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- October 20, 2020
Kia Hansen is inherently wary of commitment. She hadn‘t been on a date for years when she met Darren Mennell.
But three months on she confounded friends — and herself — when he moved in with her as lockdown was announced. ‘I‘ve always been a bit of a commitment-phobe, so if someone had told me at I‘d be living with a boyfriend now, I‘d have thought they were mad,‘ she admits.
Actually, almost six weeks after Darren started sharing her home in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, Kia, 46, an interior stylist, admits: ‘In many ways it‘s working really well.
‘If I need space, he goes to a different room or out for a run. I‘m messy so he‘s tidying up after me — without complaint (so far).
‘Living with someone has been a big change for me, but I think I would have been lonely in lockdown without him. We‘ve fallen into a comfortable routine, cooking dinner together each night and I must say I‘m enjoying the domestic bliss.‘
Six weeks ago, on the first day of the UK lockdown, the Government gave couples in new relationships an unprecedented ultimatum. They had to decide at once whether to share a home or quarantine themselves separately.
This gave birth to two new social phenomena: the instant live-in relationship and the virtual one.
Now in day two of a fascinating series in which we scrutinise the effect of lockdown on relationships throughout the UK, we talk to those who have plunged into immediate commitment — and those who are dating from afar.
On Saturday we revealed the results of our uniquely wide-ranging survey in which 1,600 women responded to questions about their sex lives and relationships since lockdown was implemented on March 23.
And the news was cheering. Far from heralding a new era of domestic strife and conflict, 76 per cent of respondents admitted to revelling in the chance to spend time exclusively with their partners.
Most women across all age groups also said their spouses were being more helpful with household chores than before, the most significant improvement was among 25-34 year-olds where 58 per cent said their partners were ‘slightly‘ or ‘a lot more‘ helpful.
And, it seems, there is a correlation between this willingness to share jobs around the house and the amount of sex we are having. It is surely no coincidence that the partners described as ‘a lot more helpful‘ in lockdown (a third) are the ones enjoying the most sex — several times a week.
But today, as we turn the spotlight on the virtual strangers who are now living as couples under the same roof, we ask: will these fast-tracked ‘isolationships‘ thrive and prosper after lockdown ends? Or will they wane and die as quickly as they were formed?
And as those who are dating virtually give their verdicts on remote relationships, we ask whether reverting to an era of slower-paced romance is actually beneficial to couples.
Certainly Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation and author of the newly-published Commit Or Quit believes there are pluses in both cases.
‘Lockdown provides advantages both to couples who are apart and those thrown together,‘ he says.
‘When relationships are carried out on Zoom and WhatsApp, as sex is taken out of the equation, we‘re mimicking a pre-birth control era when couples were forced to build up a relationship without physical intimacy.
‘That makes it easier for the stronger relationships to survive and thrive when lockdown is lifted and the weaker ones to slide and drift away.
‘I can‘t think of a single circumstance when having sex early in a relationship is advantageous.
‘The more you become entwined in each other‘s lives, the harder it is to extract yourself if things go wrong. And generally living together is also a constraint because it doesn‘t actually improve your chances of staying together.
‘But the end of lockdown will provide a unique opportunity: couples thrown together will have a one-off exit route if the relationship is less than they hoped for, when in normal circumstances it could just have drifted on.‘
Will Kia‘s pragmatic relationship with Darren, 53, who works in business development, endure?
She admits she vacillated before committing, even to her temporary live-in ‘isolationship‘.
‘We started dating properly in January when he asked if we could be ‘exclusive‘. I freaked out, even making a list of pros and cons such as ‘always having to compromise‘. But friends told me to stop being silly. They could see he was good for me,‘ she says.
At the moment she regrets only the loss of mystique, the abrupt end to the honeymoon period when dating couples only see each other looking — and behaving — their best.
‘Living together does take some of the mystery away. I‘d usually be putting make-up on and getting dressed up at this early stage of a relationship, but now he‘s seen me in the morning, slouching around in slacks and make-up free.
For Emma Greenwood, 27 who works in procurement, the end of what she terms the ‘hearts and flowers‘ phase of her relationship with Steve Dunn, 27, came abruptly
‘And he does have a habit of narrating his actions, so he‘ll tell me when he‘s going to make a cuppa, or going to the loo . . . I find it amusing and irritating in equal measure.‘
For Emma Greenwood, 27 who works in procurement and has a 16-month-old son Freddie, the end of what she terms the ‘hearts and flowers‘ phase of her relationship with Steve Dunn, 27, came abruptly — as soon as dating transmuted, after just two months, into living together. Although she and Steve, who works in retail, make a point of chatting and cuddling on the sofa at the end of their working days, the gritty reality of everyday life has already intruded.
‘As well as the belching and snoring that you‘re suddenly forced to confront when you really should still be in the honeymoon stage, the other night we had our first argument, too. It was over something trivial which I really can‘t remember now, but it felt a bit premature,‘ she says.
Should Emma be worried about the hasty end to romance; that first tiff? According to couples coach Francine Kaye, who began a Love in Lockdown page when measures were introduced, the vital point is how you deal with disagreements.
‘The honeymoon period is really a red herring. It can end abruptly — as early as the third date sometimes — it doesn‘t have to be when you‘re co-habiting,‘ she says.
‘The bigger question here is how you deal with minor disagreements to stop them escalating into rows. You need to pause between stimulus and response and have an honest, open conversation.
‘And, of course, then you should look at your shared values and compatibility. In many ways these are like holiday romances. There‘s a lack of reality — when isolation is over, people will go back to their hobbies, their friends; to watching sport on TV, and this is where the resentment could start, when questions are raised about where you really stand in the pecking order.‘
At present, Emma is enjoying both the physical and emotional side of her ‘instant‘ relationship.
‘We‘ve already said, ‘I love you,‘ and we have an amazing sex life,‘ she says. ‘We always have, although I was worried that it would die down because we rushed things.
‘We‘ve gone from a newly formed couple to practically married with a child. But thankfully sex is one area still very much in the honeymoon stage — and I hope I haven‘t spoken too soon! And when it comes to taking care of Freddie, Steve has been great. So far, it‘s all working out fine. It‘s exactly what I hoped co-parenting would be like.
‘Time will tell whether we should have lived apart and carried on Facetiming each other. But for now, we‘re taking it day by day. This could be the worst decision of our lives — but I‘m hoping it‘s the best.‘
Catherine Burgess, 35, who works in the rail industry, is also hoping her live-in coronaromance with Steven ‘Woody‘ Wood, a data analyst — whom she‘d known only a matter of weeks when he moved into her home near St Neots, Cambridgeshire — will thrive beyond lockdown.
It has, she admits, been breathless: ‘I‘ve been teaching him yoga, we‘ve binge-watched Luther, we go for walks with the dogs and he helps with household chores.
‘He‘s the most laid-back person I‘ve ever met and I‘m more of a worrier, so he‘s keeping me sane. I‘ve never been particularly open with my feelings before, but I‘ve already told him I love him. Was it too soon? These are strange times . . . time will tell.‘
They are indeed. And during an era of duress, compelled by a sharpened sense of our own mortality, we‘re more likely to seize the day, to act impulsively.
Psychologist Dr Sharron Hinchliff observes: ‘We‘re very good as a species at adapting to challenges, including crises like the one we‘re currently in; that, and the fact that intimate relationships are a central part of life, means that we will find a way to make these relationships work.
‘Humans are hard-wired to belong, whether to a group, a community or a partner and during crises we feel this more strongly than usual.‘
And when the only other option to moving in, is not to meet at all, many are prepared to take a risk and dive into a live-in relationship.
Shelley Faulkner, 33, an occupational therapist and Laura Lahtinen, 29, a special needs co-ordinator, did just this only a few weeks after meeting.
Shelley is the first to admit that although it seems precipitate, she and Laura have already talked about a long-term future together.
Shelley who now shares her home in Worcestershire with Laura, says: ‘I said after my last two relationships, which had been rather full on, that I‘d never rush into another too quickly.
‘Yet here I am, living with someone I only met a few weeks ago and although it seems strange, it feels so right.
‘When the lockdown announcement came we had to make a decision as to whether we carried on with Laura in her third-floor flat and me in my house with a garden, just Facetiming and phoning each other.
‘Instinctively, neither of us wanted that. We decided that the sensible thing to do would be for her to come and live with me.
‘She‘s such a good cook that I joke that I‘ve kidnapped her for her cooking.
‘And although we‘ve fast-tracked our relationship, I can‘t imagine her not being here. I come home from work to lovely little notes from her. We‘ll do jigsaws, watch films and cook together. It still feels like we‘re dating, even if we do see each other first thing in the morning without make-up on.
‘We‘ve talked a lot about the future, about where we‘ll live together, about fostering children, whether we‘d like a cat or dog and even marriage — all very heavy stuff for a relationship that‘s literally a few weeks old.‘
Set against these fast-tracked relationships are their counter-balance: millions of unattached single people — unable physically to date and meet new partners — are embarking on virtual, on-line romances.
The evidence that, as a nation, many are forgoing sex is borne out in declining condom sales — one manu-facturer noted a ‘significant‘ fall since March 24 — and a corresponding surge in the sale of sex toys.
For hard-pressed career women like Sophie Medlin, 34, who lives in London and has her own company Citydietitians, ‘real life‘ dating can seem both irksome and time-consuming: ‘a fulltime job in itself,‘ she observes.
Mindful of time pressures, even before lockdown, she used dating apps‘ video chats as well as meeting men in person.
‘When it comes to my love life I have to be selective,‘ she explains. After lockdown she continued to ‘meet‘ men on apps, assuming, if they got on well, she could then see them when restrictions were relaxed. ‘But what I have found most surprising is that many guys, who have been in touch are totally unconcerned about following the lockdown rules,‘ she says.
‘On a couple of occasions, guys have asked me to come to their house or offered to pop over to my home regardless of the current situation.
‘But I‘m observing the rules. It matters for the health of our society — and those who disregard them hold no interest to me on a romantic or get-to-know level and so I automatically rule them out.‘
Sophie anticipates that she‘ll continue to use apps and video chats even after lockdown is lifted: ‘It‘s a good way to understand someone and work out if I‘d like to meet them in real life.‘
Already she has singled out one potential suitor on-line.
‘We‘ve been talking for almost a month now, keeping touch via one of the video apps and dating online.‘
They may not have met physically, but he has left champagne and roses on her doorstep, a ‘lovely gesture‘ which ‘bowled her over‘. They will, she says, meet when restrictions are lifted. Does she miss physical affection?
‘I‘m perfectly happy being on my own — but I‘d love a hug!‘ she says.
Meanwhile dog trainer and walker Katharine Pritchard, 41, a single mother of two children aged nine and seven from Sutton Coldfield, is more emphatic.
Although she‘s been video-dating, she misses sex.
She takes the business of virtual dating seriously, showering, dressing up and putting on make-up before she makes her call. And she sets the scene judiciously.
‘Before my date is due to call, I go in the garden which is looking lovely. Nothing says passion killer more than sitting in a kitchen with pots and pans behind me.
‘I‘ll have a gin and tonic and carefully place myself with whatever is blossoming behind me.‘
While she enjoys the ‘chatting and flirting‘ there has only been one man she has decided to see a second time.
The truth is, the lack of sex has been ‘really difficult‘. ‘I have a high sex drive and when I‘m seeing someone, sexual compatibility is really important to me,‘ she says. ‘I love the excitement and desire that comes with that aspect of a relationship. Things in the bedroom need to be exciting and spontaneous.
‘It doesn‘t have to be swinging off the chandeliers type sex either, but I do like to feel desired.
‘So I prefer to meet guys in real life than online. It feels forced chatting over the internet.
‘I can‘t help but assume that people are putting on their best behaviour and are focused on creating a good impression rather than just being themselves.‘
So Katharine looks ahead wistfully to an end to lockdown.
‘I can‘t wait to go to a pub garden lit up with fairy lights and tea light candles with my girlfriends and put the world to rights while also hoping to catching someone‘s eye,‘ she says.
‘I miss the physical interaction and can‘t wait to meet people in the flesh again.‘
Additional reporting: Jill Foster and Samantha Brick.
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