The day is simply glorious; the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and I’m humming along to music as I cruise up the A303 from Devon to London to see the man who makes my heart melt and my knees go weak.
A man, I should add, I have never met in person, and known only one week, all via a dating app and video calls.
Yet here I am beetling to pick him up so he can come back and live with me and my retired parents for the remainder of lockdown. Crazy, right? To be honest, I can scarcely believe it myself.
I am acutely aware I am breaking the lockdown rules. I’m a law-abiding citizen, bar the odd speeding ticket, so I twitch every time I pass anything that even resembles a police car.
Hattie Sloggett signed up for dating app Tinder out of pure boredom at home after having previously deleted it after a run of bad experiences
How did I get to this lawless point? It had all started ten days before that cross-country drive, late one Monday evening. I was in bed early, after a long day in the May heat at my parents’ home near Tiverton, and I’d allowed myself to stray on to Tinder.
I had signed up to the dating app again a few weeks earlier out of pure boredom, having previously deleted it after a run of bad experiences.
Like many women in their 30s, my friends and I agree that Tinder leads to nothing but immature man-boys with inadequate flirtation skills.
Yet, while living with my parents and working from home had proved surprisingly feasible, I desperately needed to speak to another human soul about anything other than who had fed the dogs or which part of the garden to tackle that day.
Maybe lockdown had made me more willing to share my innermost thoughts with a stranger, or maybe it all felt less pressured because we’d be unlikely to meet in person.
Whatever the case, that night, I matched with a handsome 32-year-old musician called Sean. I sent him a message, and almost instantly, he wrote back. He came across as sincere and made me laugh.
In love: Hattie Sloggett in the garden with her partner Sean. Hattie said the whole house feels lighter. Everyone is in a better mood with him around
Born in Belfast, he’d moved to London ten years ago for work. He used properly formed sentences (a rarity on Tinder) and asked questions about my life (unheard of).
I suggested we take things up a notch by exchanging messages on WhatsApp.
That night we messaged back and forth constantly. As I fell asleep, I dared to hope this was something special.
The next evening we had our first ‘date’ over FaceTime — I in my parents’ spare room in Devon; he in his flatshare. His delicious Irish accent made me hang on every word he said. We chatted for more than four hours. Four hours!
Every day and night after that we spent texting and talking. It was mindblowing — especially for me, since until recently I had determinedly sworn off men.
After giving up drinking, I couldn’t chat and flirt confidently, didn’t know how to behave around the opposite sex, and took a break. I hadn’t so much as flirted for more than six months when we started talking.
But somehow, a digital connection freed me. I was fully myself, no make-up, no fancy outfits. It was raw and real.
Perhaps, I started to think, the lockdown was just what I had needed to work out what I really wanted.
By day four, I was utterly smitten. On day six, after more than 100 hours of FaceTime, he said it, I said it, we agreed on it: we were in love!
We set up a FaceTime call for Sean to meet my family. I propped up my computer on a garden table while we (my mother, my best friend who’s like another sibling, and my god-daughter — all in lockdown together) did our crossword.
Even my father popped his head onto the screen to say hello, although he clearly thought I had gone insane.
Sean joined in, shouting out the answers he knew. It was like he was there with us, surrounded by laughter, bird song and dogs playing.
And, I started to wonder, why couldn’t he actually be there?
There were hurdles, beyond the fact that at that point the rules said you couldn’t get within two metres of anyone outside your household.
My father is at high risk due to type 1 diabetes. So, we had a long conversation. I explained I had never felt this way before, that I just knew Sean was ‘The One’, but that none of that eased my fear of London germs entering our safe haven.
Then on Sunday, May 10, Boris Johnson announced to the nation that ‘if you can’t work from home, you should go back to work’ and to do so you could use your own vehicle. We were allowed to drive longer distances, and spend more time outside; the rules were easing.
It was then that we came up with a plan. Sean would go and get a Covid-19 test at a drive-through in London, and we would get one in Devon. Then, if we were all negative, I would drive to London and bring him back to our bubble.
‘I think this is the best and safest option for all of us,’ Sean said to me. My parents agreed, saying ‘It seems like the real deal. Who are we to stand in the way of that?’
The next few days passed quickly. Sean, my mother and I all headed to drive-by testing sites and got our negative test results.
For those who will be annoyed at me for breaking the rules, all I can say is, from the moment we had our tests, both Sean and I self-quarantined until we were with each other. Sean lived in his room, apart from his rather confused flatmates.
We were as certain as it was possible to be that we weren’t putting anyone at risk. On the road I didn’t even stop for fuel, and suddenly, I was there, outside his house.
Those piercing blue eyes, that kilowatt smile I had come to know. When he first put his arms around me, his kiss took my breath away. When we got home that night, we decided not to sleep together YET; we wanted to be sure our online connection was going to work in real life.
All I can say is that in the end, it was worth the wait. Sean has now lived at home with us for three weeks, and the two of us still haven’t stopped talking. I can’t get my head around the fact that less than a month ago this man didn’t exist in my life. Yet I’m not shy or embarrassed to say I am totally in love with him.
I’ve learned he speaks to his parents every day, puts hot sauce on everything, and just how much of a Sherlock Holmes nerd he is.
There was, of course, a shadow of doubt in my mind about living together, especially since we are both very independent. Could we make it work?
Granted, there are a few things I am having to get used to. His delicate purring when he sleeps (which secretly I like), his fingers tapping to any and every beat he hears, and the fact he refuses to get rid of his mucky old flip flops, preferring to patch them with sticky tape.
I have my flaws, too. (When I ask, he mentions sleep talking loudly enough to wake him up, and the fact I happily share food off my fork with my dogs. Guilty.)
And living with my parents means we have very little privacy.
Thankfully, Sean is not at all fazed when my Dad comes into my room unannounced to ask how ‘the Google’ works, again. Both Mum and Dad have taken to using him as their personal IT guy. Unlike me, he is both knowledgable and gentle with them, and they’re often giggling together.
One of my greatest worries about bringing him home was how he and my parents would get on. I needn’t have wasted my time; they bloody love each other. In fact, my mum keeps saying ‘There must be something wrong with him. No one is this perfect.’
He’s also not bothered by having four dogs, two cats and a four-year-old godchild running around our legs when we are kissing in the kitchen.
Don’t get me wrong — we are not some hippy commune that doesn’t respect personal space, so Sean and I have no issues getting our alone time. We have our own bathroom and buy our own groceries, but we take my parents tea and coffee in bed every morning to show just how much we appreciate sharing their space.
As crazy as it might sound to some people, I really believe Sean is my future. When we talk about life after lockdown, it is with the absolute certainty that the two of us will face it together.
We plan to live in London but spend long weekends in Devon, as I normally do. I have to admit, in the midst of so much terrible news, lockdown is the best thing ever to have happened to me.
The extra time has given me the chance to evaluate my life. I wonder, if this hadn’t happened, would I ever have found time to form a relationship? Probably not.
As if we have been together our whole lives, these days Sean and I brush our teeth together each morning, lie in bed drinking coffee and putting the world to rights, then both head off to our offices.
Mine is in a garden shed, his is the little-used drawing room, full to the brim with his music equipment. Sean is a composer who makes music for TV, film and theatre. Mostly he works using headphones, but now and again I hear him strumming away on his guitar, and it makes for the headiest of moments.
Sean, I am relieved to say, has had no complaints yet. He has taken to life in our madhouse like a duck to water, gladly helping my mum clear out old boxes of photographs, listening to my father talk about his work as a film director and screen writer, and entertaining them both with his stories.
The whole house feels lighter. Everyone is in a better mood with him around.
As I type this — from bed, of course — he is fast asleep next to me. I think to myself: ‘How could I ever love anyone more?’
As my goddaughter said to me when he first arrived: ‘I want to keep him for ever.’
*Sean’s name has been changed