Locked Down: Relationships in the Age of COVID-19

By Bethany Roth 

*All names changed for anonymity *

Lockdown certainly proved to be a momentous occasion in the lives of young couples up and down the UK. While some long-term couples used the excuse of being apart for the foreseeable future to break up, serial daters fretted at the thought of being alone. Meanwhile those in new relationships were forced to choose between isolating together or leaving their partner at the other end of the country. 

Unfortunately, I fell into the new couple category. My boyfriend and I made it official only two weeks before Boris Johnson announced that the UK was entering a national lockdown on March 23rd. Within the next twelve hours, we had both moved out of our respective student flats and have remained separated ever since. 155 miles apart, maintaining our new relationship has been a unique – and difficult – experience. 

Appreciating the monotonous nature of long-distance

I’m now in a long-distance relationship without ever having expected to be in one. Facetiming over brunch, Netflix Parties and late-night calls have become the norm, with any thought of a cinema date a distant memory. We’ve spent the last four months writing letters, sending surprise gifts and counting down the days until we can see each other again. 

Dealing with the mental strain of living through a global pandemic, moving house, adjusting to remote learning and maintaining a relationship is tough. But as much as it’s been difficult, lockdown has undeniably had its benefits.  

Selfishly, it’s made me realise just how happy I am in my relationship. We’ve made an effort to video call almost every night, my boyfriend posted his hoodie to me first class when we left too suddenly for me to steal one, and we’re never late in responding to text messages. Being long distance has made us realise just how important it is to keep putting in the work. 

There’s even evidence to suggest that long-distance relationships are actually beneficial. Laura Stafford discovered in her 2000s study that long-distance partners idealise each other more, and argue less often, and remarked that they were “stuck in this honeymoon phase” – something I can certainly attest to. 

The drawbacks of virtual relationships 

However, it would be ignorant of me to disregard the many ways lockdown has damaged my relationship. It’s difficult to remember your attraction to your partner when the last time you saw them was over four months ago. You forget how it feels to hug them, where your hands go when you kiss them, or even what their face looks like behind the pixels. There are days when I’ve genuinely forgotten that I’m in a relationship, so used to the feeling of being alone and living independently.  

Not only that, but your relationship now exists solely on your phone. Although we live in the age of internet dating, online relationships are still unknown territory. Dodgy internet means relying on your ever depleting 3G and eventually succumbing to the blurry picture on the screen. Forgetting to message your partner back could result in them worrying for hours that you’re not okay, when really your phone’s died and you’re too lazy to charge it. 

Relying on virtual relationships with our partners has also been proven to decrease young people’s wellbeing. A study conducted by psychologist Melissa G. Hunt showed a link between increased social media use and rising levels of depression and loneliness – feelings that are already heightened due to the global health crisis.  

When I asked my boyfriend what his thoughts were on how we’d coped through lockdown, he – with no hesitation – said that there hadn’t been any benefits to the situation at all, and that it’d just been “annoying”. What has he missed the most? “obviously the sex”. I’ll take that as a compliment. 

Put in a less derogatory way, while dates can be at least somewhat recreated over video call, any form of physical contact is impossible when you’re long distance. Sending someone a personalised Toblerone isn’t going to do much to change that.  

Improvise, adapt, Facetime? 

Other young couples in similar positions agreed with the many hardships of maintaining their relationship while in lockdown.  

Molly and Tom, who both met at Manchester-based universities and are quarantining in separate households, have had a similar experience. With the majority of their dates involving concerts, nights out and holidays, adapting to online dates with poor internet connection was a struggle. Zoom calls quickly became “draining” when there’s nothing new happening in your lives. 

However, they agreed that being away from each other “dramatically” benefitted their communication and emotional connection, giving them space to grow independently. In missing each other, they now say that they won’t be taking the time they spend with each other for granted, and that they actually love each other more after months apart.  

Emily and Harry, another couple who met at university, are now isolating in Hull and Essex respectively. They expressed their disappointment at not being able to new memories together over summer. While they’re thankful that being apart caused them to take more of an interest in each other’s feelings, they worry about how they’ll cope with being dependent on each other again after the time alone. With graduation looming in the next year, the future of their relationship was already “up in the air”. Not being able to spend the last few months together has only increased these concerns. 

All of these accounts clearly evidence the change COVID-19 is bringing to our relationships. Mass unemployment, general anxiety and an economic crisis are all factors in the predicted ‘COVID baby bust’. A report conducted by the Brookings Institution forecasts a 7-10% drop in birth rates next year, totalling 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in the US alone. It’s no exaggeration that the increase in long-distance relationships during the pandemic could have catastrophic consequences, both personally and globally. 

Distances both great and small 

And it’s not just corona-induced long-distance relationships that have struggled throughout lockdown. Partners living just streets away were, until recently, forced to maintain two metres distance when meeting up, their dates reduced to walks in the park and driveway visits.  

Francesca and Edward, live only minutes away from each other, agreed that spending time with each other now is more special, and that their feelings have only grown stronger over time. Nonetheless, the agitation of not being physically close has caused them to take their frustrations out on each other. The lack of confidence in their relationship lasting through lockdown seems to be a common anxiety, regardless of the distance. 

So, while lockdown has tested the strength of many young couples in their relationships, it seems that all have experienced the same extreme highs and lows, whether in the same town or at different ends of the country. I see my boyfriend for the first time since March on August 3rd, and this thought absolutely thrills me. Gone will be the weeks of dodgy internet, wasting our 3G and restarting Facetime calls every few minutes. 

Your relationship might not be perfect right now, but surviving a national lockdown is an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated.  

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