“Maybe all relationships should start with the first six months in a lockdown bubble”

BY FRANCESCA CATLING, IMAGE BY KETUT SUBIYANTO FOR PEXELS

According to a Google search, nine months is considered a short-term relationship. To be classed as long term, you’ve got to be at least two or three years down the line, when the oxytocin levels have well and truly dropped off. What my Google search doesn’t take into account is relationships started during a global pandemic and spanning two lockdowns. They exist in a totally different temporal dimension – one that feels more akin to dog years. Our nine months actually feels like we’ve been married for at least five years – luckily in a good way.

We met online last August. Our relationship enjoyed a brief period of freedom back in September and October and a couple of weeks in December which I can’t even remember now, they were so fleeting. Most of our relationship was been spent in lockdown, principally the cold, dark, wet winter one. When we did have the opportunity to go out, we didn’t always take it: Covid cases were rising, new variants were being discovered and the last gift you want to give your new partner is the gift of coronavirus.

For the past nine months, we have existed in our bubble, at home, only venturing out for yet another bloody walk. Turns out there are only so many alternative routes you can find round your hood. There have been no cinema dates, no trips to the theatre, no weekends away, no meals out, no drinks on a Friday night in the pub with friends, no dinner parties, no weddings, no birthday parties, no shopping trips. None of the “normal” events or outings that come as standard in the first nine months of a relationship. There has just been a LOT of time, in a one-bedroom flat, getting to know each other extremely well.

Maybe all relationships should start with the first six months in a lockdown bubble. In this stripped-back version, you find out pretty quickly if you want to be with this person for the foreseeable as you learn all their “little ways”. We can now tell how the other person is feeling from the slightest change in tone, the smallest change in expression or from the number of texts we might send each other during the days when we’re not together. For two people who will happily admit that patience is not their strong point, we have learnt to develop it by the bucket-load in the last nine months.

We have lived through the most mundane and stressful life has to offer – and survived. We’ve painted a bathroom together: covering a deep shade of teal with white is harder than you’d imagine and takes far more coats of paint than you’d think. We’ve sorted out wardrobes and cupboards and quickly learned that one of us is far more ruthless than the other when it comes to throwing things out, but found ways to compromise. We’ve watched Masterchef, Nigella and Jamie and tried to replicate dishes and skills in the kitchen “for fun”. Some culinary experiments were more successful than others and we soon learned who was the sous chef and who was the saucier, and now have a very successful routine when it comes to preparing a meal. You name an exciting household chore, and the chances are we’ve done it together, turned it into an activity and probably enjoyed it. Relationships lived in normal times don’t enter this heady level of domesticity until at least a few years in, whereas we cut to the chase.

With the world opening up again, have we created a solid enough basis to survive our two-person bubble being well and truly burst by the invasion of friends, family, and general social interaction? Let alone having to drag ourselves off the sofa, put on a bra and wear something that doesn’t have an elasticated waist?

Ten days into lockdown easing and I’m pleased to report we made it through getting dressed in proper clothes, travelling on the tube and meeting friends in real life, with a mixture of overwhelming joy and complete exhaustion. We felt like a team facing the world again and even had a code word we’d use if one of us had enough and wanted to go home.

As wonderful as it was to see people and places again, it turns out we quite like our lockdown bubble and breathed a sigh of relief when we were finally back on the sofa watching the latest episode of Line Of Duty in our Marvel Avengers lounge pants. We may even sort another cupboard or two next week, before settling into another five dog years of marriage – we hit the seven year itch in June, but thankfully it will only last as long as it takes to unstack the dishwasher.

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