Ella Risbridger wasn't expecting to find love again, until she met a new partner on a dating app during Covid, and a year of miracles began.
Relationships

“I didn’t expect to find love again – then, during Covid, a year of miracles began”

– 

I had not expected to fall in love at the end of the world.

It was March 2020. Actually, I had sort of been expecting the end of the world – I’m a catastrophist by nature, and I’d filled up the freezer at the first dire mention of this strange virus in China – so it was the other thing that came as the real shock. 

I had not expected to fall in love for two reasons: first, I didn’t think that people actually fell in love on dating apps (or at least not people like me. I felt a million years old when I thought about dating apps). Dating apps didn’t feel like magic to me, and I wanted magic. They felt like admin: admin plus a beauty contest, with a side-order of unsolicited pictures of penises

The second reason was because the person I loved was dead. It had been magic, me and him, almost all the way through. Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he had managed to make miracles happen all the time. You don’t expect to get a second chance at something like that, and especially not when you’re locked inside your house and it’s illegal to go anywhere.

I was only on the dating app because my best friend had made me a profile, and I had only activated the profile because the world was ending. I thought it was a pretty safe bet that anyone I talked to I wouldn’t actually have to meet in real life. I had been carrying it around on my phone like an unexploded bomb for three weeks, occasionally activating the profile – 5’7”, bisexual, non-smoker – and then deactivating it 30 seconds later.

The thing was, I had been sort of hoping for a miracle that would sort out the whole conundrum of my romantic life. I really didn’t want to never kiss anyone again, but I didn’t want to try and make someone kiss me. That felt like a betrayal of everything that had happened before. Also, and this was even worse, I was scared. I was scared that I was too obviously damaged – and not in a ‘cool’ way. I was scared that being a tragic not-quite-a-widow was an awful lot for somebody to get on board with; that in every way I was going to be too much, yet also somehow not enough. 

I was scared that I was going to fail at the dating app; that if I tried, everyone would know I had tried, and that would in some weird way be humiliating. I think a lot of people feel like this about dating: if you don’t try, you can’t fail, right?

But back in 2020, it seemed like the world was ending and no miracle was coming, so that was why, when it came to it, I opened up the app when everything else was shutting down. It seemed like a pretty safe time to fail, and I wasn’t sure what I had to lose. 

And it was magic. Not in spite of, but because of the trying.

It turned out that the month the world was ending was a very good time to have a go on a dating app. Everyone – everyone! – was having to put in more effort than usual, having to be more funny and charming. Everyone was a little scared or unsettled by the way the world was. Everyone was vulnerable, everyone was trying. And so was I. I talked to an artist who made films about mermaids, and a PhD student from Brazil who was an expert in the vocal pitches of owls. I talked to several very boring men about the weather, then to a nice man from the Fens about MSN Messenger, and to a woman with a pixie cut who had a lot to say about iced lattes. I was funny and charming too. For the people who wanted to talk to me, I was neither ‘too much’ nor ‘not enough’, and everyone else just swiped the other way.

This was the thing I hadn’t twigged about dating apps: the magic was in the fact that you couldn’t talk to anyone if you weren’t both interested in talking. You couldn’t try with someone who wasn’t trying with you. It was magic. A new kind of magic, for sure. It was a magic that needed to be made; nothing “just happened”, which tallied with my experience of miracles in general. I had known that most good things happen because someone tries just a little bit harder than they have to. I had known all along – since the hospital days – that miracles aren’t born but made. 

People make miracles. In some ways, people are miracles. That people do anything at all, when people are so easily scared, and there’s so many ways to fail – that’s the miracle, right there.

Although it seemed as though the world was ending, people were doing their best to stop it every day. Vaccine scientists and keyworkers and everyone just staying home and wearing masks and doing their best to make stuff slightly less horrible. That’s the thing about terrible things: against all the darkness, the good stuff really, really shines.

After a bit, the nice man from the Fens asked for my number, and I gave it to him. When the world didn’t end after all, we got a cat together.

And, like most cats, the cat is magic all on his own.

The Year of Miracles: Recipes About Love + Grief + Growing Things by Ella Risbridger, Bloomsbury, £22 

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