How People are Dating When They're Stuck Together or Forced Apart

Shelter-in-place orders are putting relationships to the test. Some couples are finding themselves together 24/7 while others are finding ways to stay connected despite physical distance. (The Gender Spectrum Collection.)

In a clinical sense, the coronavirus causes respiratory illness, but it has also complicated matters of the heart—as if they weren’t complicated enough already.

With the shelter-in-place ordinance, some of us are feeling woefully alone, and some of us have found creative ways to stay connected to distant lovers. And still others have suddenly found ourselves in high-stakes cohabitation situations that put relationships to the test: How much of one another can we really handle?

Wearing my most expensive pair of (inside) shoes and sipping a cosmopolitan (OK, green tea), I channeled my inner Carrie Bradshaw and asked my Twitter following, How’s your love life going during the pandemic? DMs led to phone interviews, which led to tales that were titillating, heartrending and sometimes simply adorable. Here’s how we’re weathering love in the time of coronavirus.

Note: Some names and details have been changed to protect respondents’ privacy.

Shelter-in-place orders aren't stopping some couples from seeing each other. (Albert Rafael)

An Open Marriage on the Outs

Julia, an Oakland resident in her 40s, began the process of separating from her husband last fall, though they still haven’t established separate living arrangements. Of the two decades they’ve spent together, nearly half of that time has been been in an open relationship—and while Julia is certain it’s over, she senses her ex thinks living in close quarters might bring them closer romantically.

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Complicating things further is the fact that Julia’s been dealing with some COVID-19-like symptoms for weeks, so she’s been self-quarantining on the couch. “Since I’ve been sick it’s almost like living with a roommate, and trying to be respectful and grateful, so there’s that aspect of it,” she says. “We’re also still family even though we're separating, and we still care for each other.”

Then there’s this other matter: For the last year and some change, Julia has also been involved in a relationship with her boyfriend. She and her ex typically have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with regard to the other people they’re dating—and since she’s spending her days in the common area, keeping in touch with her boo has been tough. She’s used to seeing him two or three nights a week, but to avoid tensions at home, they’ve only talked on the phone and watched movies while chatting on Zoom.

“Because of these circumstances, it makes [the living arrangement] more flammable,” she says. “It will bring bad blood and I’m not trying to do that right now.”

Cohabitation is going better than expected amid shelter-in-place for some couples who didn't previously live together. (Lamngakan Eka)

When U-Hauling Goes Right

A stereotype—inside joke, really—among queer women is that we’re apt to U-Haul, meaning get serious and move in together right away, likely with some horoscope sharing and emotional processing in the mix. Betsy swears that she and her new girlfriend didn’t do this on purpose—it just made the most sense for sheltering in place.

When the orders came down, “We were like, ‘Oh shit, let’s prepare,’” she says, adding that the couple, dating since early February, was already spending a lot of time at her place anyway. “We started going to the grocery store.”

Betsy, an Oakland marketing professional and artist in her 20s, says it’s been going wonderfully. She and her girlfriend cook their meals together and share chores, and there’s been plenty of time for deep conversations that wouldn’t normally come up this soon.

“What are the wildest things you’ve ever done and when did that part of your life end? What are your past traumas? We’ve had all those kinds of conversations,” she says.

While she’s talking to me on the phone outside her house—I kid you not—she gets a flower delivery from her girlfriend, who is a few feet away indoors. Naturally, Betsy is smitten. This feels like a love that’s going to last.

“This is making us realize we could totally cohabitate in the future, it’s not a question at this point,” she says.

Grocery Workers in a Secret Romance

Katie, a grocery store employee in her 30s, was single until she hit it off with a slightly younger coworker a few months ago. After exchanging numbers, they began to steal away together for beers after work, hoping the rest of the staff wouldn’t notice.

“[The store] is like high school, gossip travels,” she says. “And much like high school, I’ve opted out of socializing.”

When shelter-in-place orders hit, Katie and her boyfriend became some of the front-line workers putting supplies on grocery store shelves. And even with the store practicing some crowd control measures, she says it’s still too packed for customers and workers to follow the six-foot distance rule.

She worries that her employer is leaving workers like her vulnerable and exposed to infection—which is why she decided that breaking shelter-in-place rules to visit her boyfriend’s place isn't really putting either of them at much greater risk than they’re undertaking already.

“We’re all there touching the same stuff,” she says. “We’re all basically in one gigantic living room.”

FaceTime Dates with Strangers

Daniel, a single Oakland guy in his 30s, says dating apps have been bustling since shelter in place. Not knowing when they’ll meet in person isn’t stopping people from seeking connection on Zoom and FaceTime.

“I’ve had maybe about four FaceTime dates and three of them have been whatever,” he says as he preps for a dinner date with a new lady. “The one I’m having right now I’d convert into a real thing.”

Daniel and his new crush decided to cook the same meal together at their separate places—a veggie dish with lentils and turmeric—and virtually break bread through their screens. He’s coming up with other creative ideas for how to interact, like doing yoga together on Zoom.

Daniel says sexting has never been his preference, and that maybe if coronavirus testing becomes widely available, he’ll meet his girl in person. Of course, with the country’s medical system on overload, that may be wishful thinking.

New crushes, established couples and friends with benefits alike are turning to Zoom and FaceTime to maintain their connections. (Christina Morillo)

New Etiquette for Friends with Benefits

Susan, a freelancer in her 20s in New York, has a friend with benefits she sees a few times a month. Their relationship isn’t built on occasionally sending each other “U up?” texts—this guy is her actual friend. They’ve been checking in on each other and sending supportive messages as they shelter in place.

With both of them practicing social distancing, she wonders whether meeting up is safe enough to be worth the risk. “What’s the standard etiquette for a situation neither of us has come across before?” she wonders.

Though the two of them may refrain from seeing each other in person, she’s actually optimistic and excited about the prospect of some virtual sexy fun.

“There’s absolutely upsides to it,” she says. “I think a lot of people are into, even in the same room, mutual masturbation—that sort of thing. It’s a fetish for a lot of people.”

New Love with an Age Gap

Things got serious quickly during shelter in place between Lydia, a Hayward educator in her 20s, and her boyfriend, Diego, who is more than two decades older. The two of them had been dating for six months when Bay Area residents were ordered to retreat into their homes, so the couple made the decision for Lydia to stay with him.

“It’s propelled me into a different world and fast-tracked our relationship,” she says.

Quickly, she found herself transitioning from the role of house guest to step-mom, helping with chores and also caring for Diego’s elementary school-aged daughter while he works from home.

“I’m taking care of a whole human who needs help all the time, needs you to cook, needs you to help her get in the shower,” she says, adding that there have been some tough household conversations about cleanliness and boundaries.

On top of that, other family members who live in the house haven't been exactly warm to Lydia. Nonetheless, Lydia says that with everyone stuck at home, they’ve been forced to make peace and accept one another’s presence. Even if they’re not the best of friends, they still have family breakfast every morning.

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When Berkeley to San Jose Feels Like Long Distance

Lily is on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, working directly with doctors and nurses in hospitals, so she wasn’t able to quarantine with her boyfriend, who co-parents a young child with respiratory issues. She lives in Berkeley and he lives in San Jose; both are in their 30s.

Her voice wavers as she tells me that it’s been difficult for them to find ways to feel connected virtually. “I miss him so much and it just feels helpless,” she says. “When we first start talking it’s really nice, and as it goes on everything is a reminder that we’re not gonna be doing [anything in person] together anytime soon.”

She recently dug her ukulele out of her closet to record videos of herself singing songs to him. They've tuned into a live-streamed concert together. How intensely the couple misses each other, she says, has forced them to have serious conversations about their relationship and its future down the line.

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“I just feel like we better come out of this like, OK, let’s get married and make sure this never happens again,” she says.