There’s a reason more couples are moving in together and rushing to get engaged during quarantine and the coronavirus pandemic.
On their first date in mid-February, Geoff Smith and his now-girlfriend, Ellie, made small talk about the coronavirus, which at the time the U.S. government had just declared a public health emergency.
“I remember laughing about how they could name a virus after a beer, not knowing that it would change the course of our lives completely,” Smith, who lives in a suburb of Atlanta, told HuffPost recently.
Just a few months later, the couple would find themselves hunkering down and living together.
“One of the other renters in the house she lived with tested positive for COVID,” Smith said. “The decision for Ellie to move in with me was a no-brainer. We got along so well, meshing in every way when it came to values, likes and dislikes, even cleanliness.”
The coronavirus pandemic accelerated Suzie Bartle’s relationship, too. The day the couple learned that Britain was going on lockdown, Bartle’s boyfriend got down on one knee and proposed. At that time, they’d been an item for 11 months.
“We were essentially really feeling the weight of everything unfolding with COVID,” said Bartle, who owns a public relations firm in the U.K. “I remember we were walking on the beach, and I said I’d like to be married since we don’t know what’s ahead ― but I was being emotional and really thought nothing of it.”
The next thing Bartle knew, her partner was down on one knee in the sand and asking, “Will you marry me?” The answer was an enthusiastic yes. Why not lock it down before going into lockdown?
“We’ve since set the date to marry on Dec. 11 in London with a maximum of 15 guests as per government guidelines,” Bartle said.
The whirlwind romances Bartle and Smith have experienced amid a worldwide pandemic are a lot more common than you’d think. The COVID-19 crisis has upended all of our lives, but lockdown is seemingly a lot more cheery for couples who began dating right before or during the pandemic.
In a new survey from eHarmony and Relate, over a third (36%) of people newly living with a partner say the past two months feel like the equivalent of two years of commitment — and common relationship milestones (like moving in together) were met more quickly.
Anecdotally, you may have noticed an uptick in engagements, move-ins and out-of-nowhere “in a relationship” status changes.
New York City psychologist and anxiety specialist Amelia Aldao has also seen many of her single clients get into what lifestyle sites have deemed “turbo relationships.” Now they’re navigating the ups and downs of them, too.
“I think the day-to-day of being together all the time can be stressful ― especially if they’re both working from home ― but at the same time, in times of uncertainty like this one, we tend to crave comfort, support and intimacy,” Aldao told HuffPost. “So, while in some ways we might be getting on each other’s nerves more, we’re also learning to appreciate each other more.”
There’s another reason for rushed romances: Dating around and one-night stands just aren’t safe anymore.
Because daters have to consider if it’s worth the potential health risks to meet in person, they’re forced to more critically evaluate potential partners early on, said Samantha Burns, a dating coach and author of “Done With Dating: 7 Steps to Finding Your Person.”
“This means many are having longer and more in-depth conversations prior to seeing each other, and this screening process is helping them weed out dating duds and move forward with stronger matches,” she said.
This prolonged DM-ing prior to a first or second date has encouraged some to get real earlier on about what they’re looking for in a partner.
“Singles are quicker to discuss core values, which leads to feeling more bonded and even falling in love more quickly,” Burns said. “That’s when you get turbo relationships.”
Kim Seltzer, a dating coach in Los Angeles, has seen the same pattern with her clients.
“Before COVID hit, you might have swiped left on someone who was a vegan. Perhaps it was a deal-breaker that the guy you started dating wasn’t a great texter, so you break it off saying you want someone who communicates better,” Seltzer, who hosts the podcast “The Charisma Quotient,” said. “There were many choices and a lot of distractions.”
Post-coronavirus, that “disposable” mentality has shifted to a, “Hey, maybe we do have something in common after all” mentality, Seltzer said.
“You have people grateful for things they see in potential partners,” she said. “Things that used to be a big deal might not be now. Instead, you can let little things go and focus on communicating the valuable things in a relationship.”
And in such emotionally trying, unprecedented times, it’s nice to have something in your life that feels certain. That’s how Zoe, a 22-year-old marketing associate who lives in Villanova, Pennsylvania, feels about her current relationship.
“In an unimaginable roller coaster of a year, I am grateful and lucky to say that this has unarguably been the best period of my life because of this time with my boyfriend,” she told HuffPost.
Zoe and Joe started dating in January, but things heated up quickly as COVID-19 changed society.
They’re long-distance ― Joe lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan ― so from the get-go, they were FaceTiming for over an hour every night. Eventually, they came up with a better solution: Joe would visit Zoe and her family in Villanova whenever he had four-day weekends, and she’d come visit him and his family in Ann Arbor on the other weekends. So far, they’ve visited each other’s families 12 times.
The couple plan to move in together in Chicago in mid-2021, but for now, they’re just enjoying getting to know each other’s family ― a big milestone that under different, less challenging circumstances probably would have happened much later down the line.
“Overall, how we pictured our first year together was drastically different from what it ended up being,” Zoe said. “We’re not gallivanting around a big city but instead having candlelit dinners in my basement, picnics featuring food from our favorite hometown restaurants, home-cooked meals that our moms lovingly make for us and meeting each other’s friends in town and extended family in socially distanced gatherings,” she explained.
These couple’s love stories under lockdown haven’t been without difficulties, though ― including a few COVID-19 scares.
“At one point, my girlfriend and I even thought we had COVID ourselves, both getting tested and, thankfully, coming back negative,” Smith said. “It’s quite the testament to how well we go together that we’ve survived. Almost eight months in now, and I couldn’t imagine doing life without her.”
Bartle, the recently engaged PR professional, also said weathering ups and downs so prematurely in her relationship convinced her that she and her fiancé had sticking power.
“We had already been through some hard times prior to this due to my Crohn’s disease having a serious flare-up just as we started dating,” she said. “With everything going on, I moved in with him because I couldn’t work and therefore afford rent. This could have broken us, but instead it actually made us see how strong we worked as a team.”
As comforting as cohabitation can be, the combination of more “couple time” (and in the cases of the couples who are now cohabitating, round-the-clock couple time), high anxiety and stress, and a lack of outside socialization can be a bit of intense.
What can couples do to ensure that their relationship can withstand all the pressure? And how do you know if a burgeoning relationship will last once life get back to normal ― or normal-ish?
“I think the answers lie within the personal journey of the individuals and the couples,” Seltzer said. “Couples who have done the work, have good communication and shared values, healed from previous relationships and are really in tune to their needs and what is important in a relationship have a really good shot.”
If you think you found your person during COVID-19, Burns does generally recommend spending at least a year together before tying the knot. After all, these are bizarre times, and this moment doesn’t necessarily reflect what a typical life might look like as a couple.
If you haven’t spent much time with family and friends because of the lockdown, she recommends doing video calls with your new partner by your side so that the people closest to you can get to know them virtually.
“Sometimes they can catch red flags or provide valuable feedback that you can’t see when you’re blinded by the hormones in the honeymoon stage, especially if it’s a turbo relationship that moved rapidly,” she said.
But outside of those concerns, don’t dwell too much on whether you’re in it for the right reasons or if your relationship is bound to be a pandemic flash in the pan, Aldao said.
Enjoy yourselves and focus your energy on building a healthy and sustainable relationship.
“Generally, we spend a lot of time questioning the reasons why we fall ― or don’t fall ― for certain people, and this doesn’t help us very much,” she said. “If there aren’t any big red flags, it’s much better to follow our feelings and see where they take us.”