(On the 12th of March, as coronavirus concerns began to gain velocity in the U.K., Durham students were told that the final week of classes would be delivered online. Almost 10 days later, the British government announced a national lockdown. Indigo Features interviewed a number of Durham students who’ve been dating or in a romantic relationship during this period*. This is the second instalment of a two-part series. You can find the first part here.)
While the pandemic has had its effects on the dating scene, couples have had their own challenges. Rachel from the U.K. has been with her boyfriend since the beginning of this year; ‘Lockdown has certainly been a defining feature of our relationship so far!’ she exclaims. ‘It does feel somewhat unnatural not to be able to have physical contact with the person you are dating,’ she says, ‘but not being able to see each other as regularly as we would have liked has taught me not to take our time together for granted.’ She tells me that for her birthday that took place in the beginning of May, her boyfriend drove over to her house to deliver her present in person. ‘We sat together at a distance in my front garden just to have a chat. It definitely made me feel much better about spending my birthday at home.’ Reflecting on these past few months, she adds, ‘However difficult it’s been, I do consider us to be lucky in that we are still able to meet and see one another. I know many couples do not have that liberty.’
One such couple are Ronita and her boyfriend. Ronita travelled home to India before the imposed lockdown, while her boyfriend stayed in the U.K.; they’ve spent over half of their eight-month relationship in different countries. ‘A four-and-a-half-hour time difference and a distance of nearly 5000 miles do in some way make a relationship a bit of a task,’ Ronita admits. ‘But the long distance has made us communicate a lot more, which has only brought us closer.’ She really emphasises how important communication has been for the relationship. ‘I’ve grown up in a family where conflicts are just brushed under the rug and not discussed. This just leads to passive aggressiveness towards each other later, and that’s exactly where communication comes to the rescue. He’s been very understanding about that,’ she says. ‘What earlier seemed like a struggle doesn’t really feel like a problem at all anymore. I feel so much more secure; I can now talk to him about literally anything and everything without feeling judged.’
Sarah from the U.K. echoes a similar sentiment; her girlfriend lives in Sri Lanka, and long-distance has had its set of challenges. But the biggest struggle is perhaps movie night: ‘She loves Adam Sandler comedies,’ she teases. But jokes aside, she adds, ‘Queer relationships often have to be hidden from friends and family, which is the case for my girlfriend. It’s really sad that she has to keep a part of her life secret.’ However, despite the hurdles, Sarah and her girlfriend have found ways to make the most of what they have. ‘We’ve both learnt more about each other’s family lives. I love hearing how her accent changes when she talks to her parents.’ And when the distance gets especially unbearable, Sarah tells me she looks through old photos of them in Durham. ‘It makes me so excited to see her again,’ she gushes.
Meanwhile, Becca from the U.K. has been living with her boyfriend during the lockdown. She admits that the anxieties and frustrations of lockdown weren’t the best for her mental health, but her boyfriend has been hugely supportive throughout. ‘He knew I was anxious for him to go back to work full-time, so every morning he makes sure to kiss me before he leaves and tell me how proud he is,’ she reveals. ‘That small gesture every day makes me feel like he really recognises the way I feel even if he doesn’t fully understand it.’ When asked about if they’ve found new ways to spend quality time together, Becca mentions an impulsive purchase of a projector. ‘When the weather was nice, we set up an outdoor cinema and just watched films outside all night.’ However, what she cherishes most is that they’ve discovered that they can spend hours together comfortably simply enjoying each other’s presence. ‘Even after four years with someone, it’s surprising how much more you can learn about each other.’
In these portraits of love during one of the most defining events of our generation, there lies proof that despite our deepest frustrations and imperfections, love finds its way. It shows its endurance, its comfort and its delicious unpredictability despite isolation and separation. Love does in fact make the world go round, even in government-imposed stillness, and in such extraordinary circumstances, it is perhaps the most important force to hold on to whenever it is found.
*Some names have been changed for anonymity.
Image: Heidi Januszewski