On our first date, seated outside at my favorite restaurant and surrounded by fairy lights and a bustling weekend crowd, my now partner and I were fairly confident something incredibly special was buzzing between us. From seeing eye-to-eye on the best films and music of all time to getting headaches from smiling and laughing so hard, Kyle and I shared that kind of immediate compatibility and intoxicating chemistry that — especially after dating for a bit in a city like Los Angeles — you figure only exists in Taylor Swift songs. But we chose to fall into it. We saw John Legend at the Hollywood Bowl and his Dodgers versus my Cubs at Dodgers Stadium, enjoyed sushi happy hours and taco date nights, and daydreamed about the trips we would take once we could sneak some time off work. Then, after less than a year of dating, on March 15, 2020, the world came to a screeching halt as the country confronted the threat of COVID with a lockdown.
We went from trying to score Lakers tickets to aggressively hunting down Lysol and toilet paper; from perusing Airbnb for romantic weekend getaways to attempting not to doom-scroll as increasingly terrifying news rolled out. We adapted, embracing our inner homebodies, sleeping, ordering, and staying in. In April, we took a drive to a beach town north of the city, patronized our go-to seafood spot, and said, "I love you" for the first time. In July, we adopted a kitten and put date night funds toward crinkle toys and catnip. We celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas hermiting out and eating Italian food on the couch.
Of course there were days we felt overwhelmed, sad, scared. We grieved the loss of loved ones, clenched our jaws over the threat of losing income. We tended to one another's emotional wounds when triggered and navigated family drama. And amid the constant undercurrent of fear, nonstop stress, and the weighty, unparalleled anxiety of the moment, we had never been more connected, in love, or happier.
That might sound like a rare fairy tale, given the deluge of heartbreaking stories about relationships ending in quarantine divorce, but we haven't been alone. From falling even deeper in love with a spouse to meeting their significant other during the pandemic, plenty of couples have seen the crisis fuel an even more loving relationship. Some even noticed that living through a year that felt more like a decade served to speed up their timeline, leading to more domestic vibes and serious conversations.
The reason, according to Kelley Kitley, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Serendipitous Psychotherapy in Chicago: "In crisis, we want to take advantage of all that life has to offer before time runs out."
As we look back on a full year of COVID shaping our love lives, here's how the pandemic has been fertile ground for speeding up and strengthening love for couples across relationship statuses.
Dating Led to Having Those ‘Big Talks’ — Stat
Erin, 29, from Queens, New York, met her boyfriend Chris on Hinge in September 2020. Although Erin wasn't a huge fan of all of the acrobatics that pandemic dating required (like meeting outside and having to cancel in the case of inclement weather or going on FaceTime dates), she went through the process because she was ready to find a real commitment. After clicking with Chris over drinks, their relationship quickly progressed to dinner dates at Erin's apartment, thanks to COVID and Chris' wacky schedule as a pilot.
"Our dates would be him coming to stay at my apartment for the weekend and making eggs," recalls Erin. "It got into the comfortable zone — and really domestic — really fast."
And as a result of the distance and the pandemic, they also found themselves defining the relationship and getting serious quicker than Erin says she would have otherwise. "I want to be with someone who wants a relationship, the same goals, and I think I became a lot more confident in voicing the things I want for myself," she says. "You realize that life is too short, so I'm not going to waste years of my life with someone who is not ready or who is dodging commitment."
Kitley says that exact sentiment is one clients have shared with her — and what they say has helped them enter a serious relationship faster than they might have pre-COVID. "They found clarity much sooner," she notes. "Psychologically, when we experience grief or loss, as all of us have during the pandemic, it can motivate us to make positive changes in our life."
And "big talks" are more common this year too, because people have become less tolerant of unresolved issues, says Kitley. "People are initiating harder conversations they've been avoiding for years, because they have less distractions and less to hide behind," she says. "A frequent excuse I heard from people from years past is, 'I just don't have enough time, I'm so busy.' Nobody's been able to use that excuse this year. Time is one thing we have all gained."
People In Long-Term Relationships Fell Even Deeper In Love
Ari, 35, met his girlfriend Angeliea at a friend's wedding he officiated two years ago. She was based in New York and only visiting L.A., where Ari lived. "I dreaded the idea of a long distance relationship, but it was bigger than me: I was crazy about her, and honestly, it probably set us up to thrive in the madness that was ahead of us," he admits.
Ari says the moment the pandemic hit was "scary and tumultuous." But he and Angeliea navigated the chaos together. Serendipitously, she was offered a job in L.A. around the same time. But it would take six more months of not seeing one another, meeting up in New York, quarantining for two weeks together, packing, then flying out to L.A. before they'd start a new chapter on the same coast.
Angeliea got her own place "in order to make her own life in L.A." and fostered a dog named Foxi who was pregnant. "We helped her give birth together, which was insane and beautiful," recalls Ari.
Meanwhile, they've taken turns helping one another through "the barrage of BS" the pandemic throws their way. "Everything feels much more manageable together," says Ari. "We've definitely gotten closer, more open. I don't know how I would have survived this chaos without having a partner like her. Angeliea always keeps me grounded, level-headed, and focused on what's important."
Seeing her attend to her family's needs and their safety as a couple only intensified his feelings, Ari says. "There's something a crisis reveals about people, and it certainly made me love her even more."
Sarah, 25, and her fiance Lochlainn can relate. The couple has been long distance for the entire duration of the pandemic. She lives in New York City, and he's in Ireland, but they had been spending time in Boston where she's from. Lochlainn had been in the process of getting a visa to come back to the U.S. when COVID struck. "I honestly worried about my relationship because I had no idea when I was going to see him," she recalls. "I felt like we were solid but also worried things could potentially fall apart due to the unforeseeable distance."
But they managed to get creative to keep their bond intact. "We write each other love letters, some old-fashioned snail mail," says Sarah. "We always spray them with our perfume/cologne so it's like the other person is jumping off the page, and it feels like they're right next to you."
The practice, which the couple leaned into as a way to simultaneously communicate and keep their romance alive, has paid off. Sarah notes, "Even though I haven't seen him in over a year now, I feel closer to him than I ever have."
She also admits that like many people, she has struggled mentally and emotionally — but that has only made her feel more connected to her fiance. "I knew he loved me before all of this, but now he has seen all of me, broken pieces and all and still has been there for me more so than anyone in my life that lives in close proximity to me," she notes. "He celebrates me and appreciates me and is honest with me, and I do the same for him."
Crises — especially those riddled with uncertainty, like this pandemic — often leave partners no choice but to be vulnerable with one another. And that vulnerability is truly the key to a successful relationship, says Stephanie Macadaan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. "It's what connects a couple and makes one partner feel safe and cared about and important to the other," she says. "If uncertainty is the element that brings a lot of fear and worry, then vulnerability is the antidote to that."
Married Couples Found Even More Ways to Support One Another
When we're fearful and life is unpredictable, we instinctively yearn for familiarity, especially from people who can relate to our experiences, points out Tennesha Wood, a dating coach, matchmaker, and star of the FYI series Black Love. "Humans need a certain level of predictability to truly feel secure," she notes. "Having a partner we can rely on creates a sense of predictable and normalcy, leveling out the anxiety and constant state of uncertainty."
That said, for some married couples, being in a trusting, committed relationship felt like a security blanket — and resulted in deeper love, adds Kitley.
That was the case for Los Angeles-based couple August, 42, and her husband Mike. Though they grappled with uncertainty around their careers and income and missed traveling — on their own and together — they were able to support one another through the highs and lows of lockdown. August, who hosts a podcast, says completely transitioning how she was recording, editing, and engineering her show presented a "huge learning curve."
"There were times that I wanted to chuck my computer at a wall," she admits. "And I remember one of those times, [Mike] said, 'I am so impressed by all you're accomplishing… None of that is easy.' I not only felt understood, but able to see my growth instead of just my deficits.I'm really grateful that he has supported me through it all, cheering me on."
The couple also found a lot of pleasure in simple outings. "We've had so much fun having picnics on our patio or in the car, watching movies at home, and going on many, many hikes," she says.
Given that tumult and tragedy set the stage for their experience, August admits she and Mike "almost feel guilty" for enjoying one another and their time together so much. But they've also felt grateful for enduring something incredibly difficult together. That's "really strengthening," says August. "I think love grows the more we appreciate it."
Rachel, 36, who lives with her husband Steven and their two kids in Summerville, South Carolina, similarly feels that the pandemic allowed them to gain a better understanding of one another and their contributions to the relationship. "I have always looked at him as my rock and the calm in my storm," but COVID made that even more apparent, helping keep her anxiety and fear at bay, she explains. "I got a much better understanding of the depth of his patience and calmness, and I think he got a much better understanding of how much I do everyday to keep our house and our kids running."
They also found that with child care being a "non-option," they had to get creative about date nights. "We strove to be intentionally romantic," says Rachel. "We set a night every week to get the kids to bed a little early and play a board game or have a special grown-ups-only dinner or go sit out on the porch together."
Not every challenge the couple faced this year could be met with a little ingenuity, though. They had to work to keep a family business afloat, be there for Steven's brother when he lost his job, and grapple with a family member relapsing in his battle with addiction.
While Steven used to meet difficulties like these by proposing a fix, Rachel says he's grown better at just listening. "A lot of the pandemic has felt out of control, so there were things he obviously could not fix," she notes. "He and I both have [gotten better at] affirming without trying to solve problems."
In turn, they've found that working as a team is their strong suit. "There's a game called 'Desert Island' where you pick the person you would like to be marooned with," says Rachel. "This year, I was basically marooned with Steven. And I would choose him to be marooned with again and again."
Macadaan points out that trauma — which we have all collectively experienced by living through COVID — is a bonding experience. "Weathering a really tough time together can lead to feeling more connected," she says. "For many couples, this time showcased their ability to work together and that they can rely on and trust each other in hard times. That has led to an incredible boost in confidence and feeling proud of their relationship."
What Loving Couples Did to Make It Through the Pandemic Even Stronger
Whether they're months or years into a relationship, couples who've weathered this storm and come out of it feeling even more connected and in love tend to practice the same healthy habits, according to experts.
They anticipated and embraced shifting, difficult emotions.
Having foresight came into play for couples who successfully navigated quarantine, says Wood. "They did not expect things to be business as usual, and they understood that their interactions with their partners would be different," she points out. "They anticipated that their emotions would shift and gave each other support when they needed it."
And when difficult emotions arose for one partner, the other could sit with them through it versus attempt to "change the channel." In turn, they could help one another process and express tough feelings honestly, says Wood.
They practice soothing and calming communication.
Macadaan says that couples generally have a set cycle, or style, of communication, and couples that fell deeper in love likely noticed that their style featured the ability to soothe and comfort each other versus fall into conflict.
"In a relationship, we are always gauging, 'Is my partner there for me? Do I matter to them, and if I need them, will they respond to me? Will they be there with me with what I'm feeling versus try to talk me out of it or move me away from what I'm feeling?'" she explains. "This experience created an opportunity to increase that sense of emotional safety and connection with each other. And, for many, their partner showed up in a big way."
They reprioritized their relationship — and the conscious work that comes with it.
All the upheaval that came with the pandemic stripped away defenses we use on a daily basis, requiring that we look at our lives, work, and relationships in a new way. "It became a time to evaluate what is important versus staying stuck in a day to day rut," points out Macadaan. "In tough times, there is a realization that our relationships are what is most important and what is going to sustain us emotionally and mentally." And she says happy couples likely found they had a shared, renewed desire to focus on and strengthen their bond.
For some couples, that might've meant seeing this global pause as an opportunity to take a microscope to their relationship's weaknesses — be that differences in how each partner deals with a stressful situation, communication blocks, or goals for the future — and talk about them and work on them.
They got creative.
Whether they were switching up date night or attempting to maintain intimacy while separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, the most committed couples made time for connecting with each other — and got creative too, says Macadaan. And switching things up and being inventive makes the experience feel that much more important. She explains, "When you have to work for something a little harder, you see it as more valuable."
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