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In sickness, in health and in quarantine
COVID-19 has tested patience, boundaries and even our sanity. It’s a continuous whirlwind of emotions as each new stage of the pandemic is unveiled. Relationships—new or old, near or far, straight or same-sex, married or not—have all struggled to adapt to new rules. In a disconnected and isolated world, these couples chose love and perseverance, allowing simple acts of creativity to keep the romance alive.
We all want the best for our relationships and to be sure they will last; the reality is it takes a bit of luck and a lot of work. Add on a new layer of people trying to make relationships work while also dealing with COVID-19 restrictions and there’s plenty to worry about. How do we handle staying at home all day long? How do we handle having to go out when it feels unsafe? How do we pay the bills when we’ve lost our jobs? How do we deal with closed schools and closed daycares? Are we all just going to turn into couch potatoes?
Every couple has to contend with unique challenges brought on by the global pandemic. But for some, the stress and lockdowns have brought them closer. Six couples, each at a different stage of their relationship, tell us what their lives were like before the pandemic and what things are like now.
COVID-19 couple: Meet Layla and Kylie
Layla and Kylie met amid the global pandemic courtesy of a dating app called Bumble. Their love of books, cafés and festivals quickly paved a path to romance. Layla recently came out as a lesbian. Kylie, her first non-heterosexual partner, gave her the most memorable second date experience involving being serenaded in a book store from a stage covered in candles. Who could say no to that?
Layla is on track to finish her undergraduate degree in a few months and Kylie works as an elementary school teacher. As a COVID-19 couple, the two have spent most of their time indoors watching shows, napping and doing online classes together. They venture out once in a while to dog parks and cafés—when they are open.
Going steady: Meet Jane and Omar
Jane and Omar have been together for just over two years. They both worked at a movie theatre in 2014. It’s no surprise that watching movies at the theatre after a nice dinner out had been a staple for them. Their dates would end in a leisurely walk in the park or on local trails. Their lives took a major turn when the pandemic began, as the two had to find ways to keep things interesting indoors.
Jane is a full-time university student and spends her free time catching up with friends. Omar works three 12-hour days each week as a component cleaner at a re-manufacturing company. Once clocked out at work, he clocks in hours of gaming online to relieve stress.
Although they have different ways of spending free time, they make sure to fit in cuddling in between. Jane and Omar have now turned to board games, animé and cooking to keep them busy.
Long distance: Sherwin and Andy
Sherwin and Andy have been in a long distance relationship for three years. They live in different provinces of the Philippines, an hour’s flight apart, due to different career opportunities. Sherwin wears many hats as a creative specialist, graphics and multimedia artist, and the founder and CEO of a production and AV service company. Andy works as a purchasing officer in one of the Philippines’s largest pawnshop and money exchange centres. He is a reliable critique and supporter of Sherwin’s work.
Life as a long distance couple was already hard as they only got to see each other once a month. But the two made sure to make visits as memorable as possible. They travelled to places near and far, explored tropical beaches and indulged in different cuisines.
For 10 months, due to travel restrictions, the couple was unable to see each other. The constant ache for physical touch and quality time took a toll on their relationship, but the two found ways to spice up their relationship. Delivery services, for things like food, flowers and gifts became their saving grace. They found creative—and sneaky—ways to surprise each other.
The newlyweds: Meet Madison and Deryk
Madison and Deryk are COVID-19 newlyweds. After being together for two and a half years, they finally decided to tie the knot in May 2020. It was a decision they did not make lightly.
Madison and Deryk first met in university when they were both finishing their undergraduate degrees. Before the pandemic, they both played competitive sports: Madison was a pole vaulter and Deryk was a hockey player and coach. Their busy schedules did not stop them from spending quality time together. They made sure to go on dates twice a week, treating themselves to lots of good food and drinks. The two also actively connected with their families, friends, communities and church.
COVID-19 changed a lot of their routines. Everything moved online, even church services and family visits. Online gaming platforms became their means of staying in touch with friends. They even started taking online dancing lessons.
And yes, a significant amount of watching TV has taken root. They won’t be cancelling their Netflix subscription any time soon.
Married with children: Meet Joy and JD
Joy and JD met at church when they were just teenagers and have been together for almost 19 years. They have three children, ages eight, 11 and 12.
As a couple, the two enjoyed hikes, walks, eating out, church events and dinner parties. As a family, they went on bike rides, swam at the local pool and spent time with extended families. Their family’s weekly chalkboard was full of activities.
Their hectic schedules allowed them to go on dates once or twice a month. A typical date was eating at a new restaurant, taking a walk through town or going to a shopping mall.
As their busy lives ground to a halt, boredom started to creep in. JD’s outgoing personality thrives on parties, laughter and larger groups. With none of that happening, the couple felt a bit restricted. Life took a lot of adjusting for these parents, as they took turns working from home to help with homeschooling.
As a couple, they started to do yoga together after their kids went to bed. They may have missed the dinners and parties at first, but it’s hard to feel lonely with three kids running around!
Empty nesters: Meet Bev and Tim
Bev and Tim worked together at a hospital in 1986 and have been married for 33 years. They have one daughter, Jenny, who is married to her grade school sweetheart.
Like many of us, Bev and Tim’s lives were more exciting pre-COVID-19. The two of them indulged in multiple camping and hiking trips in the mountains. They golfed and ate at restaurants with friends and family.
The restrictions have been hard on their mental health, as being around friends and family—especially Bev’s mom—had been an integral part of their lifestyle. Not being able to see their loved ones has been challenging.
How have they faced this tough situation? In part, with two paint brushes! The couple took up painting as a new hobby and sit and paint together after supper as they talk about their days.
Look for hobbies to take up together
“Don’t settle for TV. Pick up a new hobby and make the most of your time.” —Madison and Deryk.
A lot of couples depend on outings to keep their relationship active. Arcade games, movie theatres, board game cafés, restaurants and bars give couples interesting ways to interact. These environments open the gates for stories, jokes and memories. But when all of that is gone and your ambiance is an old, stained couch at home, how can you keep things interesting?
The answer, according to these couples, was relatively simple: find new hobbies. They can be as simple as playing board games or online games. Not a board game fan? No problem! Bev and Tim have picked up paint-by-numbers as their new hobby. Even if painting isn’t your thing, consider doing something new together.
Actively make plans
“Live every moment and enjoy the smaller things in life; make plans for things you can do safely.” —Bev and Tim.
Our lives have circled the ever-changing restrictions. Be sure to do things with your partner actively. It may seem challenging because many of the places you used to go are closed and the government has had ongoing rules on indoor gatherings, but they do recognize the human need to socialize.
Mother nature has so much to offer. It might be time for you and your partner to hike around a nearby lake, go dirt biking, or try your hand—or feet—at rollerblading. Plan to go on adventurous walks and explore a new area. Take advantage of outdoor activities.
Keep going on dates
“There are so many excuses to be lazy and stay home but be creative. Be sure to make an effort, even if it’s just little things.” —Layla and Kylie
With lockdowns happening both unpredictably and regularly, people get discouraged and avoid making plans. Not knowing if that restaurant you reserved will still be open next month is a COVID-19 reality we all face. Maybe you’re used to it, but it may even deter you from thinking about anything that sounds like a date at this point.
It’s easier to be lazy, but try to keep the romance alive: keep going on dates. Dress up once a week like you would on a normal, COVID-19-free date and make an effort to recreate date night. Use delivery services to kick off the evening. Add surprises here and there, like sending flowers to your partner, have food delivered randomly or treat yourself to a paid movie that isn’t on Netflix. If you didn’t have regular date nights before COVID-19, this is your chance: Set a day once a week or once a month to treat your significant other to a well-planned date.
Reflect on your growth
“Your partner should be your safe space as you learn to process.” —Joy and JD.
Use this time to reflect on your growth. Focus on what brought you together, not on what could tear you apart. You’ve made it this far; remind yourself of the challenging situations you have faced as a couple and how you were able to rise above them.
Ask yourself: How did you grow from other tough situations? How did the two of you cope with other challenges? When you look back at this chapter of your life, can you see a way to appreciate your accomplishments—big or small?
Communicate and respect the need for personal time
“Always communicate your needs to your partner.” — Sherwin and Andy
Our partners wear many hats in our lives. They are our loyal supporters, biggest fans, dance partners and body pillows. In them we find happiness, strength and love. Some of us, however, may have unconsciously developed a codependent relationship with our partner. Relying on your partner to entertain you when you’re bored is not their responsibility. But because they are the only person you are allowed to be around, you could easily—though unintentionally—put that burden on them.
It’s important to recognize our world is so much bigger and our needs exceed what romantic relationships can provide. Find a variety of ways to recharge, have fun and decompress. If your partner asks for personal time, respect it. If you need to have personal time, communicate it!
Learn your partner’s love language
“Find out what your partner likes and how [they] want to be treated.” —Sherwin and Andy.
Named after a book of the same title, the five love languages describe different ways of relating to each other: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Do you know which love language your partner seeks? Do you know your own?
There are multiple online tests to find out which ways of relating resonate most with your partner. Having this knowledge allows you to better meet your partner’s emotional needs and can increase intimacy.
If your partner values acts of service, simple things like doing chores mean a lot. If they crave physical touch, put on a movie and cuddle up. Taking this test together could be a new thing you do today, and tomorrow can be the start of a deeper relationship.
Look forward to your future together
“Pandemic and isolation won’t be forever; take care of each other and your goals together.” —Jane and Omar
It may seem like the pandemic will never end. A lot of things have been postponed or cancelled. There are probably more to come. But as long as it may feel, the pandemic is not going to last forever. Use this time to reflect on what you want to keep doing in the future.
Perhaps you’ve both grown to love cooking together. It’s a healthy alternative, and it’s certainly cheaper! You may have gained the confidence and the creativity to explore diverse recipes. Or you both realized cooking is a big no-no for the two of you. Your post-COVID-19 future may involve more take-outs and fewer dine-ins!