With lockdown restrictions set to ease for the first time since December on 8 March, Stylist takes a closer look at what the planned roadmap for easing lockdown means for couples living apart – many of whom have been separated over the last 12 months.
On 17 March, it will have been five months since I last saw my boyfriend. At the beginning of the pandemic, we found ourselves living in two different places – him in London, me at my parents’ house on the south coast. At first, I didn’t think that would be too much of an issue, because we’d been together for four years and had done long distance before. It feels embarrassing to admit now, but I also assumed that things would blow over pretty quickly – that we’d spend a couple of months apart at the most.
Oh, how wrong I was. Over the last year, we’ve seen each other on two separate occasions – for a two-week period in the summer when restrictions lifted, and for a weekend in London in October. Between then, we’ve relied on a combination of texts, calls, memes and virtual dates to stay in touch.
A variety of factors including living with high-risk individuals, transport access and wanting to err on the side of caution all made meeting up between those times a challenge. And while we’ve made it work and enjoyed the last year together, I’m not going to pretend it’s always been easy being apart for so long.
Across the country, there are thousands of couples in a similar situation. Although an easing of the rules in September meant couples in “established relationships” (whatever that means) no longer had to socially distance, for the most part, the only way couples living separately have been able to meet has been through the creation of a support bubble (meaning one half of the couple has to live alone) or for a chat at two metres distance.
For those who don’t live in the same area, live in a house share or consider themselves in the “early stages” of a relationship, this has made things difficult.
So, what has life been like for couples living separately during this time? And what does the recent roadmap announcement mean for those affected?
Sophie, 23, from Shropshire, hasn’t seen her boyfriend since September. He lives alone, but the pair were unable to form a support bubble because he lives in Wales and border restrictions have made things difficult. In the past year, they’ve seen each other for less than 30 days in total.
“The best way to describe it is weird,” she tells Stylist. “If you’d told me in 2019 that by 2021, I wouldn’t have seen my boyfriend for almost a year, and that there were legal requirements which determined we had to be apart, I’d have laughed in your face, and then cried.”
However, despite her previous apprehension at being apart from her boyfriend, Sophie says the last year has been good for them. Sure, she admits, they haven’t been able to see each other as much as they’d like, but the unprecedented nature of the current circumstances has forced them to get creative.
“I think we’re very lucky in that lockdown has really brought us closer together,” she says. “We have so much more time for communication, because we know that phone calls, video calls and video-gaming dates, are all our best chances of experiencing the feeling of ‘together’ now.
“My partner has always been super chill about distance – he’s been my rock through all of my freak outs and tears over the past year. I don’t mind the distance so much anymore; I know we’re doing really well in spite of it. I’m definitely not saying I like long distance, but the thought of being apart for a few days, or weeks, or apparently months, isn’t too big of an issue any more.”
With Sophie and her boyfriend now making plans to move in together, it’s clear that the distance they’ve had to endure during the pandemic hasn’t always been bad news.
“Moving in together was always on the cards, but we’d been taking our time to ensure we were in a stable enough position to make that commitment. Has the lockdown sped things up? I’m really not sure. What it has done, though, is shown us that we can be happy together or apart – which is a pretty decent turn out to be honest!”
Grace, 23, from London, shares a similar experience. She hasn’t seen her girlfriend since early December, when she returned home to Cambridge to spend Christmas with her parents, and sometimes feels like her life is on hold because she fears restrictions could change again any moment. But despite this, she believes the adversity of the last couple of months has brought the couple closer together.
“The distance has definitely impacted our relationship – positively more than negatively I’d say,” she explains. “We’ve been more open with communication and telling each other how we’re feeling about it all. We’ve also decided that we don’t want to be apart again, so we’re moving in together later this year.”
Although Grace says she’s missed her partner a lot, she says the experience has made her realise just how special their relationship is – and she can’t wait to see her again in the future.
“It’s definitely made us stronger,” she says. “It’s made me so sure of how much I want to be with her, how lucky I am to be with someone so wonderful and I feel really excited for the future.”
What does England’s lockdown roadmap mean for couples living apart?
Although Sophie and Grace feel as if this period has had a positive impact on their relationships, this isn’t the case for everyone – and many people living apart from their partner will be anxious to know when they can see them again.
However, according to Boris Johnson’s roadmap for easing restrictions, things in England aren’t set to improve any time soon, with the first step being the allowance of outdoor meetings between two households on 29 March.
After that, couples who live separately and are unable to form a support bubble will not be able to meet inside until at least 17 May, when six people or two households can meet indoors, and overnight stays will be allowed.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the plans are a little different. There are currently no specific dates for when indoor household mixing and overnight stays will be allowed in these areas.
With the vaccine rollout well underway and a roadmap for easing restrictions beginning to emerge, there’s hope that the pandemic may finally be coming to an end. For the moment, though, it seems couples who have been lively separately throughout the pandemic may have to wait sometime until they’re able to freely see each other again.