kept our independence and we make a lot of effort to keep things fresh and exciting. We have a fun list of things we want to do when things get back to normal. It feels really beautiful to form a relationship that’s based purely on connection and conversation. I think we took physical connections, such as holding hands and kissing, for granted before the pandemic. Whereas now it’s a moment I’m still looking forward to sharing with my boyfriend.
*Sophie, 24, London
“My boyfriend of nearly three years broke up with me over Facetime… then fled the country”
My boyfriend was devastated when he got made redundant. I also lost my job and went through a massive health scare. It was a horrendous time. We’d been together two and a half years and only meeting virtually added to our stress. Conflict started building a few months into the pandemic; I found new work, but he was still struggling with unemployment so work became a sensitive subject. He shut me out entirely and became defensive when I tried to address issues. We discussed moving in together, wondering if that would ease the friction, but every discussion became an argument. Out of the blue, he called and broke up with me over Facetime. I couldn’t believe it. It made lockdown even more excruciating. Only a few days after, I found out he was moving to Dubai. Had he been planning this all along? I had so many questions but when I tried to call, he was already at the airport. There was no hope. Even though I was so hurt, I’ve tried to see my new independence as a blessing. I’ve felt more empowered to love myself and used lockdown to reflect and grow.
*Yasmin, 32, Birmingham
“My Zoom date blasted me with a pre-made list of ‘interview’ questions… and then ranked me out of 10”
I was speaking to a guy on an app and he seemed charming and funny, so I suggested we do an in-app video call. That option felt safer, but he offered to send a Zoom link instead and I was happy to go with it. The subject heading read: “Jane and Sam: informal chat.”
I presumed it was a joke… until I joined. I was instantly blasted with an array of awkward interview-based questions like how many relationships have I had and why did they end, do I kiss on the first date and do I see myself having children? He seemed satisfied, nodding and repeating: “That’s very interesting Jane.” He bragged he has four Zoom dates a week and rates them out of 10, while proceeding to run through his long list of non-negotiables. It’s completely put me off virtual dating, I’m 35 and looking for a serious relationship. I feel like I’ve missed an entire year of finding ‘the one’, adding to biological clock pressures. After the date, a message appeared rating the date 8/10. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was delighted by my high score, but in the words of Simon Cowell, “It’s a no from me.”
Jane, 35, Scotland
“I’ve only met my boyfriend three times, but he’s made me believe in true love”
I met my boyfriend through Instagram. We’d followed each other for ages but it was only until Covid hit that I had enough courage to ask him on a virtual date. We really hit it off and so continued to cyber hang whilst we were still trapped in the pandemic. We tried to make virtual dating as fun as possible, ordering snacks and watching films over webcam together – we even both made and ate breakfast together over Skype, just to get a bit of normality. When we were allowed to meet up outside, we both isolated and got tested before we met up. I genuinely felt like true love is real after I met him; it felt like everything was right. As things have escalated again, we haven’t seen each other since September. I genuinely believe though, if someone really cares about you, nothing will get in the way to make it happen… not even a pandemic.
*Rachel, 26, Gloucester
“I had abusive messages sent to my phone after turning down a virtual date”
I signed up to a 10-day Christian marriage course via Zoom. It was a way for me to connect with more like-minded people – I’m ready to settle down and the course promoted “finding the right man in 10 days.” I met someone and we started texting. He was very complimentary, but after exchanging messages, I expressed to him I didn’t feel a romantic connection. A couple of days later, I received a call from a stranger who explained he was given my number by a friend who thought we’d be a good match. I was open to a WhatsApp date – who knew what could come of it? But again, he didn’t feel quite right so I politely declined a second date. The next day, I received a long string of texts from the man I was previously texting: “Don’t you think you have a problem,” it read. “You have three children already, you are at a disadvantage, swallow your pride – you are not a virgin.” I was shocked and shaken. It quickly dawned on me that the two were friends. I blocked them both. It’s definitely made me second guess virtual dating – hiding behind screens had a huge part to play. The experience has taught me a lot about my own strength to overcome such negative behaviour. I don’t think the experience should hinder me finding the right one, but I’ll definitely be more careful about giving my number out in the future.
Patricia, 33, Norwich
“The right person for me wouldn’t expect me to risk my health for love”
I matched with a girl on an app before lockdown was announced. We’d exchanged numbers but agreed to resume things post-pandemic. We followed each other on social media, she seemed outgoing which I really liked. I commented a laughing face on one of her Instagram stories – she was with her housemates and they’d set the living room up to look like a club. “Bring a bottle!” she replied. I presumed she was just joking, but as the weeks went on, I started to wonder how many of these friends she really lived with. Late one night, she messaged: “Drink at mine?” I asked her if she was aware it was a pandemic. “Sorry just thought the loneliness bubble might apply,” she replied. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more I’ve noticed an increase in people suggesting we scrap the rules in order to date. I know the right person for me wouldn’t expect me to risk my health in order to meet. I’ve really enjoyed building my confidence and setting my boundaries which I’m not sure I would have learnt without having lockdown restrictions.
*Nisha 28, Newcastle
“We clung to each other for support, terrified we’d catch Covid during my pregnancy”
After years of trying to get pregnant, I started panicking about my biological clock turning against me. We looked into IVF and our hearts sank. We are still renting and couldn’t cope financially. By March 2020, a miracle happened – I was pregnant. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops but when lockdown was announced, my excitement turned to fear. I was terrified I’d catch the virus and lose the baby; my partner became equally nervous about doing anything ‘wrong’. We’d spend our evenings googling parenthood, watching the news and obsessing with worry. Our baby was born in December, right before lockdown number three. She still hasn’t met a single family member and we’re concerned it will affect her social skills or that she’ll become anxiously attached. We started attending Zoom therapy together to share our worries. I’m so thankful to have my partner, it’s the only way I’ve coped. We’re learning to go with the flow and gradually regain our independence. We’ve learnt that whatever life throws at us we can do it, together we’ve found strength in the adversities.
*Alyssa, 39, south-east London
“My boyfriend and I moved in together because we couldn’t bear to be apart”
My boyfriend and I have been together nine years now and the majority of our relationship has been long distance. Once we went into lockdown, the reality that we wouldn’t know how long it would be until we could see each other again really hit us. In the summer, we met up at a social distance, but it felt painful to not be able to touch – we missed each other so much. We discussed moving in together – we haven’t done this before as it meant one of us would have to make a career sacrifice. By this point, we hadn’t seen each other for five months which is the longest we’ve been apart. In October, I decided to move to Oxford with him. I’m self-employed and the majority of my work is in London, but I was willing to travel the extra distance to work in order to be together. It was definitely the right decision; I was nervous about the habits I might discover he has – but there’s been no nasty surprises! We definitely feel more connected and have learnt so many new things about each other by not being long distance. I thank the pandemic as it’s given us the push we needed to move onto our next stage.
*Amber, 27, Oxford
“I thought she was having an affair, but she was actually addicted to the internet”
I bought my girlfriend of five years a Nintendo Switch for her birthday in April. She was desperate to play Animal Crossing and I knew she’d love it. She was so grateful and we had a really special day celebrating in our tiny one bed flat. I’m not into gaming at all, but she would spend hours and hours playing while Facetiming friends. As the weeks went on, I started feeling left out and jealous that I wasn’t able to get involved. By June, I was questioning whether I should buy one so I could play too. The dynamic started changing, she seemed to spend more time with her friends virtually than with me. We had a massive row. I cracked and accused her of acting weirdly, wondering if there was someone else. She was devastated that I felt this way. We’ve started being way more productive in planning things as a couple, without tech, like walks in the park. We started to relive the moments that made us fall in love with each other in the first place and it’s added a whole new strength to the relationship.
*Clare, 26, Milton Keynes
*Some names have been changed
Image: Getty / Annika McFarlane