“I think if you can do that for eight weeks in a row, it makes you stronger.”
It’s still not the same as meeting up in person, he says. “But I think we made the best out of a bad situation.”
“We got out of our pyjamas and actually put some nice clothes on,” he laughs. They cooked the same meal – roast lamb one week, slow-cooked chilli the next – and “just sat down with wine and a candle like we were on a date”.
Frustrated by their failed efforts to break free from a pandemic-themed escape room on a pre-lockdown date, they tried out a virtual version for Tom’s birthday in April.
They even had an online Monopoly double date with Tom’s housemate and his girlfriend.
“I tried to make charades happen but it was a one-way game, really,” he says.
Every Friday, Sarah now takes part in a virtual quiz with Tom’s family – even though she hasn’t met them yet. Sarah is teammates with Tom and they talk on the phone.
But while she catches snippets of the group conversation, she hasn’t been formally introduced on the Zoom chat yet.
“I’m not doing that on Zoom,” Tom laughs. “My parents both tried as hard as they could to shout to Sarah and try to embarrass me but I don’t think Sarah could hear them properly.”
Sarah has even taken part in family scavenger hunts.
She thinks these snippets of communication will ease the pressure when she does finally meet his family in person.
“I know their personalities a little bit now, so at least there’s something to talk about,” she says. “It’s not just initially meeting… and they’ll ask ‘who are you and what are your intentions’?”
Last month, after Boris Johnson announced that two people from different households could meet in England, Sarah and Tom were finally able to see each other in person again.
They hadn’t realised quite how much of an impact the decisions of the prime minister would have on their relationship.
Their Sunday date nights quickly became socially-distanced date days.
The first time, Sarah found it odd to sit on separate picnic blankets outdoors, each with their own afternoon tea in a takeaway box.
“I said, ‘I don’t want you to touch my food”https://www.bbc.com/” she says.
Because of the nature of their jobs – and the fact that she has been shopping for her parents who are shielding – she says they both “overthink” social distancing measures.
But Sarah says it “just wouldn’t work” if one person was less strict than the other. “We’d just think, ‘we can’t be together if we’re not of the similar mind-set about it’.
“It’s just funny – instead of a bottle of wine you’re sharing a bottle of sanitizer.”
The ‘freedom list’
And so the couple are now making plans for the future.
Tom has a “freedom list” saved in the notes on his phone of date ideas for when the lockdown does end.
It features the names of restaurants they want to go to, meals they plan to cook together, a second attempt at a real escape room, and a visit to an alpaca farm.
For now though, socially-distanced meet-ups are still an improvement on not seeing one another at all.
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