When Fern*, 26, met a new guy on Tinder at the start of the November 2020 lockdown, what started as walking dates soon turned into an official relationship, the exchange of ‘I love you’, and seeing each other every day while working from home together.
The relationship was going amazingly, until the world started to open up again with the rule of six in place outside. Fern had really missed her large group of close friends throughout lockdown and was prioritising seeing them again, and she could tell her boyfriend was ‘put out’ when he wasn’t included in the limited, inflexible group numbers. When more people could meet outside, Fern encouraged her partner to join her socialising, but he became even more difficult.
“We were having a talk, trying to iron things out, and he said he knew how much my family and friends meant to me but he needed it to just be us so we could work on our issues and become tight with each other again. I felt like I needed him to meet my friends and family and to see him in those social situations so I could see whether we’d work in ‘normal life,’” she says.
Ultimately, even though she’s missing him a lot, Fern ended things with her boyfriend when he became impossible to be in a relationship with. “I think if it was just us in our lives we would have been together forever, but it didn’t work out of lockdown,” she says.
Looking back to 2020 (not a sentence that’s fun to write), the term turbo relationships was coined to describe couples racing into more intense relationships and quickly hitting milestones like moving in together, because of lockdown.
While it sounds like a lot, therapists at the time said the majority of people in turbo relationships were actually experiencing really positive outcomes of fast-track cohabitation. This was backed up by a report from eharmony and Relate, which found over a third of people newly living with a partner felt two months together in lockdown was equivalent to two years of commitment. More than half (59%) of new couples felt more committed to their partner than ever, and 58% said they wanted to be with their partner forever.
But now we’re on the other side of multiple lockdowns, the outlook for some couples is decidedly less rosy.
“I’m seeing couples who met in lockdown are going through a slightly bumpy transition, trying to work out what the relationship looks like after pandemic restrictions. People were behaving in a slightly different way than they usually would in lockdown, the relationship was able to be more intense and cocooned,” explains Simone Bose, Relate counsellor.
“What I’m noticing is the slightly more insecure person might be finding this [change] difficult. [Issues] are coming up now that weren’t coming up in lockdown,” Simone adds.
“Lockdown wasn’t a normal scenario, and the way that your partner is outside of it is more like who they are actually. If there are things really bothering you, express how you feel, ask for your needs to be met and if that person isn’t willing to listen, I think that shows you signs of what the relationship would be like in real life," the counsellor advises.
There’s also the fact that in some cases, lockdown relationships just don’t feel worth it in a more normal world. In a recent interview, Justin McLeod, CEO of Hinge said he’s hearing anecdotally about quarantine relationships “where it was good enough for the lockdown, but not the person [they were] really looking to be with. And so those relationships are starting to end.”
This tallies up with a rise in Hinge dates this spring. “April was almost 10% higher in dates per user than March, and we’re seeing that accelerate further in May. It feels as if there’s this release happening now after a pretty hard winter,” McLeod said.
“People are looking for something more serious. That is what we’re hearing. People are being a little bit more intentional about what they’re looking for coming out of this,” he added.
When Emme*, 27, started dating someone new in January 2021, the pair enjoyed each other’s company, but it didn’t take long for their lockdown romance to become repetitive.
“In lockdown, you have nothing else to do but to talk to each other one on one and be in each other’s constant company, but I think when you’re newly dating someone, it’s nice to be able to try new places together, go for drinks, and visit your favourite restaurants. We had no idea what our dynamic would be like together in a public place or how that would go,” Emme explains.
As lockdown ended, the pair realised they didn’t have the intention of prioritising each other now they could finally meet family and friends again and date new people.
“Because it’s hard to date during lockdown [and now we can go out more] it’s fun to be able to meet people again. Unless you’ve met the love of your life during lockdown, the thought of going on dates in bars is pretty exciting,” she says.
Breaking up with someone is never easy, but how to do it after an intense period of dating during a horrible pandemic?
“Acknowledge the good things about them and the good times you’ve had in the relationship. Don’t blame the partner, instead it’s about taking responsibility for your feelings. Be gentle but don’t be vague, it’s important to be clear. And do it in person so the partner can get their closure,” Simone advises.
But that’s not to say that lockdown love will necessarily result in a breakup.
Alex*, 25, met a partner on Hinge just before the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, having been on two in-person dates before the country shut down.
In hindsight, Alex feels that without the lockdown, she would have dated other people and found a better match; instead, she “fell into” her relationship carrying on virtually. When restrictions eased, her boyfriend – who was on furlough – suddenly had less time for her; she realised she wasn’t a priority for him and they didn’t fit.
Alex used the experience as a lesson in love. Now, she is in a new relationship that formed in a following lockdown and is doing well as the world opens up again.
“It’s different this time as I’ve gone in knowing about that mistake the first time and taken things a bit slower. We’ve really supported each other through the recent changes that have been happening, and we’re a fab team,” she says.
While Simone is seeing couples in therapy dealing with issues like jealousy and feeling claustrophobic, she’s noticing a real willingness to make lockdown relationships work, largely thanks to how emotionally invested people are after being bonded so intensely.
“The main thing is listening to each other, being aware that things are changing and being honest if you’re someone who does need space. The couples I’m seeing coming through this bumpy period are the ones with good communication,” she says.
*Names have been changed.
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