Travel Restrictions: Does Lockdown Make The Heart Grow Fonder?

Travel Restrictions: Does Lockdown Make The Heart Grow Fonder?

We explore how lockdown has brought couples together, torn others apart and ask: what might this mean for the virtual dating landscape in the long-term?

dating platforms have been hooking us up for over a
decade. Now, with kissing unofficially designated a public health
hazard and travel off the cards, people are avidly swiping for
matches like there really is no tomorrow.

According to a report released by Tinder, the app received a
record-breaking three billion swipes on the 29 March, proof if ever
it were needed that lust knows no bounds. But there’s more to it
than that. Tinder conversations around the world are lasting 10-20
per cent longer than average which suggests that travel
restrictions are encouraging app-savvy singletons to make more
meaningful connections beyond the occasional hook-up.

Not mentioned in that report, are those bravehearts who matched
just before quarantine was imposed and willingly locked themselves
into isolation à deux.

In fact, so popular is the act of coupling up – either virtually
or IRL – that “corona cuffing” and “coronnials” have entered the
vernacular to describe those doing exactly that. With our favourite
date spots shuttered and face-to-face meet-ups verboten, why are our
romantic relationships accelerating at such a rate?

I was only six dates deep into courting my Tinderella when
lockdown struck. We were tight-ish. He’d met a smattering of my
friends over dinner in Dalston and I’d clinked glasses with his, at
a house party in Rotherhithe. Freedom of movement wasn’t a
privilege back then, and we both exercised it tenaciously,
percolating through London’s nooks and crannies like deadly,
immobilising, stupid viruses.

Then, it happened: quarantine. We could either fast-track the
relationship – bypassing meeting the parents, a consummatory
weekend break and the honeymoon stage – by forming an intimate
isolation cell, or see it out from our separate doomsday bunkers
tethered only by a WhatsApp thread. We opted for the latter.

I was wary. After my last beau hopped it to Wales, WhatsApp
became both our lifeline and tripwire. He’d send photos of babbling
brooks, I’d match them with Hackney’s latest sub-par graffiti.
While each cinematic train journey through the British countryside
felt romantic, every double tick I received in the long expanses of
time between reaffirmed my conviction that our previously parallel
lives were becoming evermore tangential.

We could either fast-track the relationship by forming an isolation cell or see it out from our doomsday bunkers tethered only by a WhatsApp thread

But in mine and Tinderella’s case, state-sanctioned distance has
made the heart grow fonder. Observing each other’s quirks via
WhatsApp video call has been a real bonding exercise. Housebound
and stuck on the same hamster wheel of work, booze and Netflix, we
became closer and closer until, like a true child of MSN messenger,
I popped the question: “Will u be my bf?” Thankfully for the
purposes of this article, he said yes. I don’t know what’s more
alarming; the pandemic itself or that those of us with skittish
dating histories have settled into Tinder-enabled Zoom cocoons.

“Lockdown has changed our relationship a lot,” says Becca, who
matched with Rahish just a couple of months before quarantine, “not
least because we are actually in one now. Hurrah!”

From the start, Rahish was like many Tinder bachelors – an
emotional flip-flopper, unwilling to commit. Then, lockdown
happened and a switch flicked. They’re officially a quarantine
couple now and maintain a constant line of radio contact. “I’m not
sure that commitment from Rahish would have been so forthcoming if
life was BAU [business as usual], but perhaps I wouldn’t have been
as upfront about my feelings either,” says Becca.

Since becoming A Thing, they’ve discovered an intimacy that
didn’t previously exist. “We’ve shared hundreds of voice notes,
selfies, memes, photos of food and screenshots from Strava, Sleep
Cycle and Words With Friends. We talk more about the deep stuff
too,” she says.

On the subject of deep stuff, what of the people who plunged
head first into weeks of totally uninterrupted one-on-one time?
“Things are going weirdly well – arguably better than with previous
partners who I was only seeing twice a week,” says Isla, who
matched with Tom two months before quarantine and has been roosting
in a lockdown love nest since government restrictions began.

Even serial daters like Fifi seem to be ploughing hitherto
undiscovered emotional depths. “I simply can’t FaceTime date
everyone. It’s exhausting, not to mention many people would say
it’s just weird,” she says, before divulging the details of her
latest online escapade.

“I noticed immediately that while I had a generous supply of
tinnies, she didn’t have any alcohol at all – just a non-alcoholic
beer that she’d been given by her gym”. For an enthusiastic drinker
like Fifi, such sober behaviour would have elicited an immediate
dismissal in February. But with fewer options on the cards, she let
it slide and she’s glad they did – they’re connecting for the third
time next week. “Obviously I’d like to see her face-to-face, but in
trying times you just have to be resourceful,” she says with the
plucky resolve of a wartime farm-hand.

Do our fast-tracked romances have a healthy shelf life or are they circumstantial and vulnerable to collapse? What happens once we’re let loose into the world again?

It seems illogical. Given that all of the candlelit and palm
tree-fringed destinations historically proven to foster fledgeling
romances are out of bounds and physical contact is forbidden, why
are newly formed relationships ostensibly going so well? Do our
fast-tracked romances have a healthy shelf life or are they
circumstantial and vulnerable to collapse? More to the point, what
will happen once we’re all let loose into the world again?

To help answer these questions I enlisted the help of Peter
Saddington, a counsellor at relationship support charity, Relate.

“To some extent we’re living in a fantasy right now,” he says.
“Real life is when you are mixing and sharing your life with lots
of other people. Put those people back in and that intensity could
get lost.” Does he mean to say that quarantine romances are
allusory? “I think these romantic connections are genuine. At the
time most parties feel that intensity and closeness and interpret
it in that way.”

WhatsApp and Zoom can catalyse bonds, he says. “We’re quite
tempted to be disinhibited when we’re making relationships
virtually and therefore they can start very quickly, seem very
important and be very intense.”

And what’s the prognosis for those like Isla who have formed
isolation units? “If you start living together, you’ll find out
about the things you like about each other and those that irritate
you more quickly. Either way, as you’re forced to live together,
for now, you’ll have much more incentive to make it work.”

Could corona cuffing signal the death knell for dating apps
which hubristically claim to have been “designed to be deleted”?
Peter thinks they’ll continue to gain traction, but I’m not so
sure. History teaches us that in times of instability, people are
more likely to cloak themselves in familiar comfort blankets than
they are to brave new ground – both topographically and
romantically, that is.

Personally, I’ve deleted Tinder and Hinge – that’ll teach their
marketing schmucks for being quite so on the nose. Isolation has
encouraged me to take stock: what do I really want after all this
has blown over? Banana bread aside, lockdown has provided an
opportunity to jettison the flotsam from my life and to fill that
space with things that are seemingly more robust – romantic
interests included.

Who’s to say whether our quarantine love-ins will withstand all
the challenges posed by the “real world” – not least one made more
difficult by financial hardship? I’m marking that question as
unread until this is all over. For now, let me revel in my
HouseParty for two.

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