We’ve all got the stories. The housemate who moved in with her Hinge date when quarantine was announced; the friends breaking up after 12 weeks of fighting; the colleague who’s been living with his partner’s parents for longer than he bargained for.
Lockdown’s set of rules and conundrums has put every relationship to the test, and three months on, the findings of this strange social experiment are in (and hardly surprising): jewellers say engagement ring sales have rocketed; divorce lawyers report their phones ringing off the hook; and singles are jumping at the chance of bubbling up with a virtual fling — nearly a third of Badoo users planned a date the week after support bubbles were announced (don’t tell mum and dad).
From the couple living together through a break-up to the medics who married over Zoom, it’s been sink or swim for couples. Here are their stories.
“We moved in after date two”
Nic Powell, 29, and Emma Johnson, 30. Project manager and event manager, Clapham
We matched on Bumble in March and were halfway through a homecooked dinner on date two when lockdown was annouced, which is when the 10-week-long second date began. Isolating together has certainly sped up the dating game for us and has been a great way to get to know each other – although friends thought we were crazy, we agreed early on that it would be sink or swim for us and thankfully we are swimming. Since moving in we’ve celebrated Emma’s 30th Birthday, had several candlelit dinners in the lounge, been on our first summer holiday (to the garden) and made our first house purchase – an oversized paddling pool. The only heated discussion has been who takes the bins out (Nic). We’ve met each other’s parents over Zoom and have even listed one of our properties for rent so we can move in together permanently. We’ve both found the love of our life.
‘We chose each other as support bubble before we even met’
Zizi, 24, and Magnus, 24. Analyst and graphic designer, Angel and Richmond.
We started talking on the Badoo app in March and have spoken every day through lockdown. We started off video calling on Badoo, then moved to WhatsApp. We’d end up speaking for hours and got to know each other’s mannerisms and voices. As soon as the support bubble announcement was made, we jumped at the opportunity. We did feel a little guilty for picking each other over our friends and family, but we live close to them, whereas living at opposite ends of London isn’t as easy. After speaking for three months, seeing each other in the flesh was definitely something we needed, and an important next step in our relationship. Meeting for the first time was amazing — better than we thought it would be. We had a picnic, then spent the night at Zizi’s flat … Magnus left at 4pm the next day.
‘We streamed our wedding on Zoom’
Jan Tipping, 34 and Annalan Navaratnam, 30. Ambulatory emergency nurse and acute medical registrar, Tulse Hill.
We’d planned to marry in August in London, but decided to cancel due to fears over our families being able to travel there safely from Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka. Rather than postpone, we wanted to have the ceremony while everyone was still healthy, even if it meant our loved ones having to watch us on a screen. The chaplaincy team at St Thomas’ hospital worked hard to get permission for us to be married, which we appreciated greatly at a time when so much was going on. A date was set within two weeks, and we hadn’t bought a dress or rings, so it was a rush. It was nice being just us, it felt very intimate. One of our two witnesses livestreamed the service so our friends and family could watch, then we hosted a virtual drinks reception, including a first dance and speeches. We sent guests champagne for the reception so they could join in too. It did feel surreal getting married where we work, but St Thomas’ is such a special place to us both. Now there’s an extra reason why it’s so important to us.
‘We broke up before lockdown but we’re still living together’
Ciara McAuley, 33. Account manager, Hackney*
My ex-boyfriend and I broke up on Valentine’s Day in February after 13 years together. We stayed living together while he decorated the room at his mum’s house, but when lockdown hit, it wasn’t finished. I suggested that he stay living here as his mum is in the at-risk category and he was still having to use public transport to go to work. It’s been mostly great — we have off-days, but you would in a relationship. I’m currently on furlough so I’m driving him to work every day and I cook dinner in the evenings. We often watch a programme together, then we normally spend the rest of the evening apart. I’m constantly being asked when we’re going to start living separately, but the world is almost on pause at the moment, so who cares if we are too? He’s still my best friend and he’s made me happy during this crazy time. It’s going to be hard enough when we’re apart, so I’m glad I won’t have the addition of being in total lockdown on top of it, but it does feel like we’re in a false bubble of feeling like the break-up hasn’t happened. I don’t think either of us has started the process of getting over each other.
“He proposed in our living room – he couldn’t wait”
Frédérique Etter, 29 and Charlie Mundy, 30. Fashion communications manager and insurance broker. Parsons Green
Our holiday to Switzerland in March was cancelled because of lockdown. When that weekend came, I was really grumpy and didn’t want to get out of bed so Charlie had to coax me outside by saying that it was a lovely Spring day and that we should take a walk in the park. We had a lovely walk talking about our future and when we came home, he got on one knee in the middle of our living room. I’d have loved the proposal anywhere in the world but what I love even more is that he couldn’t wait any longer to ask me to be his wife. We kept it to ourselves for a whole day before telling our friends and families over Skype, which felt very special. Since most of them live overseas, there would have been a lot of online celebrations anyway so we weren’t too disappointed. We’ve been showered with calls, cards and presents – it’s been very touching to see how happy people have been for us even during these uncertain and difficult times. We’ve fallen in love with a venue in France on Instagram and booked it without visiting. We look forward to getting married in August 2021.
‘We broke up two weeks into lockdown’
Amy*, 24. Recruitment consultant, Tooting.
When your relationship is in lockdown, it becomes very apparent when there are issues. I was with him for two years but I hadn’t been happy in my relationship before lockdown. We’d started looking at buying a property together, but there was something in my head that made me feel nervous. We ended up breaking up two weeks into lockdown — we had very different opinions on how seriously to take the restrictions. He kept saying: “Why can’t you come and see me?” but I suffer from underlying health conditions so knew it wasn’t worth the risk. He took it personally and has always had a problem with speaking on the phone, which was our only option. I decided to call it a day, but he wouldn’t answer the phone, so I had to do it over text. I was angry that he made me be that person, but in the end it was an easy decision. There are so many other pressures at the moment that I didn’t need a toxic relationship on top. The biggest challenge was the start, because I couldn’t meet friends, but it made it easier knowing I wasn’t going to bump into him and no one’s going out and having fun.
“We’ve been rehearsing for lockdown for six months”
Rob Vassie, 27, and Charlotte Bevan, 26, teacher and admin leader. Mile End and Bangkok
Rob moved to Bangkok six months ago so we’ve basically been in training for isolation. Our relationship is totally dependent on Wi-Fi. We speak daily and have a weekly date night which we take turns to plan, such as cooking together with a soundtrack. One night, Charlotte had Rob’s favourite ice cream cake delivered to the house, but he turned the driver away because he hadn’t ordered anything. Charlotte was meant to be moving out to join Rob in Thailand next month but the flight was cancelled. It’s sad to think we might not see each other for a year, but the lockdown period has been a chance to learn more about each other than ever. We spend a lot of time thinking about what we’d be doing if we were spending lockdown together, and we’re distracting ourselves by planning our future.
“Cocktail hour has saved us”
Nick Ede, 46, and Andrew Naylor, 30, owner of East of Eden PR and communications director. Shoreditch.
There’s a point in the day, usually around 5pm, when we invariably look into each other’s eyes, then at our drinks trolley and shrug knowingly with a wry smile. We’ve found that cocktail hour really is the most important part of the day. It makes our cooking taste like we’re out for a date night and it’s a useful tool for buffering petty arguments which have blossomed during the day. At the weekend, we turn our living room into Hotel Lockdown: we make up the sofa bed and have a staycation at home. The only problem is there is no room service and you have to make up your own room.
“We’ve learnt we don’t need much to have a good time together”
Oli Bradley, 32, and Katie Shaw, 29, PR consultant and freelance stylist. Hackney.
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster: we go from hysterically crying every Thursday during the NHS clap to laughing uncontrollably at the smallest things. We’ve taken to being each other’s shadows: if one of us goes to get a drink, the other follows, and when we tried to have a date day where we each planned a surprise activity, we ended up booking exactly the same virtual life-drawing class. We’ve fallen victim to pretty much every quarantine craze going, from baking banana bread to Zoom quizzes and it’s become abundantly clear that Oli does the bulk of the washing up, he’s definitely the better quizzer and that our neighbours are really quite brilliant. Most importantly, we’ve learnt that even after nine years together, we really don’t need much to have a good time.
“We bicker over the smallest things but always make up”
Eian Crockatt, 33, and Dan Cooke, 32, fitness and dance instructors. North Finchley.
We live in a one-bed flat which has thrown up a few challenges. Eian is constantly hangry and needs feeding every hour, whilst Dan struggles with not having his own space. We’ll be perfectly happy one moment, then suddenly bickering over the smallest thing the next. Everything right now is heightened – it’s like living in your own Big Brother house – but the important thing for us is to never go to bed without having kissed and made up (or made each other laugh hysterically impersonating Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek). Teaching online classes every day helps keep us positive. We love cooking, so having a date night once a week, getting dressed up and having an excuse not to wear joggers feels really nice.
“We’re both key workers so have to be extra supportive”
Sienna Marie Bommen, 25, and Aquira Bailey-Browne, 29, healthcare worker and TV engineer. North London.
We’ve spent lockdown living together in north London. We’re both key workers, so life has changed but it’s not completely different. We quickly agreed we needed to be extra understanding and supportive of each other during this challenging time. We are now able to enjoy more time together and reflect on how we want to spend our time, both in and out of lockdown. Do we want to spend all day watching TV-shows? Not really! We still do that on some days, but on other days we’re trying to exercise, read and learn new skills. Aquira has learned to play the guitar. We’ve also snuck out of our back window and tried to make a little balcony on the neighbours roof.
“We live and work together so it’s date night every night”
Phoebe, 30, and Ollie Thirlwell-Pearce, 30, founders of FOGA, a range of instant plantbased smoothies. Shoreditch.
Since launching FOGA, we’ve spent virtually every hour of every day together, but lockdown has brought a whole new set of challenges: hiring new people over Zoom; managing a team from a distance; business uncertainty. We’re leaning on each other more than ever, which is tiring, but this crisis has also brought to light how resilient we both are and how differently that manifests in each of us. Date night has completely gone out of the window but we’re focusing on making sure we have enough space for ourselves. We go for an hour’s walk with our dog every day and are cooking lots of nutritious meals with a glass of wine, so maybe every night is date night after all.
“We send each other care packages”
Olivia Hamilton, 23, and Alex Wall, 25, health and fitness PR and accountant. Elstree and Stanmore.
We’re used to being together most of the time, so being separated has been a challenge. Olivia has learnt that Alex is awful on his phone, and Alex learnt that Olivia is very good at adapting to lockdown life, which has made binge-watching a lot easier. We’ve both been doing F45’s new 45-day challenge: we can motivate each other and it almost feels like we’re doing something together. We’re definitely being more caring too: we haven’t had anything to argue over and we’ve been sending each other care packages. It’s helped to know that lots of people are going through the same situation.
“We’ll always look back at all the family time we had”
Gabriella, 27, and Mark, 35, Simons, Gabriella is on maternity leave and Mark is a managing director. Mill Hill.
It’s quite intense being indoors with a one-year-old child and dog but we’re working well as a team: Gabriella does the cooking and Mark does the tidying up, and Gabriella has learnt that Mark is actually really good at loading and unloading the dishwasher. We keep saying that in years to come we’ll look back on this time with fondness for all the family time we got to spend together. Mark would never normally get to spend this much time at home and it’s certainly helped him learn how difficult it is to be with a baby all day long.
“We have very different lockdown lifestyles”
Alex Tomlinson, 28, and Priyanka Parmar, 25, co-founder at brb.travel and creative lead at Poplar. Hoxton.
Our housemate has moved in with her boyfriend for lockdown, so it’s just us in the flat. Alex was made for this type of lifestyle, whereas Priyanka has a very active social life so she’s found it harder. We try to spend at least one day a week away from devices and go for a long walk with the dog. We have quite different lifestyle habits (Priyanka wants chores done instantly, Alex likes to lie-in), and we can both be quite fiery, but we’re pretty impressed by how calm the house has been. Alex is helping a bit more around the house; Priyanka is doing more cooking. We haven’t ordered a takeaway in a week which is basically unheard of.
“Our restaurant has closed so it’s lazy Sunday every day”
Alex Peffly, 32, and Z He, 31, founders of Bun House. Spitalfields.
Once the stress of working through the initial fallout of the situation subsided, it’s basically become lazy Sunday every day. It’s been nice being able to be together and not think about work. Every night is dinner-and-a-movie night, except at home and with a baby and the hassle of one-in-one-out queues at the shops while we attempt to make some Ferran Adrià recipe. A lot of time is spent preparing and eating family meals. It’s hard to be upset at each other through a communal care-taking act. Just don’t leave your socks out around the house.
*Names and locations have been changed to protect the interviewee’s identity.