Imagine being separated from the one you love. Or stuck with the one you don’t, or being alone? Stories of the heart from behind quarantined walls.
‘It’s reminded us why we chose one another’
Catherine, 36, mature student, Conwy
For the past few years, our lives have been stretched after we moved to Wales from London, when I got pregnant. Money became tight, as did our time. I was made redundant and went back to university. Danny became a landscape gardener, but it’s not exactly lucrative. Before all this, our days would just disappear: cooking, school runs, cleaning, working…
By the time Danny got in – bath and bedtime done – we’d collapse on the sofa: have you paid the council tax? What’s left in the joint account? Do I need to make you sandwiches tomorrow? Sleep.
Things were different when we first got together. We never had high-flying jobs, but our time was free. Now, being in isolation, in our little cocoon, has cut us off from all the outside noise and reminded us why we’ve chosen to build our lives with one another. We’re teaching our son how to play the xylophone and doing silly dances to pirate songs as we jump around in the kitchen. We have space to enjoy the things we did before we became parents: making music, playing Scrabble, dressing up as people from music videos.
We’re petrified, too. All Danny’s work has dried up. And we’re both aware things are going to get worse. Here in the country we might be behind London, but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming. I wake up every day and it’s as if I’ve forgotten what’s happening. When I remember, I can’t help but panic. I know our little bubble may burst, but the longer we can stay inside it the better.
‘Balmoral emailed: my proposal was off’
Toby, 35, sports commentator, London
Being a romantic at heart, I’ve always known that I’d want to make an elaborate, romantic proposal. I’ve been with Claire for nearly four years, and I decided I wanted to marry her quite early on.
She loves the royals and all things historical, so one evening I Googled “Where was the Queen proposed to?” Turns out it was Balmoral. I got to work putting a plan together and booked a surprise trip to Scotland for 1 April. As the date edged closer, the coronavirus situation worsened. I was determined it would happen, but then Balmoral emailed: our visit was off.
I had no intention of proposing in the living room when I woke up that morning. Claire was trying (and failing) to use an app to learn how to count to 10 in Italian. I told myself: if she manages to do it, I’ll propose. Eventually she reached 10 – and I knew what I had to do.
I grabbed the ring, but my mind went fuzzy and I started to cry. She pointed out that my flies were undone. Yet, somehow I managed to propose.
We called our families as soon as the ring was on her finger and our friends organised drinks on Zoom. Yes, the whole thing is tinged with worry and this wasn’t quite how I’d planned it, but who cares? She said yes.
‘Infidelity makes you resourceful’
Jack, 48, media technician, southeast England
I’ve been married 25 years and have had a relationship with another woman for seven. It’s not something I’m proud of, all the deceit and concealment. But you can’t help who you fall in love with. I’ve never wanted to rip apart my family, because there are children involved. To stay or to go, which is kinder? It’s a dilemma that’s more common than you’d think.
We both have spouses, but before the lockdown we’d carve out time to speak to and see each other at lunchtimes, in the evenings, whenever. We’ve gone from constant communication and contact to struggling to find enough privacy to send a quick text.
We’ve seen each other once since this began, albeit very briefly. She doesn’t live close by, so it took a fair bit of lying. We found a country park and went for a walk, but we couldn’t be long. Disappearing off into different directions for who knows how long has been heartbreaking. We haven’t made a plan to meet again yet, but we will. I know there’s a lockdown, but being in this type of relationship makes you incredibly resourceful.
I manage not to dwell too much on what I’m doing when life is busy. We’ve got our routine, which means we can overlook things which cause discomfort. But now we’re all slowing down, you can’t help but think a little more. I’m realising I’m making myself miserable by not being with the person I love, to protect my family. But being stuck in the house, it’s clear my unhappiness is affecting my wife and the children. I’ve been too much of a coward.
We discussed leaving our partners at great length a few years ago, but there was always another set of exams, another big date in the diary. Now we’re all staring at our own mortality, and it’s the oldest adage in the book: life is too short. If we get through this, I think we’ll have to make a go of it. If this lockdown lasts a few more weeks I’m sure we can wait, but if it’s six months? I’m not sure I can handle it.
‘My flatmate has been relentlessly flirtatious’
Ashley, 28, marketing executive, London
I didn’t think about him in that way at first, when I moved into the flat-share a few weeks back. I heard there was a room going through a friend and, after one of those awkward housemate interviews, I got the call to tell me the place was mine if I wanted it.
When we’d chatted over beer, one of the boys had mentioned he was gay and I told him that I was, too. He seemed cool – quite good looking, clever, sporty – but I can’t say I fancied him. When I got round to moving my stuff in, he was on holiday. By the time he got back, the new measures had already started. Within a few days, the lockdown was in full swing.
From day one of being back he’s been full on: very touchy-feely and relentlessly flirtatious. He makes a point of helping me stretch when we work out together in the garden. He’ll tiptoe up behind me and put his hands on my hips while I cook.
“I bet I can guess what you’re about to do,” he jokes when I head alone to my room. “Maybe I can give you a helping hand.” He laughs in a way that hides whether or not he’s joking. I’m pretty certain he’s coming on to me, but it’s impossible to be sure. It’s all insinuation and innuendo.
In normal circumstances I wouldn’t hook up with a housemate – it gets messy. Plus, his room is on one side of the flat, mine on the other. The third housemate is right in between – getting off with some privacy would be a logistical nightmare. And it’s possible being a tease is just his character. Imagine how awkward it would be to make a move and be rejected. Still, I think a crush is forming, although maybe that’s just because he’s now my only option. The last few times we’ve had a drink our other housemate has gone to bed early leaving just the two of us. We sit very close, hand-touches-leg, eyes meeting momentarily.
Next time that happens I think I’ll just go for it – the prospect of no sex for months outweighs the risk of potential humiliation. Maybe it’ll add a bit of excitement to our newly mundane existence. And, worst case, I can move out when this is all over. It would just be a relief to have something, well someone, to do.
‘I couldn’t risk being the one to infect him’
Sarah, 58, hospital pharmacist, London
At first I told my husband to take some obvious precautions: don’t take the tube, wash your hands regularly. Working on the frontline as a pharmacist in a busy London hospital, I’d seen the epidemic developing firsthand.
My husband is quite a bit older than me and given my job I’ve always known I might come into contact with coronavirus. I was worried I’d bring it home and I couldn’t stand the thought of being the one to infect him.
We talked about him moving out of our home temporarily, although he wasn’t keen. Not just because it seemed a pain, he didn’t want me to worry. Last week I concluded it was for the best, it would make me less paranoid and him – I hope – a little safer.
It wasn’t too hard to arrange. A friend not far away offered him plenty of space. One morning he dropped me off at work, then went to pack his bags. He was gone by the time I arrived home. I’ve kept one of the dogs, he took the others.
We haven’t spent more than a few nights apart in our 20 years together. It’s difficult for both of us: he wants to be there to support me as things get worse, but now feels helpless. When I come home after a difficult day, there’s nobody to talk to.
In the evenings we catch up, although there isn’t much to say. His days have become repetitive, mine quite depressing. I come home exhausted, feed the dog, eat in front of the TV and then I’m sleeping. Weekends alone feel very strange.
What we’re doing isn’t special. I’m sure anyone working in the NHS – who could – would do it. Hopefully it’ll all be over before too long, and in a few months we’ll be reunited. It’s just with the weeks stretching out, I don’t know when this might end, or when I might see him. And I already miss having him around.
‘My beautiful whirlwind romance is on pause’
Juan, 34, photographer, Berlin
It’s fair to say I’ve been unlucky in love. Berlin isn’t a city that lends itself to meaningful and long-term relationships. I’m on and off different dating apps; when I’m lonely I click download and then quickly remember why I deleted them. On a rare occasion while swiping a month ago I matched with a guy who was incredibly cute. “Oh, what a treat,” I messaged him – my super-lame opener.
We started chatting and right away I could tell there was a spark. We talked as if we’d known each other forever. I normally find it too much to meet up with someone on the first day, but there was something to explore, so we made a plan to meet that night.
We grabbed a kebab and walked around the neighbourhood for hours. Everything felt so right: from his Irish accent to his looks and dorky sense of humour. For me the whole evening felt special, something different. We kissed at the end, so I guess he thought it went well, too.
From then on the texting was constant. After missing a flight two days later (I went to the wrong airport), I messaged him. He told me to come to his apartment and we cooked dim sum – already he was there to pick me up when I needed him.
After a few more dates I went into voluntary self-isolation. We’ve only met up once since then to walk in the park – no touching, which was tough – and now the city is in lockdown. It feels as if this beautiful whirlwind romance is on pause. For the past few weeks I’ve wanted to message him constantly, but I don’t want to overdo it or come across as clingy. I worry that what was developing into something special might stagnate.
Today, though, I got a text. He asked if I wanted to take a bike ride next week with him. I said yes immediately. If we’re still allowed to head out, and if it goes well, I might just suggest we bite the bullet and quarantine together for a while. That way there’s no risk it fizzles out, and God knows I could do with the physical contact.
‘Our relationship has returned to the internet’
Oliver, 14, student, Chester
We met online playing Fortnite nine months ago – and a week later I asked her out. We’re at the same school and so we’d see each other every day. When the schools closed, I didn’t want to freak her out by making a big deal that this could be the last time I saw her.
The other day she walked past my house with her mum, so we talked from each end of the driveway. We usually go to one of our houses after school on Thursday, so we’ve agreed – for as long as we can – that’s the day one of us will walk to wave at the other. It’s funny, I met her in a video game and asked her out on Instagram. Now, in this strange situation, our relationship has returned to the internet.
‘We cancelled our golden anniversary’
Judith, 74, retired schoolteacher, Shrewsbury
It wasn’t quite the celebration we’d been hoping for. The two of us sheltering from the cold in the doorway, my daughter six feet away in the driveway shouting congratulations. It was 50 years since Peter and I got married. As golden wedding anniversaries go, ours ended up a little underwhelming.
We’d planned a proper party, but once the government made it clear this was a pandemic and over-70s like us have to stay indoors, we cancelled. Instead, on the day, we had breakfast and wished each other a happy anniversary. I opened up the cards and uploaded some photos from our wedding day to Facebook. As the comments rolled in we reminisced: our honeymoon in Scarborough; the happy days spent with the kids playing in our old family home in Yorkshire.
I’ll never forget buying our first LP together: Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water. I asked our Alexa to play it as we sat on the sofa. We had a listen, although not much of a dance. With two replacement knees and a replacement hip (with another on the way), we can’t move like we used to. My son called and we all toasted with champagne over FaceTime.
We’ve made a promise to do it properly once this awful time is over, but it won’t be the same. For now, though, we’re warm, we’re well and we’ve got enough food and alcohol to keep us going.
‘I’m trapped with the man who betrayed me’
Aaron, 32, hospital secretary, Texas
It was only six weeks ago – after working a late shift at my hospital job – that I found out my husband was cheating on me. He wasn’t responding to my texts and I was worried he’d had another road traffic accident (he wrote off our old car a month earlier), so when my shift ended I used the vehicle tracking software built into the new car to check in on him. I found his car, and watched him leave her apartment block.
We got married six years ago in June, but turns out he’d been at it for years. I left our home to stay with friends and family. I needed space to think – and to work out a plan. Six days later, and still in shock, I got a call: my grandpa had died. I returned from the funeral prepared: we’d divorce and part ways forever. The marriage was over.
But just days after touching back down in Texas the pandemic hit. Both people I’d been staying with live in high-risk households, so I couldn’t go back to them. I work in a Covid-designated unit.
The problem is that he has nowhere to go – he’s alienated himself for years – and I can’t just throw him on to the street in this situation. Once this is over, he’ll be out the door, but I wouldn’t wish the virus on anyone. And anyway, I’d have had to change the locks to kick him out, and I’ve been working so many hours, there’s been no time to make it to the hardware store.
So I’m back living in the house with him, constantly drained and exhausted from all the overtime. I’ll talk with him about groceries and how we’re doing for money – and that is all. I think he knows better than to try and come near me, I can barely look at him. The only time I get alone is walking the dogs, or when I call my counsellor from my car in the driveway. It’s isolating and I’m hurting.
I’ve had to go into survival mode. I’m an extrovert by nature, hugs from loved ones are my fix-all. Not being able to be held closely because of the pandemic… it’s torture. I’m avoiding all unnecessary human contact, keeping clear of all public spaces, just in case I’m a carrier.
All I needed was some time – to sell our house, pay off my student debts, then start afresh – and instead, I’m trapped living with the man who betrayed me.
‘At nighttime, the loneliness hits’
Amrita, 43, researcher, New Jersey and Sweden
In summer 2017 I upped sticks from the US to start my new job in Sweden. A few weeks in – struggling with the language while ordering a coffee – a man in the queue behind jumped in to help me. We started talking, he introduced himself as Christian. We’ve been together for two and half years, and he proposed last April.
I settled in quickly, but my teenage son missed America. I decided to stay, and he headed home to be with his dad. Since then I’ve been splitting my time between both countries. In early March, I made a trip to the US. Once I arrived, things started to get worse: my speaking engagements were cancelled, my son’s school closed. Then my flight got cancelled. I booked a new one, but when the day came my boy was feeling insecure and I couldn’t leave him. I arranged a new ticket, but the plane never took off.
I sometimes wonder if Christian really understands the severity of what it means to live in a state of emergency. Things are different in Sweden: he’s still going to work and can pop out for a walk or to a café in the evening.
Days start in lightness, we send jokey texts. It’s at nighttime, when we’d normally be together, that the choking loneliness hits. Our wedding was planned for July, although now that’s definitely not happening. It breaks my heart to have no idea when I’ll see him again.
‘Our relationship has had to mature quickly’
Mikayla, 19, student, New Hampshire
As soon as I met Dalton, I knew I had to convince him we were soulmates. We started college last September and lived in the same halls of residence. At a Bernie Sanders rally he turned to me and asked: “When are we going to stop pretending we aren’t perfect for one another?” It wasn’t until February that we officially got together.
It was like being in a movie. The weather was warm and we had all the time in the world ahead of us. Then we got an email: there’s coronavirus in New Hampshire, and you have to go home. My family lives out of state and to get there I’d have to transfer at a busy airport. The last thing I wanted to do was put myself, or others, at risk.
I was panicking, but Dalton told me not to worry: I should come home and move in with him and his family. I’d met his dad only briefly and our relationship was a few weeks old.
It’s intense what we’re going through, and takes a lot of communication. Our relationship has had to mature really quickly. One of us makes dinner and the other does the dishes. We share a room, so that needs tidying. Groceries need buying. The intrigue of what our future might be like is no longer a romantic mystery. That’s reassuring for both of us – if we can get through this, we can get through anything. I’ve had strong feelings since the day we met, but seeing Dalton with his family and pets has made me fall even more in love with him. Through this scary time he has become my rock.
‘I wonder if we’re being more honest online’
Robyn, 30, project co-ordinator, Bristol
When Boris Johnson announced lockdown, I re-downloaded [dating app] Hinge in a panic. A week earlier I’d decided I was done with online dating. I’d try to meet someone in real life. Then my plans were scuppered. It’s weird to be single and know you won’t meet anyone new for ages – being certain there’ll be no one to be close to as things get worse.
Going through the profiles, most of the bios felt irrelevant: you like coffee and going to the gym? Not any more. Already some were adapting to this weird new world. Ideal first date? Quarantine and chill. What do you look for in a partner? No tight chest, cough or high fever.
I’m not sure what I was looking for. Someone to help me get through this uncertainty? Something to pass the time? Even if I did find someone, it could be months until I ever met them. Surely the novelty would wear off.
It was a relief to remember small talk when I started chatting. After speaking with one guy for a while he suggested we have a video date. Not seeing his face, keeping that air of mystery, was exciting. “Let’s have a phone date to start,” I replied. It’s like a quick drink – you don’t want to commit and there’s potential to build some anticipation.
I realised as soon as he rang how much I usually rely on first-date flirtation. How I value smells and touch, and how kindly a potential partner treats strangers. We had to just talk.
It lasted an hour, although I didn’t notice. I think we’re ready to progress to video. That throws up a whole load of questions. Eating dinner alone in our respective living rooms feels funny. But drinking? That should help with the nerves. I’ve decided I’m going to dress up. When else am I going to get the chance to wear lipstick in the foreseeable future?
I stopped digital dating because it all felt so transient. A place for fun and a quick ego boost, but nothing deeper. I’m not sure if my opinion has changed although we’re in such a state of uncertainty now, I wonder if we’re all being more honest online. There’s no time for bravado and bullshit, none of that matters, and just being fit simply won’t cut it… I want to know how you’re coping as the world collapses, to hear something real.