Valentine’s Day 2021: Love in the time of Covid

Foggy window by Gaelle Marcel. Souce: Unsplash

How has the pandemic affected lovers? To mark Valentine’s Day, EastLondonLines speaks to three couples about the impact the virus has had on their relationships

From long-distance lovers to Limehouse locals: Sam, a 30-year-old artist, and Lily, a 32-year-old schoolteacher, live in Tower Hamlets and have been together for two years

Two years ago, Sam from Limehouse fell in love with a woman from the Philippines called Lily. They met through a dating website. Pretty quickly, they could not stop talking, sharing memories and dreaming of what their life would be once they saved up enough to have a family. She was working as a teacher in a remote village when he visited her for the first time. During an autumn religious festivity organised in her home town, he met her parents; afterwards, she came to the UK to spend Christmas with his family.

Before the pandemic, they had planned to spend Easter together, they wanted to go on a summer holiday, and maybe even organise a wedding in the Philippines. But that was not what the pandemic had planned for them. During the first lockdown, Sam’s grandfather passed away. In Lily’s side of the world, the number of people using the internet increased, resulting in poor signal. The lovers could only have a 15-minute conversation before being cut off by incessant beeping. It was the solace of a simple voice message saying they were okay that kept them going through this difficult time.

But in October, a violent typhoon hit the Philippines, cutting every means of communication, as well as destroying many houses and lives. Luckily, Lily and her family were fine, but the experience led to Lily making a life-changing decision. At this point, it had almost been a year since she last saw Sam, and neither of them could imagine being apart again. For Lily, moving to London meant losing her teaching career, but as they could not travel, she finally decided to move in with him.

Since then, their life has consisted of long cuddling sessions in front of the TV and romantic walks in Limehouse’s nearby fields and parks. They’ve tried to grow lettuce in the garden, redecorated the house, and Lily accidentally killed the bonsai Sam’s mother gave her.

But besides that, everything is pretty great. 

Breaking down and breaking up: Dylan, 28, an Android developer from New Zealand, and Zosia, 21, a Polish History of Art student, lived in Hackney, and had been together for four years before ending their relationship this year

It was the day before New Year’s Eve that Zosia, who was living in Dalston, called her boyfriend Dylan to end their relationship. They had met three years before on a cloudy day in Shoreditch. They loved to see art exhibitions and go to gigs together. Sometimes, she met him at the pub with his friends, although she was not the biggest fan of a crowded atmosphere.

When the pandemic hit London in mid-March, Zosia was living in Dylan’s shared flat. She was anxious, his roommates had a different attitude to the Covid safety measures than she did, and she was missing her family. Dylan says her stress put a strain on the relationship. Nevertheless, they still spent the summer going to parks in Hackney, walking by the canal, or watching Netflix shows.

By September, Zosia had not seen her family in six months, and so she decided to go on a three-week trip to Warsaw. But those few weeks soon turned into several months. The 2000 km between them, as well as the growing strain on their plans for the future, led them to break up over a video call. They got back together a few weeks after, but intense calls about the banalities of lockdown ended their relationship for good. Zosia eventually came back to London, decided to self-quarantine alone in a rented flat, before coming to Dylan’s home for a final face-to-face goodbye. 

Love at first sight: Sinead, 24, a child carer, and Gareth, 30, a plumber and army reservist, have been together for almost a year and are living in Lewisham

After losing her job as a nanny, Sinead, originally from Sussex, went on a club night with her friends. Suffering from chronic pelvis pains and recently divorced, she was not looking to fall in love. But there she found Gareth, standing at the bar. They “instantly locked eyes”, she said.

She bravely offered him a lollipop she’d bought from the the toilet attendant in the club and they started chatting. She immediately had great chemistry with Gareth, a Lewisham local. Two weeks after the first lockdown began in the city, the lovers escaped to New Forest, Hampshire. There, they spent their first date, drinking wine out of coffee cups, walking in the forest, making plans for when it would all be over. Feeling like teenagers again they enjoyed each other’s company, playing cards and board games, making fire pits, and when allowed, going on car drives.

But soon, Gareth was called to help build the mobile testing sites around London. For a month, he worked all day, shared a barrack with other reservists, and the lovers could only phone each other at night. When it was over, Sinead called and asked him to put on a suit to meet at her friend’s house in the suburbs. She had cleared out a spare room, decorated a table with rose petals and put on her best dress. Her friends dressed up as waiters and cooked a six-course meal for them to finally their first proper date.

“Lockdown has definitely tested our new relationship, we have not even been together a year yet, and we have already been through so many trials and tribulations together,” said Sinead. Gareth is unable to accompany her to the hospital because of the virus, but he always waits in the car for her. In November, with the new lockdown and Sinead’s health declining, they moved in a beautiful house near Grove Park. They are still figuring out how to furnish it, but are both very excited to make it their own.

Gareth and Sinead

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