Britain’s singletons who are living under the so-called ‘sex ban’ face a dry summer ahead with no end in sight.
They have told of feeling ‘overlooked’ as the UK’s coronavirus lockdown enters its fourth month.
Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers are reopening, holidays abroad via air bridges to Europe are on the horizon and some children are back at school.
But when the Mirror Online spoke to singletons about how they are faring in the lockdown, many told of feeling forgotten as the country begins to move on.
While many single Brits are following the rules to the letter, others have confessed to secret lockdown sex-lives.
And some are wondering whether the pandemic might change their approach to dating forever.
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The rule follower
Key worker Lee MacNeall, 30, lives in Preston, Lancashire, and returned home to the UK from Australia just days before lockdown began.
Lee says he has strong “moral” views about following the rules to protect others from the virus.
He is focused on continuing to work safely as a supermarket delivery driver, bringing groceries to elderly and vulnerable people.
The student, who is working toward a PhD in social care and community work, says he does not intend to have sex at all until it is explicitly permitted by the government.
Instead, he has been chatting to men on dating apps Grindr and Tinder, and is happily enjoying a “textual relationship” with one suitor he connected with just before lockdown began.
Dutch officials last month told unattached people in the Netherlands they could choose a ‘seksbuddy’ (sex buddy) for comfort during the country’s lockdown.
As a single gay man living in small town England, Lee couldn’t help but notice ministers constantly addressing “families” but avoiding addressing issues like intimacy in the daily Downing Street briefings.
He felt the lockdown rules had been written with a very narrow idea of how people live in modern Britain.
“They were really talking to happy families, with a man and a woman and kids and the white picket fence.”
Not long after the UK ‘sex ban’ hit global headlines – prompting widespread mockery – the government introduced the ‘bubble’ system.
It allows a single-person household to mix with a second household, and was touted by the government as allowing families to reunite by allowing single-parent families or grandparents to escape loneliness.
However Brits widely hailed the change as an end to the ‘sex ban’ – though many noted with frustration that it only applies to couples where at least one lives alone.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the laws would become ‘guidelines’, but he stopped short of expanding “bubbles” so that two households can combine for overnight stays.
From 4 July two households will be able to meet indoors, and even spend the night.
The households can be different each time, for example you can meet with one set of grandparents one weekend, and the other set at a later date.
But during these meetings people from the two different households must still maintain social distancing measures to lower the risk of infection – so no hugging.
Lee says the handling of pandemic has underlined a stereotype about British culture – a prudish attitude to sex.
As a result, he feels single people’s welfare has been largely overlooked in favour of a focus on reopening the economy.
“It’s not normalised – sex is still a very taboo subject. I think it’s still handled very conservatively – to even talk about it.
“It’s ‘we know it happens but we don’t talk about it’… people could have used some assurance, we know what the rules are but where’s the guidance?”
By contrast, Lee has found the LGBT dating scene has responded very frankly to the pandemic.
He has seen everything from men directly asking for sex, to to adding ‘stop’ sign emojis to their dating profiles to signal they’re not looking to break rules.
But Lee adds that he has no judgement for people who have broken the rules to get affection, saying he understands their frustration.
Lee thinks the public’s patience began waning first after architect of the lockdown, Professor Neil Ferguson, was outed breaking the rules to visit his married lover.
Then the PM’s top aide Dominic Cummings made his now infamous lockdown journey, and ministers scrambled to insist he had not breached the rules.
It was at that point that Lee believes an already fraying lockdown really fell apart.
“The government has lost control of the public mood… I think since Cummings broke the lockdown and went on a little drive to test his eye sight most of the whole country thought ‘oh well, screw this’.”
Lee is determined to follow the rules himself, but thinks as people can visit pubs and even fly abroad for holidays, Britain’s lockdown is facing a losing battle.
“It’s getting to the point where everything being open it comes down to whether you do, or whether you don’t, I think once the pubs open it’s going to become a real catch-22.”
The rule breaker
Stephen*, 31, from Leeds, believes he had coronavirus symptoms just as the UK was entering lockdown – and waited for more than a month before giving into temptation.
He decided to sleep with someone he had been seeing before the lockdown after she tested positive for the virus and recovered.
“It had gotten to the point where I think everyone had had enough. We thought it was kind of acceptable – I thought I had definitely had it and this girl had 100% had it.”
He says he didn’t feel any guilt.
“I felt fed up, but this girl had a bit of a tough time- she was struggling and she’d had Covid and she sort of instigated it – I was like, yeah – just one of those things.”
After that, Stephen went on a date with a different girl which started two metres apart but escalated quickly.
“We’d been on a walk – for a socially distant walk – and she came back to mine and that was it.”
Because he is living with a housemate, he says he got her permission to have women stay over – although that date was somewhat of a surprise.
“I just sort of told her she needed to go out for a couple of hours.”
Asked if his mates were still following the sex rules, Stephen says: “No one really is, I think to be honest.
“I think my colleagues that are single are pretty much all doing it, there’s people that don’t think they’re breaking the rules, really, but they don’t live with their partners and kept staying with them – it’s made no difference.”
Stephen claims he has been taking precautions, saying he feels his decisions are safe because neither he and his sexual partners aren’t having contact with vulnerable or elderly people.
“If I knew this girl was living with her grandma, for example, that’s something I would take into account.”
Flatmates dating in houseshares
The steep cost of housing in the UK has priced out many millennials, meaning most staying at home for longer or living in flatshares.
According to official figures, at least half a million rental properties in England and Wales are house-shares composed of three or more adults.
This has meant flatmates up and down the country are navigating tensions over different opinions on rule-following during the UK’s lockdown.
For single 28-year-old Londoner Kristin* who lives with one flatmate, dating became a negotiation.
The two young professional flatmates have still not used public transport in the capital during the lockdown, or visited inside anyone else’s homes.
They instead have carried out their social lives out in parks, and more recently their flat’s tiny patio as the rules changed to allow socially distant gatherings in gardens too.
Three months into lockdown, the single and frustrated flatmates decided to create their own take on the rules.
Kristin had met a love interest on a dating app, and the pair had been sticking to strict socially distant dates for months- sitting metres apart in parks and going for walks.
That become frustrating as their attraction sparked – and then June’s rain made their outdoor meetings increasingly more difficult to schedule.
So she had a conversation with her flatmate about breaking the rules.
With both living far away from family, they agreed they would consent to choosing one person each to ‘bubble’ with – and each decided to reserve theirs for a romance.
Kristin says they both felt that the rules created by the government didn’t take into account their living situation as young renters who couldn’t afford to live alone in London.
Both women felt “overlooked” and frustrated, she says.
Kristin is dating to find a long-term partner and was becoming increasingly worried about losing precious time.
“My housemate and I had a talk about it probably before the two ‘houses one bubble’ policy came in.
“We had kind of decided that the Government probably wouldn’t come up with a law that accommodated us and so we needed to find a solution which was going to be safe for us, but also not greatly aggravate the spread of the disease.
“So we discussed it and we came up with this solution that was we would continue dating and if it got to the point that we wanted to sleep with someone we would have a conversation with them and work out how many people they were having physical contact with in their household.
“And then we would talk to each other about it and decide if we were safe with that.”
Both households discussed it and agreed they were fine with the arrangement – especially as Kristin’s new love interest had a car and they would not need to use transport to see each other.
But dating during lockdown proved to be just as disappointing as ordinary times, Kristin discovered.
She told MirrorOnline that she had thought ‘casual’ dating would be off the table in a pandemic.
Kristen had a conversation with her date much earlier than she would normally feel comfortable raising it, and thought they had agreed to exclusively sleep with each other and see how their romance blossomed – for safety reasons.
But last week, she discovered not everyone was on the same page.
“Shortly after we started sleeping together I initiated a conversation around what we were both looking for in terms of a relationship – and he had implied he was looking for a relationship.
“But it turned out he was only looking for someone to have casual sex with during the lockdown period, so that was quite disappointing.
“Despite us having that increased transparency and discussion around boundaries and what we wanted and safety, that the old mentality around just getting a woman for sex remained.”
Singletons worried about finding love
Singletons are becoming increasingly worried that the pandemic could put a roadblock in their search for love, according to a survey.
Survey data from intelligence platform Streetbees found nearly half of single Brits are “very worried” about finding a partner because lockdown has made it harder to meet people.
The research, which surveyed 1,500 respondents, found most had not gone on socially distanced dates, citing the risk in the current climate.
Popular apps like Bumble introducing new prompts like tagging profiles with requirements for ‘virtual dating’ over video calls, ‘socially distant’ meet-ups, or even requiring dates to wear masks.
Streetbees’ respondents said pressure to settle down had deepened during the pandemic, and was causing them anxiety – with only 5 per cent even using the dating apps.
However, there was some optimism, with some saying they hoped to meet someone after lockdown ends.
A return to old-school courtship?
Nottingham blogger Beth Sims, 22, counts herself among the anxious.
She is wondering whether trying to meet someone at a bar when they reopen on Saturday, July 4 will be ‘awkward.’
She imagines aloud what flirting from one metre apart will look like after everyone has had months of limited social contact.
“I don’t think I’ll be propelling myself back into it, and the idea of going back into the city centre and everything and trying to meet someone in a bar could be overwhelming.”
“If we can’t sit together or we’re distancing but next to each other I’d worry that I can’t hug them – if you’re social distancing how do you even approach people and chat to them?”
Beth is living with her mum, who is shielding – which means her dating decisions for the foreseeable future must take her safety into account.
But she is also hopeful that the pandemic could cause a sea-change in dating culture.
Before lockdown she had tried apps including Tinder.
But she says she has been put off by disrespectful behaviour online and feels hook-up culture is not for her.
So Beth has been fascinated to watch her friends’ approaches to socially distant dating – and wonders if the pandemic could prompt a return to ‘old-fashioned’ courtship for some.
“I’ve seen the way some people are doing distanced dating and find it very interesting – a bit romantic.
“I’ve seen how people have been making the same meal at the same time and then they eat it together over FaceTime.”
“Guys usually on Tinder just pop up and ask you for pics or for sex but I think the pandemic is forcing people to be more creative.
“I think people are talking for longer and realise they can be a bit more old-school and sweet.”
No love in lockdown
For some Brits, dating in a global health crisis is simply not a priority.
Sam Taylor, 26, is planning on continuing to follow the lockdown rules.
She says she has been influenced by the experiences of relatives and friends who work on coronavirus hospital wards.
Most of her friends at home in Newcastle are following rules, but neighbours who threw a VE Day party on her street last month left her feeling “really annoyed.”
“I think the government has handled it well as they could – my issue is with the general public. I think a lot of people are taking risks – even some people that I know,” Sam says.
“People are going out meeting other people thinking they won’t be affected by it. If they are isolating themselves seeing only one other person then I realise it’s become a grey area, though.
Sam is keeping dating off the table for now, noting: “I’ve actually seen a lot of people complaining about their partners in lockdown – so maybe I’m better off being single.”
Sam lives alone, so technically, she could find a partner and ask them to ‘bubble’ with her if she felt ready to.
But given just one option, Sam has chosen the most important man in her life instead.
“I’m bubbling with dad.”
*Names changed to protect privacy.