Published: 12 May 2021. Written by: Jo Usmar.
How did the pandemic affect our relationships with parents, partners, potential dates, colleagues and new babies? Five people share their stories.
Imagine going back in time to December 2019 and telling your past-self that ‘social distancing’ was about to dictate everything you’re allowed to do and who you’re allowed to meet up with for the year ahead. You’d think Future You had made a huge mistake. Yet here we are – emerging from over 12 months of not being able to see or hug family and friends, or meet new people.
We spoke to five people about how the restrictions affected them and their relationships.
‘Lockdown definitely accelerated our relationship’
Angeline Radley, 44, Vitality Marketing Manager
‘Joa and I “met” through the dating app Hinge and had our first date in July 2020 when restrictions were temporarily lifted. That rainy afternoon date in Greenwich Park ended up lasting for eight hours! I thought he was fascinating – a Dutch artist with really interesting views on the world.
‘Lockdown definitely accelerated our relationship. We both had really active social lives before the pandemic, so probably wouldn’t have seen each other as much and so it might’ve taken longer [for us] to get serious. Covid pushed us to decide early on that we would be exclusive. We didn’t want to put the other at any additional risk, and when the “household bubble” rule came into force, we knew that to continue seeing each other we’d have to become the other’s bubble. We literally were each other’s entire social lives, for better or worse! We’ve also had to deal with issues in the relationship sooner than perhaps “normal”, so that’s been interesting and a learning experience, too.
‘One thing that has kept things fun and creative is our joint Instagram account, Captured Couple. We’d joked about being one of those old couples wearing matching windbreakers, so for Christmas I bought us matching windbreakers! We ended up doing an impromptu photoshoot in the local area and shared it with some friends who thought the pictures were genius. We thought other people might find them funny too – an antidote to lockdown fever – and so we started shooting more and posting them to Instagram. Some of our shoots are spontaneous, while some take a lot of planning, but the feedback is always positive. We wanted a creative outlet as a couple and also something to focus on and look forward to during lockdown.
‘We’ll never know if our relationship would have grown the way it has if not for lockdown. I appreciate that I am immensely lucky to have met someone as crazy as I am who has made the whole pandemic experience so much more positive.’
‘I started a new job at the point where people were hoarding toilet rolls’
Raj Dhunna, 29, freelance illustrator and designer
‘I interviewed for a new job in December 2019, pre-lockdown, and officially started on 7 April 2020 – at exactly the point when people were hoarding toilet rolls.
‘The company wasn’t used to remote working and a new starter was no one’s priority. While I understood that these were extraordinary times, it was a strange position to be in. I’d been promised proper onboarding, support and integration but received none of it. On my first day, I was told: here’s a project, get on with it. There were no introductions to the wider team, no icebreakers and no casual conversation to ease me in.
‘Everyone communicated via Microsoft Teams and it was really hard to gauge tone over message. If you’ve met people face-to-face you’ll have some idea of their temperament, but these were total strangers to me. When someone you’ve never met replies “lol” online, you have no idea if they’re being sarcastic, ironic or actually laughing!
‘When it comes to professional relationships, my way of building rapport is to have a chat here and there. It’s that trip to grab a coffee together that makes a job enjoyable. It’s also essential for me to be able to bounce ideas around. Yet when I started this job, all of those nuances within working relationships were gone and no one was bothering to get to know me holistically. After two weeks, I had still only “spoken” to two people – my manager and a junior designer. Once you have a relationship with colleagues, you’re allowed to have bad days, make mistakes, learn and grow. But if you do a bad job working remotely with strangers, they have no other frame of reference for you. I wasn’t Raj – I was a set of deliverables. A cog in the machine. It made me very introspective and self-analytical, which I’d never been before. I’d introduced something into my life that was meant to be positive and absolutely wasn’t, so at the end of my three-month probation period, I quit. I was honest about why, hoping they’d take the feedback on with other new starters. You can still do onboarding and make people feel part of a team remotely. You can make that effort. If my story sounds familiar to anyone else, I hope it might empower them to try to make changes.’
‘I’ve been back in Cardiff living with my parents for five months now – the longest I’ve been home since I was 21’
Kate Lucey, 33, author
‘I’d been living in France for a year-and-a-half before moving back in with my family in Cardiff last December. I’ve now been here for five months, which is the longest I’ve been home since I was 21 years old.
‘The pandemic was showing no signs of slowing down before Christmas 2020, and I was growing increasingly worried that my family would catch the virus and become sick, and that I’d not be able to get over [from France] to see them. So I put my belongings in storage, gave up my Parisian apartment and hopped on the Eurostar with the intention of just seeing how things played out, thinking that I’d potentially be in Wales until around February.
‘My family were thrilled to have me back (so they tell me, anyway) as they’d been experiencing the same fears about me becoming sick while abroad, with them stuck and unable to get to me. My parents and I have now all had our first vaccine due to the speedy rollout in Wales, and I’ll be sticking around here until I get my second in early July. It’s enormously reassuring to see my folks get inoculated, and I know they were relieved when I was able to receive my first vaccine.
‘Before Paris, I’d lived in London for 11 years, and I never thought I’d be back in Wales for this long. I’m spending time at my sister’s house and at my parents’ place, which has a glorious view of the sea in Cardiff Bay – a definite perk that I didn’t have in London or Paris. I’m lucky to be in a really close family who genuinely get on as friends and people. We were already constantly chatting and sharing memes on our WhatsApp group, but now I get to go on coastal walks with them, cook (questionable) meals for them, and feel like I’m split in two from laughing so hard when we play Articulate. I’m loving being my sister’s housemate, and there’s nothing quite like a mother’s fridge.
‘The pandemic has, of course, been a living hell for so many, but I’m really glad I’m able to have this extra “bonus time” with my family.’
‘A year where I might have met someone has just gone without my saying so’
Rebecca Denne, 37, Vitality Editor
‘Before lockdown, I’d made the conscious decision that I was ready to start dating after a long and drawn out break-up. I’d gone through a period of just wanting to be by myself and feeling a bit disparaged by dating. When lockdown hit, dating obviously wasn’t the first thing on my mind. It wasn’t until the severity of what it meant really sunk in that feelings of resentment started brewing.
‘I’m going to be 38 this year. Having children used to be firmly in “my plan”. But, as the years go by, I’ve accepted that having kids just might not be for me. The resentment has grown from feeling that – particularly as a woman – this year has not only made me question if I want kids, but that a whole year (at least) has been taken away through no choice of my own. A year where I might have met someone has just gone without my saying so. It’s also provided a lot of time to think and compare my life to others. Five close friends of mine are now pregnant – while I’ve lost a year.
‘I did date a bit in the pandemic, but found it so restrictive. The “pool” of people where I live in Kent is small compared to London, and, as I’ve only been up to London a few times since last March, the dating apps are slowly running out of potentials! I have very few friends who are in the same situation as me, and, while I’ve got through lockdown with the mindset that none of us had it made – some people lost their jobs, others lost loved ones – at least it’s given me the time to realise that I do want a partner. It’s helped to cement my belief that what’s meant for us will happen at the right time.’
‘Many new parents go into a “lockdown” of sorts during those first few weeks – but ours hasn’t truly ended yet’
Daniel Webb, 39, founder of Everyday Plastic
‘My first child, Ivy, was born on 9 March 2020, two weeks before the UK went into lockdown. “Lockdown” was not on anyone’s lips. “Coronavirus” was merely an A4 warning printout on the hospital door. This meant that we had free rein across the hospital – no masks or social distancing – and the midwives (genuine angels on earth), consultants and doctors could come and go freely. I feel very fortunate, knowing what happened to new parents later, that we could be together during the birth.
‘Three days after Ivy was born, we had visits from family, full of happy tears and delicate cuddles. We waved off new grandparents, uncles and aunts – “See you in a couple of weeks!” – and settled in to acclimatise and adjust to our little hand grenade.
‘But, as we retuned into the news and reconnected with friends, we realised that the world beyond our four walls was changing in ways we couldn’t imagine.
‘Many new parents go into a lockdown of sorts during those first few weeks – but ours hasn’t truly ended yet. At first, we made the most of the opportunity to spend so much time working out how to parent, enjoy all the feels and get to know our daughter. I had been due to travel for work, and so felt lucky to be able to look after Ivy and her mum.
‘After a while, though, we felt the need for relief – for Nanna or Grandma to take over for a day or even a few hours. But no. We missed being able to pass her round our friends in the pub on a Sunday. To sit in a room full of new parents and discuss it all. Parenthood is often difficult, intense and isolating – much like the pandemic.
‘There are so many emotional and logistical challenges that new families face, and Covid certainly magnified those. But, I look at Ivy now at 14 months old, and realise how lucky we’ve been to spend the last year in her constant company. She’s a happy, clever, confident, adjusted, adaptable and healthy little girl. We’ve been able to give her so much love and attention and I really believe that, because of that, we’ve laid some solid foundations for her as she grows. For that, we are really thankful.’
With the world gradually returning to normality, many of us are facing new difficulties with relationships. Read our tips on how to get through post-lockdown separation anxiety from pets, partners and housemates.