Some tell me they are worried they’ve “run out of things to talk about”; particularly in the confines of a shared environment. After all, there’s not much to report back on when all you’ve done that day is a Zoom call in your pants, or made an exciting trip to the recycling bin the night before it’s usually collected, just to spice things up a bit.
Most say they’ve settled into domestic harmony, the way you might find yourself breathing out after a hefty meal – with some comfort, a dose of frustration, an ever-expanding waistband, and a certain sense of surrender.
Indeed, the pandemic, for some couples – particularly those who hadn’t been together long when lockdown was first enforced – has propelled them straight from the early days of heady, “honeymoon” sex, to the kind of partnership you’re more likely to find once you’ve been together 30 years: one of crosswords, Saturday night takeaways and long, satisfying walks along the coast.
“Not only are we anxious and stressed because of the pandemic, but ‘working from home’ means work seeps into every aspect of our lives,” a female friend says. “We’re wearing elasticated trousers 24/7 and haven’t made an effort aesthetically for nearly a year. All of this is distinctly unhot. I need to miss my partner – or at least have more to tell him than what I saw on my 30-second trip to the outside bin.”
Another friend tells me she feels “stuck” with her husband, and would’ve left him – if not for the pandemic. “I was intending to separate from my husband at the beginning of last year, but he lost his job at the beginning of lockdown,” she says. “So, he needed to stay with us – and due to lockdown, he was unable to find another job; so he’s still here.”
I relate: I was one of those who split with their partner a few weeks before the pandemic hit, only to find ourselves isolating together long term. Whilst we managed surprisingly well, a year to the anniversary of lockdown 1.0, he’s finally moved out. Now I’m getting used to a strange, ‘new, new normal’ all over again.
The truth is, whether you’re married, single, cohabiting, or long-distance – the pandemic hasn’t exactly been a rock and roll ride of love for ... well, for anyone; let alone those who felt themselves under pressure from headlines that predicted a lockdown “baby boom”, before such predictions proved moot.
“When we first started working from home in lockdown there were lots of jokes about a baby boom and people having all the time in the world to have sex,” one friend tells me. “But, given the reality of spending 23.5 hours a day with your bed partner (I’m excluding showers and maybe the odd wee with the door closed), the consequence isn’t unbridled lust – but actually a strong aversion to anything sexy.”
She also says that when you have all the time in the world, you can find yourself putting off being intimate. “Another day, another evening, another hour – when maybe, just maybe – you'll feel less exhausted by the weight of the world.“
Research supports these anecdotal accounts of the death of romance caused by too much time together, or anxiety about the virus – not to mention social distancing, stress, grief, job loss and ill-health. The Kinsey Institute found that nearly half of people polled last year reported a decline in their sex lives – though some have been lucky.
*Sam told me that he’d always had a pretty good relationship with his husband, and lockdown gave them a chance to stop and work through any issues. “In a nutshell, we have got better at sharing domestic tasks,” he said. “A more, ‘in it together’ approach from both of us, I think. Because we run our business together, we talked about what we need to improve in how we communicate – and how we had got lazy about separating business from pleasure time. We have to get on – we don’t have anyone else to talk to.”
*Kim said she and her husband had been disciplined about making space for themselves as a couple. “We’ve built a fire, played cards, bought an expensive bottle of wine. Sometimes, we have an evening alone and sleep separately – that helps us remember what we enjoy about being with each other. We are now seriously thinking about whether we can afford to have two smaller places in the future, so we can choose when we are together and when we are apart. We want to make the most of when we are together – rather than constantly cohabiting and making domestic life our focus.”
And for a certain rare (and enviable) few, time at home has meant they’ve learned to be creative when it comes to curating romance. “We’ve been acting like teenagers,” one friend texts me (she even uses the “winky” emoji). “With the schools closed, we had to set up each possible rendezvous away from the kids, like, ‘meet me in the shed for a kiss and fondle’.”
These stories warm my heart, precisely because they’re unusual. They also make me ache; partly with nostalgia, partly with envy. I fear that I – like many others who’ve split up or separated during the pandemic – will emerge out of lockdown like a survivor in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic movie scene: dazed, single and confronting the wild and savage world of dating (and dating apps) for the very first time.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those who spoke out
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