The Reality of Pandemic Relationships

I think everyone can agree that COVID-19 has impacted their relationships. Whether it is platonic, familial, professional or romantic relationships, the pandemic has affected the nature and quality of these connections.

I have seen my close friends and their significant others break up, maintain their connection or start new bonds entirely since March. 

My sister, Hannah, started dating during the pandemic. She began seeing her boyfriend, Will, in July after she was introduced to him by her roommate. Starting a relationship during quarantine was difficult to navigate and foreign territory. It affected what they could do and how they would spend time together. 

The only dates they go on are to get coffee because places are either closed or too busy, and Hannah is immune-compromised, so she is hyper-vigilant about staying safe. 

“I have to be so careful with my lungs, so I get anxious about going out places,” Hannah said. 

This has resulted in more weight being put on communication. “Because I don’t get to see him as I normally would, texting has more value,” she said.  

In addition to talking throughout the day, one-on-one time has been the focus of their newfound relationship. 

“Quality time and words of affirmation have become huge in our relationship and same with my friends. They’re struggling because they see their person less because of COVID, and there’s more value in texts. Or, their person is doing extra work at their job because they don’t want to get fired, so they see them less,” she said. 

She elaborated that in relation to COVID-19’s impact on her relationship in particular, “I think it’s been great in the sense that it forces quality time. However, if your partner isn’t a fan of quality time or making quality time, you’re screwed,” she said.

“Also, acts of service weigh a lot more. It’s not just, ‘I’m going to go to Target’, it’s ‘I’m going to go to the store, stand in line, wait, then when I get home I need to take a shower and wash the clothes I was in.’ There’s more energy put into everything,” Hannah said. 

Acts of love that may have seen smaller before the pandemic seem all the more intentional and loving now. Hannah mentioned that Will had gotten her flowers, and in addition to the act of giving her a gift, it meant a lot to her because he had to wait in line at a grocery store with only two registers open while wearing a mask.

Though the coronavirus has intensified positive aspects of relationships, it has also boosted the negative aspects. The pandemic has closed a lot of options for activities and led to much more time spent indoors. Being confined with one person for long periods of time is challenging. 

“I get very easily irritated at him because we’ve spent so much time indoors in one room or two for hours on end,” Hannah said. “We can easily get under each other’s skin because you’re spending so much quality time together, and sometimes it’s too much, but there’s nothing else you can do. If you want to be together, you’re in a confined space together, so if you don’t communicate well, that leads to tension and fights.”

The lack of action can take its toll. “I think for sure there has been more conflict because there’s less we can do. There’s less fun stuff you can do. We’ll sit here and be like, ‘What should we do, or what can we do,’… it’s having to try and be creative,” Hannah said. 

Furthermore, this puts pressure on the time that the two are able to be together. “Every time we hang out, there is so much pressure for it to go well because I don’t know when I’m going to see you next,” Hannah said. 

In addition, when school started up again and jobs reopened, things got more complicated. “We started dating in the summer when we didn’t have school, so that was helpful to start without school during the pandemic. Dating with school and the pandemic is insane,” Hannah said. The two are now having to juggle their jobs and class schedule in addition to dealing with the complications of life at the moment. 

My roommate, Hayden, also saw her relationship affected by COVID-19. Hayden was living in New York City and had been dating her boyfriend mostly long distance for almost a year and a half right before the pandemic hit. Just prior, her boyfriend had moved to New York for work. They were finally going to be in the same city, doing what they were passionate about, and Hayden was thrilled. Then, when things shut down, their rhythm completely changed. 

“I was at school, and he was up there working, and when it hit, we both came back to North Carolina together. I left school, he left his stuff and we had to come back home. It was really hard when we came back because our parents were freaking out…we weren’t allowed to see each other because we were socially distancing. It was weird because we were so used to seeing each other on our terms and hanging out without that and without that fear that we could get each other or our families sick. We were trying to navigate that whole thing. It wasn’t just about us anymore, it was about everyone,” she said.

The pandemic meant new rules and new boundaries for everyone, including people in partnerships. “With any relationship, whether it be with a boyfriend or girlfriend or with your parents, siblings, friends, because of the new circumstances you’re under, you have to be honest and transparent in every sense of the word. Saying that you hung out with that person or saw that person even if you were six feet apart and wore a mask and socially distanced and were outside, you still have to tell them… you have to get down to the details of, ‘I did go to the grocery store and we were all wearing masks,’” she said.

However, the coronavirus ended up having a positive impact on their dynamic. “Honestly, it impacted it in a positive way, because even though COVID is awful, it gave us a lot of time to reconnect and hang out with each other more. I spent a lot more time with his family, who I hadn’t seen in a long time. We had a lot more time to focus on each other,” she said.

They started writing together and taking time to do things they would have otherwise been too busy to do. “It was weird because, in the middle of the whole thing, I didn’t have a job and he didn’t have a job, and once I was done with school virtually, we suddenly had all this time, so we started to work on different projects together and try to entertain ourselves creatively,” she said. 

“The more interesting transition for us has been going back into school,” Hayden added. “I started school in August, and I started two jobs in August too, and he’s not in school right now but also has a job, so going from having this summer where we were freer and weren’t allowed to get jobs was a lot. Things just picked up and got busy so fast that when I moved to Chapel Hill, I didn’t get to see him for two weeks and we weren’t expecting that. Navigating the new normal of online classes and work schedules and how to go about that with COVID, too was definitely a big transition for us and figuring out how to navigate the new normal.”

For all of us navigating the changes, quarantine increased the need for connection and support while also making it difficult to do so. I experienced this first hand, as my relationship with my boyfriend struggled when the pandemic hit and ultimately resulted in a breakup. 

I went to visit him for my spring break and was excited when I got the announcement that the break was being extended. That extension turned quickly into a semester of online classes. For my boyfriend, it meant he could no longer do the job that he loved and had worked so hard to get. He lost the ability to do something very important to him and crucial to who he is, and I lost most of my responsibilities and was facing a much lighter semester. It did not take long for issues to surface and for my boyfriend to decide that he wanted space. I left Denver and came home to North Carolina, confused about what was happening to us. We were both going through personal things, and COVID-19 brought our lives to a screeching halt. After a few painful weeks of trying to make things work, he decided that he didn’t want to anymore. I was now at home living with my parents, quarantined during a global pandemic, and had just lost the relationship I cherished most. The next few months were rough adjusting to all of the life changes. But eventually, things started to get better. I made new friends and deepened my relationships with my existing ones. I also spent time focusing on myself and exploring my own interests. Ultimately, it was for the best, and I grew a lot as a person and realized how strong I was. Surprisingly, in late July, the boy re-entered my life. We came back together after time apart and had learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship in our offseason. We started dating again in July, and so far, it has been even better than before. We appreciate each other more, have a stronger understanding of ourselves and desire to make the relationship work. The coronavirus essentially ruined my relationship and then rebuilt it from the ground up.

My relationships and those of people close to me continue to shift in response to the pandemic. Some shifts feel positive and others negative, but mostly, it is just growing pains. We are all out of our comfort zones and trying to navigate our own lives, relationships aside.  

 

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