Oh COVID-19, coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2—from showing us the power of the people during times of injustice, to revealing politicians’ inadequacy, you’ve turned our world upside down as we know it. More importantly, our current supply of banana bread satisfies all global demand until at least 2054! Don’t worry, I’m no anomaly. I too have been seduced by my oven on multiple occasions.
Fortunately, like many of us, I was blessed with more than just a culinary romance. I experienced what I can only call reverse dating. You know, what you do when a pandemic forces you to abandon all real-life social interactions in favor of their digitized counterpart (i.e. Zoom) and shelter with a (not so) significant other in order to smother the mental consequences of loneliness. That reverse dating.
My date and I first crossed paths at the ferry dock in Amsterdam. Him: tall, blond, and Westernized; me: the opposite. Match made in heaven? Unlikely––but that flirtatious British banter implanted at least three butterfly cocoons in my stomach, and paved the way for my ever-growing feelings.
We met in February, right before the virus terrorized the Netherlands and rendered us housebound. Given that we’re both expats, we were in limbo by March. Should we go back home? Should we stay? Was it safe to travel? So many questions, and things were changing rapidly with each passing day. Coronavirus cases in the Netherlands were growing at a much faster rate than those of our home countries, and we had at-risk family members back home. So we both decided to stay, while both of our expat housemates left for home.
What was left was the perfect breeding ground for isolation-induced despair. But we had each other. Despite it barely being two months since our eyes first met, we were enjoying each other’s company and––given that the whole world was in shambles anyway––we decided we had nothing to lose by quarantining together. We prioritized each other’s safety by putting ground rules in place: we were not to meet up with anyone else besides each other. And this was way before we even put a label on what “we” were.
I’d love to say that my friends shook me back to reality by giving me a speech on the risks of quarantining with the wrong person. But my friends are none the wiser; they did the same thing, albeit with lovers they’ve known for a longer time. What we (collectively) did went against all the preachings of dating coaches and relationship columnists alive. Building a solid foundation of trust? Gauging one’s intentions through careful observation? Letting the passage of time reveal the nature of the relationship? Completely irrelevant during a pandemic. While I, with my sanity intact, would carefully weigh out the pros and cons (using mind maps, charts, and astrology when necessary), consult friends from all walks of life, and sanitize my lust by reciting verses from holy books, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Despite me beating myself up for my non-traditional relationship timeline, being quarantined with my date has cemented our bond. By accelerating past the stage of courting, fancy dates, and “good morning beautiful” texts, instead somersaulting into the possible cesspit that is living with a partner, we’ve been forced to see each other for who we truly are. By taking away all the shiny material things a novel relationship offers, we’ve been left staring at each other’s eye crust and morning dribble. It’s during this time that—under normal circumstances—the mystery, romance, and spontaneity of any relationship diminishes and things slowly turn into a rut.
But given the “unprecedented times” we’re facing, we had to innovate to keep the “dating phase” alive. It’s incredible what the human brain can come up with when all external sources of fun are stripped away from you. During quarantine, my date-turned-boyfriend and I have tried everything under the sun to have fun at home. Cooking, watching TV shows, get-to-know-each-other games, turning the household into a shisha bar, working out, bullying neighbors—you name it, we’ve done it. Crises create oddly strong bonds, and ours was (fortunately) no exception.
Yet the odds were stacked against us. The probability that our new quarantine relationship would fail was obviously much higher than that of it succeeding. We saw each other’s flaws, we were together 24/7, and arguments arose left, right, and center. Luckily for us, no eyes have been gouged out and our nails are still intact. Contrary to popular belief, I can pat my ego into submission and allow for honest and vulnerable dialogue.
Truth is, being in lockdown together can either foster a deeper sense of intimacy, or fast-track your relationship to its demise. There’s no in-between.
The beauty of reverse dating is that the dating stage is bound to recommence once things go back to normal. The inevitable excitement of being able to visit places besides your humble abode will take over. Watching a movie on a screen that isn’t your laptop? Thrilling! Eating out next to other people? Raunchy! Visiting a museum with your significant other? Adrenaline alert! The possibility of actual dates will, for lockdown lovers, (re)ignite the honeymoon stage we are so dutifully owed in each and every one of our relationships.
But with this shift in scenery comes a different set of issues. While in lockdown the two of you may only spend time with each other, normal life (whatever that will end up looking like in a post-pandemic environment) typically involves a social life beyond you and your significant other’s relationship. Quality time spent with each other post-lockdown may not compare to the hours on end spent with each other during the peak of the virus. Oh, and the threat of other men and women becomes ever-present.
This makes me wonder—can quarantine-born-and-bred relationships emerge from the other end successfully? Could it be that these relationships are akin to summer flings: romance that seems too good to be true in certain circumstances, but rapidly fades when life goes back to normal?
So far, my success in the realm of reverse dating is ongoing. The restrictions are slowly easing in Europe and figments of our previous life are making an appearance. The romantic spark between me and my boyfriend is still twinkling, normal life isn’t that threatening, and the future looks promising. While I can’t speak for everyone’s quarantine relationship, one thing is for sure: these new-wave pandemic romances are bound to go down in history.
By Derya Yildirim