Taking it slow has a whole new meaning during a pandemic.
In the time before COVID-19, putting on the brakes meant halting the physical stuff while you got the measure of someone. Maybe you’d kiss after that first date and leave it at that. Maybe you’d wait.
For me, that desire to take my foot off the accelerator usually came when I had an inkling that I quite liked a person. That, of course, was accompanied by a faint glimmer of hope that this person could turn into someone important to me.
In the words of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, everything has changed. The proverbial dating rule book is out of the window and most of us are now just making it up as we go along. Some couples are falling in love in lockdown without seeing each other in person. Some made the bold move to move in together at the start of the pandemic. And others are forming “support bubbles” with newfound loves.
Living through this moment in history is already changing our relationship to time. Some couples are taking it slow physically, but hurtling full steam ahead emotionally. Others are treating their Tinder matches like pen pals and taking things at a pace that can be described as glacial. Others are going full steam ahead on both those counts.
According to a new report from dating site eharmony and relationship support charity Relate on relationships in lockdown, over a third of people newly living with a partner feel the past two months are the equivalent of two years of commitment. More than 59 percent of new couples feel more committed to their partner in the wake of the pandemic, creating a wave of “turbo relationships,” and 36 percent say they’ve hit common relationship milestones, like moving in together, much quicker. And this cranking up a notch of relationships has also led to more sex for 23 percent of couples.
“Make no mistake, we are living in historic times, with a pandemic and the resulting lockdown having a profound impact on the way we live and love,” said eharmony relationship expert Rachael Lloyd. “What’s really interesting, is the creation of so-called turbo relationships whereby couples who’d never usually move at such speed may have found themselves living together within weeks of meeting — and largely thriving.”
I spoke to couples who have experienced this new wave of accelerated romance in their relationships during the pandemic.
Gabrielle, who prefers not to reveal her real name, got out of a five-year relationship in December and found lockdown really hard. She was living alone for the very first time and going through a tough breakup. She described it to me as a “very confusing, horrible period.” During lockdown, her ex confirmed to her that he didn’t want to get back together.
She downloaded Hinge and went on her first socially distanced date on the balcony of her flat. This was around the time the UK government announced “support bubbles” — where people living alone can go and stay with someone else who’s also living alone.
“He said, ‘I think we’re going to get married.'”
During that first date, Gabrielle and her date kissed. “I remember freaking out that I kissed someone,” she said. “I had to tell my mum.” Gabrielle then did something she wouldn’t usually do on a first date, she asked him if he wanted someone to kiss and cuddle during lockdown. He said yes. “You can be my bubble,” he told her.
“We made some rules at the start,” Gabrielle explained. “I was like, ‘If you kiss or hug someone, you have to tell me, then we have to stay apart for two weeks.'” Gabrielle’s date (for want of a better term) has been to her house seven nights running — and a few of those nights have involved sleepovers. “I feel like in the space of a week I’ve had an entire relationship,” she told me. In that week, they’ve spent the majority of their time in her living room, sitting on her sofa drinking wine. She’s never actually been outside with him. “Lockdown has accelerated everything so quickly,” she told me. “If you can only touch one person, then it intensifies things very quickly.”
But, despite the relationship’s secret, behind-closed-doors-ness, Gabrielle says it feels quite romantic. “I kind of feel like we’re married,” she told me. “And when I told him that, he said ‘I think we’re going to get married.'” This romance over wine and has been an unexpected pleasure for Gabrielle — albeit an intense one. “Being exclusive from the moment you kiss just makes you give things a proper chance,” she said. “I feel like we’re in a world of our own. We’re suspended in time a little bit.”
Lauren, who prefers to not reveal her real name, reconnected with a guy she fancied when she was in sixth form about a week before the UK went into lockdown. Because of the timing of their reconnection, they weren’t able to go on a date. But they’ve been getting to know each other from afar. “Over the past three months we have been sending voice notes back and forth (about 50 mins a day each),” she said. “I feel very invested in the relationship now, and wouldn’t talk to anyone else, which is odd as technically we’ve not even been on a first date!” For Lauren, this is the longest she’s ever spoken to someone without meeting up with them. “Could be a good thing!” she said.
Asked if she’s developed feelings for the guy in question, Lauren said she definitely has. “I’d be pretty upset if for some reason he didn’t want to meet anymore,” she added. And her former sixth form crush has said the same. “I think there’s a bit of an unspoken agreement to mention the date every now and again so that we both know we’re still planning on going.”
The question many lockdown lovers have right now is: What if we don’t fancy each other when we finally meet up? I asked Lauren if she was concerned about this small detail. “I am a little bit!” she said. “We bumped into each other at the train station just before the lockdown which is how it started and definitely fancied him then.”
When it comes to “turbo relationships,” not all of them prove to be great whirlwind romances, though. Take Anna, for instance. A guy she’d been on three dates with had a fluke electrical fire at his apartment right at the start of the COVID restrictions coming into place in the U.S. “I had some extra space so decided to take a risk/take advantage of the universe kicking him out of his place and invited him to stay with me,” Anna explained. It was mid-March by that point and a two-week stay-at-home order had just been announced, soon to become an extended to ban all non-essential travel. “It soon became clear that he would be there indefinitely,” she said.
“It turned out to be kind of like roommates with benefits.”
“It turned out to be kind of like roommates with benefits,” she explained. “We didn’t know each other well, so it was a crash course in all the practical things about living together along side all the dating stuff. Like, what are your eating habits? Night owl or early riser? What shows interest you? How clean are you? Do I still like him in close quarters? Am I attracted to him (this I knew before)? What are his values and hobbies?” Her roommate-slash-friends-with-benefits left after four weeks because of a family emergency. “Overall I think it was a best case scenario — we didn’t fall in love but are still in touch and seeing each other,” she said. “We got a bunch of stuff out of the way and know we’re pretty compatible — something that normally takes months not weeks. Also from a practical perspective I know he’s respectful of space, personal boundaries, and loves my cats.”
Ultimately, moving in with someone you’ve only been on three dates with was a big step for Anna. “As a devoted introvert who lives alone it was a big struggle for me at first to figure out how to divide my time between work, hanging out with him, and also keeping up some alone time with things like reading, but the good news was that through that, I knew that I didn’t want him to leave,” she said.
Stephanie Healy moved in with her partner two days before lockdown was announced in the UK. They’d been dating since Feb. 2019 and until this point, she’d been vocal about not wanting to move in. Making the decision to move in, she has been living out of one bag for the entirety of the government’s stay-at-home restrictions. “It was make or break really,” she said. “And now that I’m here, I genuinely couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I’d been holding off on it because it freaked me out (avoidant attachment over here!), and we agreed I’d stay at his for a few weeks whilst I continued renting my old flat to see how it went,” she explained. “Then lockdown happened, and I couldn’t go back because my housemates were vulnerable.” In the absence of being able to leave and have her own space in her newfound living arrangement, Healy found she needed to get better at communicating. She’s no longer living out of a suitcase either after moving all her things across last weekend, and says moving in with her partner has definitely solidified their relationship.
In many respects, life has slowed down in lockdown. But for some of us, that slowing down has prompted other aspects of our lives to speed up. For some, it meant taking their relationship to the next level. For others, it meant finally accepting that you’re just not right for each other.
The true test, of course, is whether your relationship continues once lockdown ends, and when COVID restrictions begin to lift.