e met at the tailend of last summer, in that golden interlude between lockdowns, when we were cramming in as much human interaction as possible and ignoring the words ‘second wave’. By the time we were a thing, London was in Tier 2, our relationship unfolding as the lines on the graphs got steeper and we plunged further into lockdown. Every week, more restrictions, more isolation, until the world shrunk completely and it felt like there was nothing left but the two of us alone in my flat.
Cocooned in our bubble, we accelerated emotionally. Asking someone “do you want to be the only person I see indoors?” does that. The dial was cranked to ‘intense’ from the start. We settled into a rhythm, him coming over to mine three nights a week. Consistently giving each other our undivided attention, without any distractions, has been a fast track to intimacy.
“We’ve been promised a once-in-a-lifetime summer of love and I don’t want to miss out”
But the artificial conditions we were forged in are about to end, and it makes me nervous. I don’t know if we can translate what we have into the real world. So far I know we work in a very specific, very limited set of circumstances: just me and him, on my sofa, in my bed. I struggle to picture him anywhere else but inside my flat.
I worry that lockdown has masked fundamental differences in our personalities; whereas I am itching to be out and about again, he seems perfectly content with the enforced staying in. And with no real competition for each other’s time — no disappointment over cancelled plans, no work drinks and brunches and birthday dinners to pull us away from each other — the strength of our connection hasn’t been stress-tested.
I realise too how much of his behaviour I haven’t seen. Can he handle himself with my more difficult friends? Will he be thoughtful with the quieter ones? Can he hold his drink on a night out or will he pick a fight with a stranger on the Tube? Maybe the fact that I like him without knowing these things means they don’t matter? But there are parts of a person you only notice when you see them out in the wild.
As the end of lockdown gets closer, sometimes I have to double-check that I definitely like him. That I didn’t just grab hold of someone, anyone, and refuse to let go because I was lonely and scared, too weak to get through another lockdown living alone. Despite all the Zoom quizzes, all the miles walked with friends, the first lockdown, before support bubbles were introduced, felt brutal. But then I think of his hands and his jokes, and the long, stupid conversational rabbit holes we fall down and it feels so real.
There is something else on my mind though. It’s that swell of flirtiness in the air; a buzzing, collective knowledge that fun and freedom is so, so close. I walk past a pub varnishing benches for their beer garden, see awnings being fitted outside bars, and feel a little leap in my stomach at the thought of meeting friends, getting rounds in, talking nonsense in the ladies toilets. Catching eyes with someone as I squeeze past their table. Giving someone a light when we both know full well they’ve got one.
We’ve been promised a once-in-a-lifetime ‘summer of love’ — cathartic, hedonistic, like one long, bank holiday weekend. We’re all fizzing with anticipation and I don't want to miss out. To go out and not even have the option to kiss a stranger feels genuinely sad. I envy single friends who are preparing for this summer the way elite athletes are preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. Waxes booked, new bed linen bought, contraceptives in place, dating apps re-downloaded, profiles updated, conversations reignited.
Like most people, I’ve had to switch off parts of myself to get through the past year. Now we’re almost out the other side, I want to switch them back on again. Having dutifully followed the rules for so long, the idea of curbing my behaviour, exercising control over any desires, feels unbearable. Unjust, even. It’s selfish, I know, but I do get little pangs of resentment at him, at our relationship. It feels like the start of something, but also the end of something, the end of a world of potential and promise.
“Sometimes I have to check that I didn’t just grab hold of someone, anyone, because I was too weak to get through another lockdown alone”
It’s possible, of course, that he is thinking exactly the same thing. He may be plotting his exit strategy right now. Maybe we’re both holding our breath to see if our bubble is going to burst. I know I should talk to him about it but I keep putting it off. After all, 21 June, when all restrictions on socialising are due to be lifted, is the real gamechanger, right? And that milestone might get delayed anyway.
I try to remind myself that the end of lockdown could be a good thing for us. We’ve never eaten in a restaurant together. Never been away for a weekend, even a day trip to the beach. Never sat in the dark next to each other in a cinema. Never danced together. We have all these things still to look forward to. It’s like our relationship is happening in reverse. We’ve already done the cosy bonding; we’ve relaxed into each other; and now we get to have the adventures.
Not only can we plan all the dates we missed out on, I tell myself, I can enjoy them in the knowledge that I’m spending my precious freedom with someone who’s worth it, someone who cares. But then another part of my brain pipes up: isn’t part of the excitement the not knowing, the do they/don’t they? Isn’t the reason you can’t wait to go out because you want to have those nights when you have no idea where, or when, or with whom it will end? Where it’s all a possibility.
I have a friend who also started a relationship in lockdown; they’re hitting the one year mark soon. She thinks he may be phasing her out but is philosophical about it.
“We served a purpose for each other. That sounds cold but it doesn’t mean it was a sham; we really liked each other. But now we don’t need each other so much. I think that’s OK,” she says.
And really, isn’t that how most relationships end? Life changes and your priorities shift. Essentially, I am now using the staggered phases of the government roadmap to slowly test the viability of my relationship outside of these lab-like conditions, where external demands and temptations don’t really exist.
I’m hopeful that this phased return to normal life gives us a chance to gradually adapt, to weave in the elements of reality that have been missing. It’s time to bring this lovely, untouched thing we have out into the light of day – and hope it doesn’t break.
The end of lockdown may make or break many relationships – but if you are right for each other, you will adapt.
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