FROM socially distanced dating to post-lockdown divorces, coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our relationships.
Here, three women share the ups and downs of their love lives mid-pandemic.
‘It’s been nine months since I last saw my boyfriend’
NOREEN Nguru, 30, is a doctor and entrepreneur and lives in West Sussex.
“Checking my make-up in the mirror, I sat down to enjoy a romantic, candle-lit meal with my boyfriend Amine, 25. However, he wasn’t at the table with me – he was almost 2,000 miles away in Marrakech.
Instead of gazing into one another’s eyes, we had to make do with staring at our iPad screens.
I last saw Amine in January. When we kissed goodbye at Marrakech airport, neither of us had any idea a pandemic was about to keep us apart for almost a year.
We met in September last year when I was on a work trip to Morocco and he was the night manager at my hotel. I thought he was really handsome and as we chatted, there was a definite spark.
Over the next three days we got to know one another and, before I flew home, we kissed. I left feeling happy but frustrated.
I’d been single for five years, focusing on my medical career and running two travel businesses, and had finally met an attractive, interesting man, but he lived in a different country!
We agreed to stay in touch, but it never crossed my mind we’d start a relationship. How would that work when we lived so far apart?
But after speaking on the phone every day for three weeks, I booked a flight back to Marrakech on the spur of the moment. When I told my sister, she was surprised, as when it comes to relationships I’m normally cautious.
But she encouraged me to go, saying otherwise I’d always wonder what might have been. By the end of that trip Amine and I were a couple, and over the next three months I flew over three more times – my final trip was for New Year.
As I’m a locum doctor and my working hours are flexible, it was easier for me to go to Morocco than for Amine to visit me. I was due to return again in March and Amine was going to come to the UK in May, but after Covid broke out, our trips were cancelled.
Morocco closed its borders in early March and realising Amine and I wouldn’t be able to see each other was a shock, but we thought it would just be for a couple of months. Then the UK went into lockdown too, and while Amine was furloughed, I was working longer hours.
At the end of a busy shift, all I wanted was a cuddle from my boyfriend – instead I had to make do with a phone call or if I was too exhausted to even speak, I’d leave him a voice note then fall into bed.
There were some rocky days when I was stressed and tired, and he was bored with too much time on his hands. We’d feel upset and frustrated at being apart. However, we tried to make the best of a bad situation.
We were both scared the other person would lose interest.
We’d have FaceTime meals together, chat for hours and make plans for the future. Our emotional intimacy is stronger than ever as a result of quality communication, which has been a silver lining.
In the early weeks of lockdown, we both admitted we were scared the other would lose interest, but neither of us want anyone else and we trust each other implicitly.
It’s been over nine months since we last kissed or touched one another. To keep the spark alive, we leave each other loving voice notes and I like to look my best when we FaceTime.
In September, Morocco began to reopen its borders and Amine and I hope we’ll be able to reunite soon, however as there are still restrictions on who can get into the country, we have to wait a bit longer.
But I know if we can make it through all this time apart and still be in love, we can cope with anything.”
‘I fear this pandemic is robbing me of time to find Mr Right’
LIZ Parkes, 35, is an operating department practitioner. She’s single and lives on the Isle of Wight.
“Heading off on my first ever socially distanced date in June, I couldn’t help but laugh wryly at how different my preparations had been compared to normal times.
Instead of choosing a pretty dress and heels from my wardrobe, I’d pulled on some shorts and a T-shirt. And rather than meet up for a cocktail at a local bar, I’d made a flask of tea to drink at the end of our countryside walk.
The dating landscape pre-Covid wasn’t perfect, but the pandemic has made it even tougher for single women.
My last serious relationship ended in 2018, and in 2019 I signed up to a number of dating apps, ready to find the right guy. Until March this year, I was averaging a date a month and feeling reasonably optimistic I’d meet someone.
But then lockdown hit. During the pandemic I continued online dating – messaging and FaceTiming guys. I still wanted to meet someone and settle down, and living alone while all my friends were locked down with their partners only highlighted that I wanted to share my life with someone, too.
Also, working long shifts in a hospital caring for seriously ill Covid patients, I needed escapism and a way to switch off from work. I hoped online dating would be a welcome distraction. I quickly realised things were different – not in a good way.
New guys kept popping up on my apps but I soon discovered the Isle of Wight was full of temporary visitors. There was the guy who had come home to stay with his parents and another who was on furlough and just looking for a holiday romance.
Nobody had anything to chat about, so it all felt a lot less fun and interesting than before, and often when I was asked what I did for a living, I’d be bombarded with questions as if I had insider information about the virus.
One evening, sitting on my sofa, I received a suggestive photo from a man and had a request to send one back. That happened several more times during lockdown. Clearly the men sending them were bored at home and hoped I was too.
I did ‘meet’ a few nice guys, but with no idea when we’d be allowed to see each other in real life, it was hard to stay interested and keep the momentum going, so our chats fizzled out.
In June, I went on my first socially distanced date – we went for a walk on the Downs, and it was strange greeting someone without a hug or a peck on the cheek.
Although I found him attractive, there just wasn’t a real-life connection, not helped by the fact any sort of physical contact was forbidden.
Since then, I’ve been on a few more dates with a different guy, including meeting for lunch and a trip to the beach, but again it’s been socially distanced, especially because of the nature of my work.
It was hard to stay interested and keep the momentum going, so our chats fizzled out.
For now, I’ve deleted all my dating apps as I needed a break. It was all starting to feel pointless, because with so many restrictions and uncertainty, it was impossible to properly get to know anyone.
I’m 35 and I fear this pandemic is robbing me of the time I need to find someone to settle down with.
However, I hope in the future this time will have a positive impact on the dating landscape and make people keener than ever to settle down, having experienced how tough it can be spending so much time alone.”
‘My Marriage Ended During Lockdown’
MIA Ingram, 34, lives in Bristol. She has two children, Casper, nine, and Leo, five.
“When Boris Johnson announced the UK was going into lockdown on March 23, I had no idea that within three months, my nine-year marriage would be over.
The stress and anxiety of those dark months was the final nail in the coffin of my relationship with my now ex-husband, Julien, 40. Things had been rocky between us since early 2019.
We’d suffered a series of family bereavements that had taken its toll on our mental health, and looking back I can see we were slowly growing apart, focusing on the children and not our marriage. I assumed we’d get through it and things would be OK. I didn’t count on Covid coming along.
When the pandemic struck, Julien was furloughed from his job with an adventure travel company.
He loved his work so it was a huge blow to him, plus there was the anxiety that there may not be a role for him to return to. Suddenly, his routine of going to an office and travelling was over and he was stuck at home bored, home-schooling our sons and cooking dinner.
Meanwhile, I was working as a 111 call handler, dealing with so many calls, all of us on a steep learning curve about this virus that was taking hold.
My days were stressful and exhausting and, worried Julien could lose his job, I took on more and more overtime to earn money. When I came home, I was tired and felt guilty I wasn’t spending enough time with the children, let alone making an effort with him.
We’d argue about silly things such as housework, or be distant, like flatmates rather than husband and wife, and there was no closeness any more.
In May, I was prescribed antidepressants because I was struggling emotionally, both with work and our personal life. That was when Julien said he’d had enough, and wanted us to separate.
At first I was in shock, but I felt in my heart the relationship had run its course. I didn’t ask him to reconsider as I knew our marriage was over.
Julien’s name was on the tenancy agreement of our rented home, so I moved out to stay with a friend – returning to share the care of our two children. Thankfully, they have adapted really well to our changed family dynamic.
Our relationship didn’t stand a chance in the pandemic.
Soon after our split, I quit my job because it had become too much for me. I needed some time to put myself back together after the crushing pressure of the pandemic, before beginning to look for a new job.
Four months on from our decision to separate, Julien and I are on good terms. Neither of us have any doubt that it was the right thing to do.
It wasn’t easy at first – there were tensions and arguments as we both came to terms with things, but I’m grateful today we can co-parent our sons and I even regularly stay overnight in our family home. We will get divorced, but it’s not a priority at the moment.
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I’ve recently started dating Jon, 41, who I met online. He and Julien also get on well and the kids like him, too. We’ve all spent time together and I’m happy we can do that.
I’m not surprised there’s been a rise in couples applying for divorce since lockdown began. Even people I know in very happy, strong relationships struggled during those months, but going into it with our relationship already in trouble, we didn’t stand a chance.
The pandemic has taught me life is short, and none of us know what’s around the corner. Rather than dwell on our marriage failing, I’m grateful lockdown turned out to be a catalyst for a positive change. We’re a happier family now – and that’s what matters.”
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