How lockdown is rewriting the rules of love

Callum Roderick-Jones
·8-min read
Covid restrictions have had a profound impact on relationships
Covid restrictions have had a profound impact on relationships

With the country back in national lockdown for at least the next few weeks, it is having a major effect on all walks of life. Schools are closed, non-essential businesses are unable to open and any socialising with people outside of our own home is mostly conducted through a webcam.

Here, four people in different relationship situations explain the impact lockdown is having on their lovelife.  

‘Our relationship became serious much faster than it would have normally’

Callum Roderick-Jones, 20

Callum Roderick-Jones and girlfriend Kiera
Callum Roderick-Jones and girlfriend Kiera

My girlfriend Kiera and I had only been going out for a few weeks when the first lockdown was announced last March. She was one of my flatmates in our student halls at Bournemouth University, and everyone went home except me, her and our flatmate Holly. I had a part-time job in a supermarket, so I told my parents I’d see them in a few weeks. Little did I know it would be months.

Holly left and suddenly it was just me and Kiera, living together as a couple. Since restrictions meant we weren’t allowed to see anyone or go anywhere, we grew quite close – faster than we would have done if we had just been normal boyfriend and girlfriend. 

The relationship got quite serious, so when summer came around and it was time to move out of halls and into our own separate digs, we started living together most of the week. This might not have been the case if the pandemic hadn’t happened – in any other year we would be out, going to lectures, partying and seeing other people. But all my lessons have been online and it’s been really difficult to see other friends. Our worlds have shrunk and there is often nothing we can do but spend time with each other.

Now this new lockdown means I have to choose again between bubbling up and living with Kiera full time or going home to St Albans. I’ve chosen to stay with Kiera. My parents are supportive and I know our relationship is strong enough to survive being together 24/7. But it’s thrown some of my friends together who really shouldn’t be: one couple fight all the time and are really unhappy. Another have been together too long and should really be seeing what else is out there. As my parents tell me, we’re young and we shouldn’t be having to live such grown-up lives at our age. 

‘Technology has been a saving grace for our long-distance relationship – but it's not the same’

Miranda Levy, 52

Miranda Levy
Miranda Levy

A pandemic is not the greatest time to have a boyfriend overseas – and New York, in particular.

I’ve spent much of the last 10 months on the Virgin Atlantic website, forever number 87 in the customer services call queue. London to New York flights have actually been running the whole time, but most British citizens won’t be allowed entry if they get on them. I have a £750 Virgin flight burning a hole in my bank account, bought in a fit of excitement during the mini-unlocking in the summer – but Mr Trump still wouldn’t let us in.

The rest of the time has been spent praying that my other half’s rare flights to see me are not cancelled at the very last minute, or diverted spontaneously to Greenland on some government whim.

Fully quarantined up, Hugo* first managed to sneak into the country in September, and then again during a fortuitously timed mini-break in early December. His rare visits here have been the lifeline of our relationship. But now, on the first day of Lockdown 3, the UK’s borders look like they may become less porous than they have been during the rest of the pandemic.

When I met Hugo in July 2019, it was, of course, my choice to enter a transatlantic relationship. For nine months, it was perfect: shuttling between one another’s city for long weekends, a winter-sun break in Nicaragua... My trip to New York, under the wire in March, felt historical: we watched as the city that never sleeps closed down in our wake.

But it’s been pretty much Zoom, Facebook Messenger, phone calls and emails ever since.

There is no doubt that technology has been our saving grace. It has helped nurtured a relationship that might have otherwise withered. But there is always that infernal five-hour time difference. Hugo calls me when he wakes up; I’m distracted by my work, or eating my lunch. When I knock off at six and fancy a glass of red and a chat, Hugo is himself busy.

Not even the rompiest session on Zoom makes up for physical touch. I’m not just talking about sex – a hug, a pat on the arm, just having someone in bed with you, even if you have to poke that person in the ribs to stop them snoring. People who live together – or even in the same country – just don’t know how lucky there are.

And so, Hugo’s brief visits have been the fuel that keep me going: the memory of the last, and the promise of the next (even if it’s months away, it’s in the diary). But Lockdown 3 – the so-called “Slogdown” – has scuppered all of that indefinitely.

Come the spring and its barely-dared-hoped-for unlocking, you can be sure I’ll be number one in that call queue.

* Name has been changed

‘I couldn’t see my girlfriend for five months, and now it's happening again’

Jamie Crane, 26

Jamie Crane and girlfriend Izzy
Jamie Crane and girlfriend Izzy

My biggest wish for 2021 was to see more of Izzy, my girlfriend of five years. But that was dealt a blow on Monday evening.

We met at university in 2015 and lived together in York for a few years after graduation. Then, in autumn 2019, Izzy moved away for her teacher training degree in Chester. It wasn’t too far, we thought; the idea was that I would drive to see her every other weekend. But then came lockdown 1, separating us for five long months. Like many couples, our relationship existed entirely online. It was bad luck: if the pandemic had happened any other year of our relationship, I remember thinking, we would have spent lockdown living together, rather than 110 miles apart.

We met up a few times in the autumn. Instantly, I remembered the little things that I love so much about her, like how she has to stand on her tiptoes to hug me. And on Christmas Day I drove from York to Chester to surprise her. Now I might not see her again until March, at the earliest.

So much of what I cherish about Izzy revolves around her physical presence. We cook together, watch films together, walk her golden labrador, Maisie, sit comfortably in each other’s silence. We’ve tried Netflix’s Party feature, which lets us watch television together – we flew through Peaky Blinders – but you just can’t replicate those joys online. 

As told to Luke Mintz

‘It is hard to open our hearts when the world closes down’

Pravina Rudra, 26

Pravina Rudra
Pravina Rudra

During the first lockdown singles like me could at least sit on a park bench on a breezy summer evening with a bottle of wine (think teen romance, but with Pinot instead of Lambrini). But in this third iteration, with the only exception to meeting someone outside my household being for exercise, I don’t see what chance I – or anyone – has at successfully pairing up with someone new. “Hey fancy going for a run together Friday after work? I know it will be pitch black and we haven’t met before, but don’t be afraid, just look out for a bloke wearing Adidas joggers and panting behind you.” It’s not the stuff of romcoms, to say the least.

Then again, nothing about the last 10 months has been: 2020 made myself and my career-driven single friends realise how little we’d invested in dating when it suddenly became near impossible in March. It wasn’t just being deprived of heady joys with potential suitors but the rest of the world suddenly ensconcing themselves in households full of the people they loved most in the world, as we realised we didn’t have anyone to hold. New Year’s resolutions centred around going forth and seizing life, opening our hearts. But it’s hard to do that when the world closes down for the third time in 10 months.

I miss flirting. Perhaps it’s sinful to admit when people have lost grandparents, GCSEs and chemotherapy access during Covid. But this is how single people derive our joy – when you’re married this comes from your kids’ smiling faces, when you’re in your 20s, it’s a wink from a bloke in a bar. You don’t get flirting on a dating app: while my smug married friends love to ask about “how I’m faring on the old Tinder these days” (no-one’s on it anymore), online daters got Zoom fatigue by the second lockdown. I don’t think there’s much chance of me logging onto Hinge or any other ‘new’ equivalent now the romantic pandemic landscape has grown more bleak.

Before the last lockdown, during the easing of restrictions, I met a man for a first date in which we had a picnic. We still talk all the time, but there’s no way to see where things might go because we can’t kiss, let alone “get physical” – unless you count going for a jog together. As the sub-zero nights draw in, I can’t see that on the cards – or realistically finding a partner until this whole thing is over.