Love in lockdown: ‘I thought our marriage was almost over’

Relationships have changed utterly during lockdown. File photograph: Getty Images

WHETHER IT’S DATING ONLINE, REDISCOVERING LOVE, ENDURING PAINFUL BREAK-UPS OR DEALING WITH LONELINESS, RELATIONSHIPS HAVE CHANGED UTTERLY DURING LOCKDOWN. OUR READERS TELL THEIR STORIES.

AB: ‘I thought our marriage was almost over’

My partner and I have been together for a decade, and have had difficulties over the past two years. By January I thought our marriage was almost over. I even started preparing myself emotionally for divorce. But two months into lockdown, we are better than ever.

In the absence of my long commute, and frequent work-related absences, we are communicating in a way we haven’t in years, and feel closer than ever. We have been supportive of each other, and have focused on ensuring we both feel secure and calm during the crisis. Our friendship is reignited and we are laughing together again. We are now considering starting a family, and have come up with a strategy for reducing our time apart after lockdown ends. I am so grateful that our long partnership has been given a second chance.

Lia Grogan, Dublin: ‘I wish for more specific guidelines for couples’

I have been with my boyfriend for a year. Last summer we were in a long-distance relationship as I spent three months in the US. Since September we have lived separately in Dublin, but enjoyed the proximity.

When lockdown was announced, we had two options: move in together or go long distance once again. I live in a house-share, and it was not possible to move in with him. So, we decided to remain separate.

We keep in touch regularly with voice and video calls. We play Animal Crossing together on the Nintendo Switch, a strange form of virtual “date”. Our relationship is as strong as ever. Missing each other has only confounded how committed we are.

I wish there were more specific guidelines given for couples. The lack of a partner’s physical touch is really difficult.

On May 18th, when restrictions began to be eased, our only option was to meet outdoors, 2m apart, within 5km of our houses. According to a site displaying 5km radii, our area of intersection was Dublin Port. I wasn’t keen to have a picnic among container vessels, so we decided not to meet during this first phase. Having seen my mother at a distance, I found it difficult to stand 2m apart and not give her a hug. Seeing Rob like that would have been a similar torture. For now, our separation continues.

Eddie Mullarkey, Wicklow: ‘I’d be an unholy mess if I didn’t have her’

Eddie Mullarkey and Anna Juan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Eddie Mullarkey and Anna Juan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

My Spanish lady and I moved in together in September. We moved to Bray to accommodate her work as a vet in Wicklow while I commute to Dublin and the rest of the country performing stand-up comedy.

First the bars closed. The comedy club I run went online, but it’s more of a passion project now, as all income has ground to a halt. We thought we were okay, she still had her job, but that only lasted two more weeks. The clinic’s business became too slow to keep her on. She’s in furlough.

I could be kind to myself and say I’m in furlough too until the world of comedy and acting starts back, but calling a spade a spade, I’m screwed. For now.

That all sounds dreadful, but we are actually having a great time together. We just made pretentious vegan brownies. Neither of us are vegan, but we are bored. We have been jogging and working out; we have become YouTube yoga masters.

I don’t mean to sound smug, but I feel for any single people. I’d be an unholy mess if I didn’t have her waking me up every morning. Why would I get up at 8.30am if there wasn’t a pretty woman tickling my feet? I’d stay in bed until lunchtime and have a bowl of Coco Pops with a cold beer. Luckily I can’t do that with her around.

Liz Maguire, Dublin: ‘I love routine and he is very free flow’

Couple Liz Maguire and Sam Lemberger, from the US, came to Ireland together to study two years ago this August. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell / The Irish Times
Liz Maguire and Sam Lemberger, from the US, came to Ireland together to study two years ago this August. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/The Irish Times

Sam and I came to Ireland together to study from the US two years ago this August. I am from Philadelphia, but we met at university in Washington DC.

He works from home anyway as a graphic designer. I’m a digital marketer for My Irish Jeweller, so I’ve been working from home with him since March 12th. It was a little rocky at the beginning – I love routine and he is very free flow – but we’ve a good rhythm going now. We go to Rathfarnham Castle Park every morning and I do six laps of the pond. He feeds the ducks.

It’s a challenge of course to be far from our families in the US. We are very aware of how lucky we are with our situation here, and we have each other, so if it’s a year of not being able to travel home to see our families, that’s an ok sacrifice.

We’re grateful for our friends and family in Ireland, and for the internet. When we run out of things to talk about together, we can always ring up someone else.

The most romantic moment of quarantine yet? Easily, day 10; while watching television, he muted it and turned to me to say, “I’m glad I’m stuck with you”.

Sarah*, Galway: ‘I am seeing him as more than a friend’

My love life has taken a bizarre turn. Prior to lockdown I had just ended a relationship, as had one of my best friends. I don’t think either of us had ever looked at the other “in that way”. When lockdown began, we both found ourselves without significant others and isolating with our families. We turned to each other (virtually of course) to jokingly despair.

Eight weeks later, after countless quizzes, message exchanges and calls, I am beginning to see him as more than a friend. I think he might feel the same. I am filled with a nervous excitement; will this prevail in real life once the restrictions lift? Whether love in its true and ultimate sense will be the outcome, I will always be grateful for the bizarre love I have found in this time.

Robin Humphreys: ‘No one mentions those who live alone’

Before lockdown I made the decision with my partner of six years to end our relationship. One of the reasons was that I am a confirmed extrovert. I need regular social contact with friends to feel energised and happy. He is happy with a small intimate circle, and to spend much of his time alone. It had been a source of friction so we parted ways. He was looking forward to pursuing personal goals he used to feel guilty for leaving me behind to do. I was relishing the idea of being a social butterfly, spending time with friends and seeing new people.

Two weeks later, the world shut down, and I found myself living alone in a small apartment. No contact with friends or family, no social engagements, and certainly no new partners. “It will all be back to normal by summer,” I told myself. Then it started to become clear this is going to last a lot longer. Months, perhaps years.

It takes huge mental strength to not lose all hope when you spend hours upon hours in the company of no one but yourself. I began to resent people complaining about their kids being home, or their partner bickering while they both try and work. I resented the news for going on about how it’s not much to ask of people to stay home with their families. Don’t see anyone outside your household. No one mentions the millions of us around the globe who live alone, whose household is me, myself and I.

I try to remain positive. I contact friends I haven’t spoken with in a long time. I FaceTime with my sister. I swipe left and right on dating apps, and flirt with men virtually... if nothing else, it passes the time. One day, this will pass, and I will never take a hug or a squeeze or any sign of affection for granted again.

Lauren*, Cork: ‘We’ve been seeing each other in secret

I started seeing my ex again last summer. He was my first love in my teens, and we were on again, off again until my mid-20s. We both had relationships and children with other people. We met again last summer at a function for the first time in 10 years, and it was like falling in love all over again the minute we laid eyes on each other. Both of our romantic relationships were in difficulty, and we decided to end them and give it another go together.

I make it sound much easier than it was. We’ve been seeing each other in secret since, afraid of what our families would think and how our kids and exes would react. Prior to lockdown, we would see each other at weekends when we didn’t have the kids, and it was the most amazing feeling getting to know each other again.

Since lockdown, we speak on the phone and FaceTime, but the strain is beginning to take hold. Just when we were beginning to talk about easing everyone into our future together, it feels further away than ever. It’s been two months since I saw him last, and it looks like another two to go… if we make it.

Mark Kiernan, Dublin: ‘The risk of me carrying infection is too great’

Mark Kiernan and his partner, Jen, have not seen each other in almost eight weeks.
Mark Kiernan and his partner, Jen, have not seen each other in almost eight weeks.

I work as a physiotherapist in Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, and my partner of three years, Jen Whyte, works in marketing. My work involves the respiratory treatment of Covid patients in the intensive care unit, and their rehabilitation on the wards. Jen has been working from home since mid-March, where her mam is cocooning as she undergoes chemotherapy.

We have not seen each other in almost eight weeks, as the risk of me carrying an infection home would be too great. The 2km and 5km restrictions mean we haven’t even met for a socially-distant walk, as I live in Balbriggan and Jen in the Naul.

It’s been tough. Easter, anniversaries and birthdays have all been missed, and any travel plans we made are out the window. We don’t know when we will see each other again, let alone share a hug and kiss.

Gillian Kelly Dunne, London: ‘I am glad he said yes’

Gillian Kelly Dunne married Pete on March 16th and he died one week later.
Gillian Kelly Dunne married Pete on March 16th and he died one week later.

It was exactly 6pm when Pete passed away. We know because his phone rang just at that moment, with that silly ghostly ringtone. I sprung off the bed and opened the sash window. A wood pigeon trying to balance on a branch stared back at me and I whispered, “is that you Petey?”

That was March 23rd, the day Boris Johnson announced the London lockdown. With people retreating obediently to their homes, the streets outside were so silent, as if mourning the passing of this great artist and beautiful man. The words of that WH Auden poem, “Stop all the clocks”, were on a loop in my head. In this time of Covid, everything had stopped.

I met Pete Dunne in 2014 in London. From Ringsend in Dublin, Pete told me of his love for my county, Clare; how he would go west, for spiritual nourishment and inspiration for his art.

I was living in a flat in Kilburn with high ceilings and white walls and lots of natural light, and it inspired me to organise a popup art show. I had only met one artist in London; Pete. I dropped him a cheeky email asking if I could put his work on my walls for two weeks. He said yes.

Pete never made it to his exhibition; he was diagnosed with cancer the morning of the opening. I was relieved and excited that a few of his paintings sold. Eight months later his cancer had gone.

I didn’t hear from Pete until 2016 when I received an invitation to his 60th birthday. I toddled along to his party under the railway arches in Brixton. I found myself in a flirty mood, and when it was time to hop in a taxi, I went back to find Pete.

I married Pete on March 16th in our flat in London, and he died one week later. His cancer had returned.

Pete would tell me how Lady of the West, a painting which hung in my Kilburn flat in 2014, was me, and how he had painted me into his life. I am now Gillian Kelly Dunne and wear two gold rings on my finger. I am glad he said yes.

Richard*: ‘I really have empathy for young couples’

I have been separated from my wife of 40 years for a while, but we are still under the same roof. We are civil and try to be nice to each other; there’s no harm or hurt in that.

I have a great friend, female, platonic, but that has finished for now. Not forever, I hope. Misread texts and misunderstood emails are disastrous. And even a phone call doesn’t work. There is no human interaction, facial expression, raised eyebrows, a hand reaching out, a simple hug; are all so important. No electronic device can replace being together.

I really have empathy for young couples just starting out, with that magical feeling of being 16, in love for the first time. None of us can be physically close in a time when we need to be. But hope and love burn eternal. There are better days ahead.

Avril Christine King, Paris: ‘We go on dates in our small garden’

Avril Christine King: Since March 17th, has spent 24 hours a day with her partner.
Avril Christine King: Since March 17th, has spent 24 hours a day with her partner.

I was last outside our front door in Paris on March 17th, saying goodbye to an ex-colleague who was heading home to England. Since then I have spent 24 hours a day with my partner. We are used to pretty frequent squabbles, so I was expecting those to escalate, but the quarantine has had the opposite effect. We took a moment recently to try and remember the last argument we had and couldn’t.

I find myself more tolerant of his needs, and he more tolerant of mine. The few times we’ve come across one another hiding out in a room upstairs, the implicit understanding is that the other person is craving some solitary time, and with kindness we retreat back through the door with a smile. When we ask each other how our days have been, there is a sense of genuinely wanting to know: what’s been going through your head in all those moments?

We have taken to going on “dates” around our small garden while holding hands. The last time, we shared a beer as we walked. It felt ridiculous and embarrassingly romantic, but I hope we do it again, even when quarantine comes to an end.

Carol*: ‘He’s kept the Black Dog from me’

I’d started chatting to a lovely guy weeks before lockdown. I’m divorced, 54, living in the south and he’s in the north. He has made music playlists for me (evoking the most beautiful memories of my teens and 20s) and he’s kept the Black Dog from invading my thoughts too much with funny jokes and interesting stories. I have no idea where it’ll go, but for now, I’m relishing the wonderful attention and contact from the opposite sex.

Clodagh Hayes, London: ‘My husband is stationed in East Africa’

Clodagh Hayes and her husband Nick, who is stationed for a year in East Africa.
Clodagh Hayes and her husband Nick, who is stationed for a year in East Africa.

I’m originally from Co Down, living alone in West London. My husband Nick is in the British Army, stationed for a year in East Africa. After two weeks R&R he flew back on March 12th, just as the world was going into lockdown. I had a week of rage, fear and tears over having to deal with this unknown virus alone. He is living in a windowless shipping container in 38C heat, so I shouldn’t complain with my well-stocked fridge, Netflix subscription, overflowing bookcases and comfortable sofa.

We are used to spending time apart. I’ve chosen not to move around with him to a new post every two years in traditional army wife fashion. We appreciate the limited time we have together. The hardest bit now is the uncertainty of when he will be back, with airports closed where he is, and quarantine finally introduced in the UK.

We video call several times a day, little and often. He won’t thank me for admitting we also do a daily 20-minute Yoga with Adriana session together on YouTube. A little corny, maybe, but it gives us time together without having to rack our brains for something new to say. He is the last person I text at night, and I always wake up to a good morning text from him.

We recently bought a village pub in southwest England, which brought its own stresses before Covid-19. I’m dealing with suppliers, staff, insurers, and trying to access the promised government support. I speak to Nick on FaceTime before doing my daily admin.

Last weekend I heard my neighbours having an argument. He said he’d like just one day where he wasn’t criticised for everything he did. She said “I’m not criticising, I’m trying to help”. Given my husband’s dreadful taste in television programmes and my ability to offer help disguised as criticism, there may be advantages to self-isolation.

Orlaith Darling: ‘We had zero prospect of living together’

Orlaith Darling has not seen her partner since lockdown began.
Orlaith Darling has not seen her partner since lockdown began.

I have been with my partner for five years. We lived in different countries for a year, but this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing him. If we lived in virtually any other European city, we would be cohabiting as long-term partners in our mid-20s. But due to the rental crisis in Dublin, we had zero prospect of living together.

When lockdown was announced, I retreated to my parents’ house in rural north county Dublin, and he lives with his family. Despite being able to see the cityscape from my window, the broadband here is so abysmal we have not been able to Skype. It looks like I won’t see my partner until June.

We respect the health experts’ instructions, particularly as my partner’s mother is a healthcare worker. But it sticks in my craw that we, the public, are being asked to make sacrifices (such as relationships), knowing the prospects for young people like us will be readily mortgaged for the second time in a decade by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael when this eventually passes.

David*, Dublin: ‘I am doomed to continue my single life’

I am a single man in my late 30s. I would like to meet a woman, settle down and start a family. Before Covid-19 I was beginning to realise that the chances of my dream coming true were diminishing as I got older. Now that we are all living under lockdown, they have all but disappeared. I fear if social distancing continues until a vaccine is found, I will be part of a lost generation that will be too old to have children once life gets back to normal. I don’t believe online dating works, at least not for me. So, until we get back to day-to-day life, I am doomed to continue my single life.

Chris Love, Belfast: ‘We’ve been planning our first date’

Just after lockdown, I connected online with a lad in Coleraine, an hour’s drive from where I live. We’ve been chatting every day, planning our first date, initially to a restaurant and then out for a couple of drinks. But that’s looking unlikely for a long time. At the moment we can’t even drive anywhere for a socially distanced walk. So, the plan is eventually a takeaway pizza at either of our homes, which in itself is a little daunting, inviting someone you’ve never met before into your home. If the date goes badly, at least we can comfort ourselves with carbs. But I have a good feeling.

Brian O’Connell: ‘We were cocooning at home in Galway’

Brian O’Connell (with his wife Pam): ‘We have been very lucky and kept very busy painting - both walls and canvases - and doing online courses’
Brian O’Connell (with his wife Pam): ‘We have been very lucky and kept very busy painting - both walls and canvases - and doing online courses’

My wife Pam and I are both 73. We were cocooning at home in Galway up to May 5th; our only time outside the garden perimeter during that time was to put out the bins.

We have been kept busy painting – both walls and canvases – and doing online courses (Pam does Duolingo Irish and How to Research Online from Future Learn, I’m doing one on song writing with the same site; the courses are very good and easy to follow). We both garden as well, some heavy donkey work and chainsawing some stored logs; jobs that should have been done long ago. There is great satisfaction in seeing the improvements.

We had a fine healthy grandchild in Dublin since the lockdown. All are doing well and we are dying to see baby Ethan. We have Zoom meetings with golfing buddies, and our band members. All in all, we are very lucky.

*Some names have been changed.