Would you like to meet a partner for lockdown? The rise of Covid Coupling

Jane Mulkerrins
·7-min read
Has Covid made us desperate to date? - The Telegraph
Has Covid made us desperate to date? - The Telegraph

I had a hunch it was happening, but hadn’t quite put it into words until, last weekend, I saw it confirmed in letters 10 feet high, on a huge, bright yellow hoarding advertising the dating app, Bumble: ‘It’s not just any old cuffing season’.

Cuffing season, for the uninitiated, is the autumn window when the nights begin drawing in and singletons cast their net for a candidate with whom to share a duvet through the dark days of winter. Cuffing’s not designed to be permanent – come spring, such seasonal couples might well cast off the cuffs to explore other entanglements unimpeded.

This year, however, with a second lockdown looming (or, for many, already under way) cuffing season is being dubbed coving season, due to anxious singles – particularly those who saw out the spring lockdown solo – frantically seeking partners to save them from stir-crazy solitude. There’s also, of course, a well documented correlation between times of great terror and frenzied sexual activity (see: the Blitz, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy); we’re simply not designed to be scared and single – it’s dating Darwinism.

I spent the first lockdown very single. And, while I made a good fist of keeping myself sane, I’d be lying if I told you those long, monotonous months in my own company (bar the rat that decided to move in with me briefly in May) didn’t get dull, repetitive and lonely. I briefly considered reconnecting with a hyper-local ex, who lives a 10-minute walk away, then remembered that he was awful. But the hunger for physical contact, partly to help distract from the existential dread, was real.

Pre-pandemic I’ve generally found partners in late night bars, at parties, on planes, at the gym. I’ve also never been a fan of app dating, which makes me behave bizarrely, hurling me into a destructively Pavlovian cycle. But, this year when life was suddenly devoid of late night bars, of parties, of planes, of the gym, I desperately craved new company and caved in and started online dating.

To my surprise, the men I struck up conversations with weren’t angling for a fast hook-up as they may normally have done; the risks of contracting Covid, coupled with a dramatic reduction in casual sexual opportunity, appears to have made fickle and flaky men significantly nicer.

Does Covid mean we’re returning to good old-fashioned dating? - Pictorial Press/Alamy
Does Covid mean we’re returning to good old-fashioned dating? - Pictorial Press/Alamy

My friend Lisa, 41, agrees. “Covid has meant a pleasant return to old-fashioned dating – more getting to know the other person before jumping into bed,” she reports. However, she adds: “Dating is becoming more interview-like. I’ve started looking for people who will be good partners for six months rather than potentially for life. While previously I would be holding out to meet a successful, confident, outgoing partner, now I’m just looking for someone who has the same TV and takeaway taste as me.”

In London, my friend Donna, 37, has been putting in the Covid coupling hours too. “I’ve been dating around since June in the hope of finding myself a lockdown boyfriend, since I live alone – but it hasn’t happened,” she says. “While I’m looking for someone with whom to cook big meals, watch movies and have good sex, every man I’ve met still wants to just talk about the time they did the Three Peaks Challenge and go on adventures with. I do feel they’re missing the point.”

Maybe it’s time to adjust the attributes we’re showcasing in our profiles accordingly. You love to travel? Great – I did too, but what’s your Scrabble like? Never mind the marathons, can you make a decent carrot soup? Do you own a dog? Your own flat? Writing this, I’ve just realised that I need to urgently update my dating profile with a shot of my private outdoor terrace, with its firepit.

The (significantly) younger guy I’ve been seeing lately is a big fan of the terrace, and understandably so – he lives alone in a studio apartment, with no outdoor space. Ordinarily, I’d be a bit put off by the fact he doesn’t ski – the thing I like to spend most of my winter doing – but not this year. He doesn’t like dancing in public – my second favourite sport – but no risk of that any time soon either. Also, pleasingly this guy is a hot nerd, who offers free, 24/7 tech support when Zoom keeps crashing my MacBook.

Some friends, meanwhile, have given up on dating entirely, citing the risk of infection and the pressure of starting a relationship that is largely sofa-focused. “The energy I would usually expend on dating, I feel, is better saved for self-preservation and my friends, who I trust more than some random love interest,” reports my friend Elizabeth, 34.

Others have chosen to ‘Covid couple’ with more loyal and dependable creatures. I checked in with an old London fling, who spent the spring lockdown dating outdoors, with walks on Hampstead Heath and picnics by the canal. This winter, however, he’s more into ruffing than cuffing – the only woman sharing his sofa this season is his new chocolate Labrador puppy.

Desperately seeking....someone to ‘covid couple’ with in midlife
Kate Mulvey has been searching for a winter boyfriend
Kate Mulvey has been searching for a winter boyfriend

By Kate Mulvey

Now is the winter of our Covid discontent. It’s bad enough being single in midlife, but to find yourself home alone as the nights draw in, and the pandemic worsens is enough to send our anxiety levels into overdrive.

With the possibility of a second lockdown, women like me are desperate to find ourselves someone to cuddle. Someone who may not be a candidate till death us do part – but is kind and interesting to provide company and conversation until March, or at least until a vaccine is found.

This is romance as survival instinct. And I’m OK with that. After all, those of us who have already done one lockdown alone know how bleak it feels not to see anyone for weeks. Just having someone in the same room, chatting about nothing in particular, can put everything back into perspective. Those worries and anxieties that would otherwise feel jagged and dark, melt away amid the warmth of a sympathetic other.

So instead of twiddling my thumbs, I have been Covid dating. And so, it seems, has everyone else. Since I downloaded a couple of dating apps, I have been overwhelmed by messages from men I would normally disregard. One balding academic from Sussex suddenly messaged with an offer to “isolate together” and then WhatsApped me a page of virtual hugs. OK, so he’s not my usual type, but he is interesting, which in times of coronavirus ranks higher than gym toned and great dress style.

One unexpected boon is that it has taken the pressure off. Women like me are so obsessed with finding The One before we are put out to pasture that we are often blind to the just good-enough guy standing right in front of us. Cue one rainy day last week. I met Rod digitally – a man in his late sixties with eyes that crinkled when he laughed.

There are a couple of red-ish flags; he was wearing a rather odd-looking top, and he did get through a couple of glasses on wine on our Zoom call, but the new Coving-minded me is prepared to be less picky. After all, we are on the same page film/politics/humour wise – and he’s got a lovely house in Surrey. 

In my mind, we are already cocooning under a cashmere blanket on his enormous sofa and eating slabs of dark chocolate with vervain tea. As long as we both have a negative Covid test (entry-level requirement), I could have a winter companion by the end of the month.

Read more: The six-month positivity plan to get you through a winter lockdown

Are you trying to find a partner for the next lockdown? Tell us how it's going in the comments section below