I can’t say falling in love was front and centre of my mind as the pandemic took hold in March, and we were all summoned into lockdown.
It’s not that I didn’t want to meet someone — I was definitely open to the idea — it’s just when all of our plans were put on ice as the virus ravaged its way across the world, I had other, more pressing things to think about. Like staying alive, staying solvent and staying sane.
But life doesn’t always go the way we expect it will, does it? And so, alone in my flat for weeks and weeks in the first lockdown, I allowed myself to download a dating app.
I’d previously sworn off them for over a year, tired of the lack of basic manners, the overwhelm of empty exchanges and the transactional approach to dating I felt they promoted.
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Dating in ‘normal life’ had always felt like a high-stakes game. Back when I had a rich and full social life, why would I risk spending the evening with someone I could end up disliking, when I could go to a gym class or see a friend, both of which were guaranteed to bring a positive outcome?
But stuck in my flat alone for weeks on end with hours and days to fill, and literally no plans that didn’t involve Zoom, the prospect of chatting to strangers didn’t seem so grim. And on a purely academic level, I wanted to see how the f*ck boys were faring, without recourse to their usual tried and tested formula of f*ck and chuck.
Beyond any and all of that, a small part of me felt hopeful — that being forced to stay indoors with our feelings all day and night might make us all more willing and likely to open up. More curious about one another. More patient with each other’s flaws, and more likely to invest in each other.
Maybe, I thought, the pandemic in all its horror, might actually have a positive impact on dating. At the very least, it would alter its usual dynamics, which would be interesting. Maybe I’d even get some good content out of it?
And whadayaknow? I was…right. Of course, everyone’s experience of dating in the pandemic has been different, and I’m not here to offer a smug ‘oh but hun when you stop looking it’ll find you!’ But for me, the new conditions of dating allowed me to peel back the cumbersome layers of self protection I’d built over the years and reconsider what I thought I wanted, allowing me to stumble across something far more important: what I needed. And then to realise that what I needed was actually what I wanted after all.
Six months have now passed since I met my partner, and I can honestly say they have been the most peaceful, loving and supportive months of my life. Not simply because of him — though of course he plays a part — but because after years of tumultuousness in my personal life, and the Olympic-grade set of hurdles I’ve had to overcome to get here, I have finally arrived at a place where I am able to accept that maybe I am lovable after all. And then able to accept love from a worthy source.
The trouble is, that while all of this nice stuff is happening in our little support bubble, the world is falling apart. Not a day passes by without another abject tragedy. People are losing lives and livelihoods at a rate of knots. Misery abounds.
It’s odd to think that by the time I meet a lot of his family in person – many of whom live abroad – that we’re likely to be a fully established couple
It’s hard not to feel guilty. Not to feel like my happiness is somehow making the suffering of others more cruel, and harsher by comparison, or that I should do the decent thing and hide it from everyone’s view.
I’m lucky, I know I am, that the only major loss I have suffered this year is in a work context. And I’m not trying to gloat, or be self-satisfied about the fortunate turn my life has taken this year. It’s more that I feel I should acknowledge to myself — and the others in my life who have supported me — how far I’ve come since my own truly awful years.
Perhaps I should be used to the feeling of being out of sync with my surroundings. When I had my own annus horribilis in 2017, everyone around me was celebrating exciting milestones and achievements, revelling in their happiness.
That same year, I had left an abusive relationship, stopped eating altogether and was completely consumed by depression. The only breaks in my sadness came in short, sharp bursts of excruciating anxiety and panic. I felt completely isolated from a lot of my friends, many of whom, on the cusp of 30 as we were, were announcing their engagements, pregnancies and career highs.
I knew, rationally, that my personal misery didn’t take anything away from their joy and that their joy didn’t make me any more miserable. But it’s different now somehow, because the scale of the suffering is so immense.
Another competing force in my head tells me it’s important to celebrate the good times, because they’re so often only brief, or bookended by more challenges. Getting to this place of peace has taken me years of self-investment, therapy and work — and so rather than thinking of this time as haphazard and random, I know I should reframe it as something that has been slowly building for a long time.
That way it feels more stable, more solid; less likely to burn out so quickly. Because for me, the biggest difference this year is not that life has suddenly become easier, or that challenges are somehow absent from my life — it’s that I finally feel confident that I am resilient enough not to let them break me.
And it’s strange, of course it’s strange, for me and my boyfriend to be building something so nice and pure and joyful while everything around us crumbles. Strange that owing to the restrictions in place to stop the spread of the virus, the majority of my friends have yet to meet this person, who, in such a short period of time, has become the only human with whom I’m allowed to have contact.
It’s similarly odd to think that by the time I meet a lot of his family in person, many of whom live abroad, that we’re likely to be a fully established couple, potentially living under the same roof. How do we think about planning a future together when even the idea of anything beyond the current moment feels impossible to imagine?
At the same time, it is also just so incredibly nice to have a new place of warmth and shelter that while I’m certain I could live without if I had to — I’d really rather not.
As green shoots of optimism start to poke through the oppressive wall of grey we’ve all been facing this year, I know for the first time in a long time many of us are allowing ourselves to feel and appreciate the warm embers of hope.
As we do, and without undermining any of the tragedy that many people have experienced this year, I’m feeling grateful for my little patch of sunshine. Because as well as being a rare moment of peace in the unpredictable chaos of life, it’s also concrete evidence — for me and anyone that could benefit from knowing it — that misery doesn’t last forever. And that although it might not feel like it right now, nice things will happen again. Things will feel different. Just give it some time.
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