The coronavirus crisis is putting all our relationships to the test, from home-working couples juggling emails and childcare to unattached friends trying to offer mutual support remotely, at a time when many without partners feel more single than ever.
But some have really thrown themselves in at the deep end and are navigating the “new normal” with people they’ve never previously lived with or have only just met. Some have called the trend “corona cuffing”, others are dubbing these couples “coronnials”.
Read on to hear some of their lockdown love stories, the psychology behind their relationships and insight on why people might be quick to reach for intimacy in these unsettling times.
‘Cuddles and bubble baths’
Simone Lourens, 33 and Tom Cashen, 32, Raglan, New Zealand
After setting their Tinder profiles to a broad radius, Simone Lourens and Tom Cashen, who usually live a two-hour drive away from one another, matched three weeks before a month-long lockdown in New Zealand. They spontaneously decided to spend it together at Lourens’ house, following just a couple of dates.
“She said: ‘Go on’, and I wasn’t sure,” recalls Cashen of their hurried decision-making. Or as Lourens remembers it: “Your exact words were: ‘Don’t throw me out into the apocalypse if it doesn’t work’!”
The couple are now, as Lourens puts it, “having a blast”. They’ve been doing home workouts, drinking good wine and, according to Cashen, having “a lot of cuddles and bubble baths”, while trying to remain focused on their day jobs.
“The main challenge is avoiding video calls at the same time, but it’s also good because we can actually talk about our work because we work in a similar field,” says Lourens, who is a web developer, while Cashen is a graphic designer.
They plan to stay together after the crisis, although that may involve returning to a long-distance romance.
‘It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster’
Rory Boggon, 23 and Carmen Adaja, 23, Hong Kong
Backpackers Carmen Adaja, who is from the Netherlands, and Rory Boggon, a Brit, are just wrapping up two weeks in quarantine in a hotel room in Hong Kong, having previously only spent six days together. “First we were a little bit scared that maybe we wouldn’t like it,” says Adaja. “But we have a good connection.”
The pair originally met in Cambodia and continued their travels separately, but they both rushed to Hong Kong as other places in the region began closing borders. Boggon’s parents had already booked and paid for a hotel room in the city, for a holiday they had to cancel due to the coronavirus crisis. He arrived just before Hong Kong introduced a 14-day quarantine period for tourists, but Adaja landed a day after, so they decided to wait things out together.
“The feelings are pretty strong at the minute,” says Boggon. “But we understand that we are from different places, and that makes things more difficult when we leave and go back to our respective countries.”
So far there have been no arguments, while Adaja credits Boggon with helping her handle a difficult period, during which her grandmother has passed away and her aunt has contracted the virus. “It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster to be on the other side of the world, and then it’s really special to meet a new guy that you are able to show your true feelings to.”
‘He moved out but we’re still together’
Shadi Shekarrizi, 32, London, UK
The start of 2020 was a fun couple of months for Shadi Shekarrizi, a public infrastructure project manager who began dating a colleague from another team. “It had been intense for about six weeks before the lockdown in London,” she describes. “We saw each other daily. So we'd go and grab a coffee, or a drink after work or maybe go get lunch together... and hang out on weekends.”
Shekarrizi’s boyfriend was visiting her apartment as the UK’s lockdown got underway, so the couple decided it made sense for him to stay. But after a week, her partner opted to move back in with his flatmate in another part of the city, knowing that once there, they would not be able to see each other while social-distancing restrictions remained in place.
“Although we had been really comfortable in the space and it hadn’t been tense, the fact that it had kind of been enforced on us was making it a bit weird, because we had both been single for a really long time,” she explains.
The couple still regularly video chats and Shekarrizi hopes they’ll stay together. “It's probably more sensible for the longevity of the relationship to let it grow more naturally,” she argues.
‘I moved to Sweden after two weekends with him’
Camila Porto Araujo, 32 and Daniel Björk, 37, Stockholm, Sweden
Brazilian-born Camila Porto Araujo was living in Portugal when she met Stockholmer Daniel Björk, who’d logged on to the Badoo dating app while he was visiting Faro. The pair visited one another on two more weekend trips, but mostly kept in touch via texts and phone calls.
As the crisis hit Europe and countries began closing their borders, the pair was worried that Sweden could also introduce travel restrictions which would stop them meeting up again. Meanwhile the pandemic coincided with Porto Araujo’s job contract in a sales role wrapping up. “For me it’s good timing. He is helping me with affection, because we don’t know what is going to happen in the world,” she says. “He is very quiet and calm, and I like it.”
The biggest challenge for Porto Araujo is being alone during the day. Sweden has not introduced a full lockdown, but she is practicing social-distancing as much as possible, while her partner is not able to work from home.
She is using the time to improve her English and start learning Swedish, in the hope of finding a job as soon as the crisis is over. Meanwhile the experience has helped her become “100% sure” she wants to be with her partner now, even though she’s discovered he’s a regular snorer.
‘We missed our moment’
Mathilde Laluque, 31, Paris, France
Wedding dress maker Matilde Laluque and her 29-year-old boyfriend had enjoyed a romantic six weeks exploring Parisian galleries and restaurants after meeting on Tinder in mid-January.
But the couple opted to navigate the French capital’s lockdown while living apart. Unable to work, freelancer Laluque moved into her parents’ house on the outskirts of the city to avoid being stuck in her tiny studio apartment, while her partner remained with his flatmates and continued his job in finance.
“We were a bit naive thinking it would only last two weeks,” says Laluque. “We thought there might still be some way of visiting each other but that’s not the case. If my mum were to drive me into Paris, we’d get arrested.”
They’ve managed to maintain their relationship thanks to “a great amount of lovely conversations” on the phone. However, Laluque says she wishes they’d taken the gamble of trying out cohabiting and says she can understand why other new couples decided to rush into things. “I still hope we can move in together one day, but the crisis has affected my finances and that will affect our options in the future now.”
Covid-19 crisis love: What the experts say
While the global Covid-19 pandemic is unique, it’s not unusual for new couples to form or stick together in crisis situations, explains Matt Lundquist, a relationship psychotherapist based in New York. “In moments of fear and panic, we grab onto the safest, most-available-for-intimacy person around us,” he says, adding that he observed a similar phenomenon after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US.
For those already in flourishing new relationships, cohabitation under these circumstances may heighten emotions and increase their connection, he argues. Others, however, may be “in denial” about their true feelings, having settled for “someone they knew under normal circumstances they shouldn't have gone on a fourth date with”.
But Lundquist believes shacking up with an unsuitable long-term partner isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the current climate.
“I think for many, isolation is pretty terrifying... so everybody needs to do what they need to do to get through this,” he says. “A lot of therapists are needing to contradict what under normal circumstances would be good advice like avoiding getting into a relationship too quickly or dating somebody who perhaps follows an old unhealthy pattern, and instead make concessions to help people find as much safety as they can to survive.”
Creating routines and rituals is the best way to establish a new normal and avoid conflict – Rebecca Morley
Whether you’ve gone into lockdown with a partner or you’re simply sharing your home with a friend or relative you’re not used to spending so much time with, “creating routines and rituals” is the best way to establish “a new normal” and avoid conflict, adds business and life coach Rebecca Morley.
She advises couples who are co-working from home to break up their days and weeks with shared activities, such as always having an afternoon coffee together or starting a weekend hobby. “It means you don’t have to keep making decisions, so it takes away a bit of the emotional load and allows you to take things one step at a time.”
Lundquist says it’s also important for couples to weigh up potential exit strategies in case things go wrong. “From a virology perspective, what we want everybody to be doing is to be as locked down as they can and staying in place. But if a situation with a partner becomes unsafe, if this person is really abusive or manipulative, you’ve got to get out of there.”
When the crisis is over he, like many observers, predicts a boom in separations and divorces. But he hopes that neither those who find themselves newly single nor people who’ve been craving intimacy in solo lockdowns will latch on to the first person they meet.
“Under more ‘normal’ circumstances – whatever that word means – I don't want folks to settle. I want people to do the work to grow and develop and find a path towards a really healthy partner.”