Where should this story begin, of my lockdown fairy-tale? I could spend hours rehashing the mishaps, mistakes, weird but not wonderful dating world that I had endured prior to March 2020. However, we all have our own anecdotes, some worse than others.. some funny, others just downright disheartening. They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet your Prince, and I can safely say I think I kissed enough frogs for several lifetimes.
Rewind to February this year, and I had just ended a short term fling with a man who seemed completely disillusioned to the fact that we were incompatible and cried into his pasta in a hip Soho restaurant, whereby I had to make a hasty exit – though fortunately took home my carbonara and breathed a sigh of relief settling into my carbs and what I thought may be several more years of singledom. Conversations ensued with my girlfriends, as one does – dissecting his faults, dissecting my own – questioning my expectations and wondering when that supposed ‘right one’ would come along.
Several days go by and I’m preparing for a friend’s 30th, let’s call her Jane. Jane has been a close friend for a number of years. Having known Jane for so long, I was under the impression that dinner would include every one of her friends whom I had met. Right? We’re all enjoying the festivities of what unbeknownst to us the last group dinner prior to lockdown, in an ambient Italian restaurant in East London. We’ve been at dinner about an hour, and two of her male friends walk in, neither of whom I recognised. The handsome blonde happened to sit down next to me, but given that blondes aren’t my type, I hadn’t really given him a second look. That is, until he sent a knife launching past my face in an attempt to slice his pizza. Some extremely heavy banter and flirting ensued, and all of a sudden we were holding hands under the table and casting hopeful looks at each other indicating we wanted to go home together after dinner.
In order to keep this PG, post dinner was amazing. We took ourselves to a little pub in Broadway Market and talked until the very wee hours of the morning.
However, come morning – here I am in last night’s clothes, having slept in my makeup, no toothbrush in preparation for being an overnight guest somewhere, so I thought it best to try slink away while he was sleeping. Much to my surprise and delight, he stopped me and asked where I was planning on escaping to. After admitting I wanted to sneak out and save myself the embarrassment, he instantly cut me off and said – “you can’t leave! I’m taking you out for brunch, that’s if you want to go?”
He kindly offered me a travel toothbrush, a hot shower and a t-shirt to change into from my completely see through blouse in order to save some dignity during the daylight. Walking to brunch, I was worried the magic of last night was a fabrication of alcohol and loneliness. Again, I was wrong. The conversation flowed, we were inseparable, and all of a sudden 3 hours had gone by.
Realising we had other weekend commitments, we hastily exchanged numbers and went our separate ways. Not 20 minutes had gone by – “when can I see you again?”, the smile on my face was irrefutable. In the days that ensued, lockdown came into full force, and we hadn’t even had a real date. He creatively suggested to come over and cook me dinner, bringing with him not only dinner material, wine, but also an amazing attitude to make this effort to see me. I had been ruminating over the week since our sleepover, that perhaps he would change his mind and use lockdown as an easy out. Cynical right?
That night we couldn’t stop talking, staying up until 5am absolutely engrossed in conversation, and we both later admitted that was the night we both knew we were soul mates.
So, what now? The world as we knew it had completely stopped, dating as we knew it was no longer an option. No one prepares you for navigating a global pandemic, whether that’s personally or professionally and this was indeed one scenario where we had no clue what the right thing was to do. After much discussion and debate about what we should do in order to keep our blossoming romance alive, we decided for me to move in with him temporarily.
Now I am a complete introvert and a deeply anxious person – so the inner monologue began. “Am I crazy? What if we fight and it all falls apart? You would never live with someone in normal circumstances?” on and on it went, until my best friend chimed in with – “but what have you got to lose? Either it works, or you find out sooner rather than later that he’s not the right one, saving you time”. Can’t argue with logic!
So, I packed elements of my life into a bag and went from my West London flat, to his East London apartment. Much to my surprise and delight, deciding to live together was the best decision we could have made. We spent hours upon hours talking about our lives, our hopes, fears, dreams, moments that shaped us, unravelling each other’s worlds – for two introverts, this was the soul food we had waited so long to find. We made our own fun, pizza picnic on the living room floor, 80’s dance parties with home-made cocktails, pancakes on Sunday mornings, and strolls hand in hand along the canal. We had discussed several times how in some bizarre inverse way – lockdown has enabled us to get to know each other as people, away from labels, routine, and all the fancy dates that you can hide behind and put your best face forward for. All you have is who you are, so you either like what you’re getting, or you don’t.
Now I had been made redundant in March and as any job seeker knows, lockdown has meant an infinite stream of rejections and hopeless moments of self-doubt and crippling anxiety. They say in moments of hardship you see someone’s true colours, and I was seeing his. He held me every time I cried, no solutions suggested, or forceful suggestion for me to cheer up, just comfort in response to my despair. Each morning I was woken with a cup of coffee and a cuddle. Any financial cost, he took on, from the online groceries, to a pastry in the local café. I was given the space to tackle my own problems in the best way I knew how, whilst having my hand held and a warm smile following me each step of the way.
In any other scenario, we would never have the chance or the idea to live together. But this pandemic forced our hand in making a decision – live together, or stay apart indefinitely? Living together fast tracked getting to know each other, and only revealed more and more each day that we were truly in love and wanted to be together. Periods of hardships bring out all your best and worst attributes. This period of hardship was pushing us together, urging us to both be supportive to each other, exercise compassion, creativity in creating romance and revealing ourselves truthfully. I can say sincerely that this experience has taught me the true meaning or real love. The love that doesn’t depends on beautiful outfits, ambient restaurants, flowers or gifts – but the love that’s there when you’re crying over yet another rejection letter. The love that is there when you’re unable to even buy yourself tampons. The love that is there reminding you that you are intelligent and capable. The love that is there finding beauty in all the flaws you hate about yourself.
I do write this article with the knowledge that lockdown has forced a lot of couples to breaking point, and I wholeheartedly express sympathy for those relationships which have ended. However, I also write with the hope that this story provides some of you with a small glisten of hope that someone out there will find you and love you exactly as you are. Not in spite of any flaws, but precisely because your humanness is what makes you who you are. Admittedly, I myself was becoming cynical and jaded and losing hope that love would ever knock on my door. But love found me, in a restaurant in East London, holding my hand shyly under a table. Sometimes the moments that change our lives are not loud, and don’t come crashing in tearing everything apart. Sometimes the most life changing moments, are quiet, calm, and sweet.
Whether you are single or in a relationship, I urge you to remember the qualities that we truly crave in a relationship. Not someone’s job title, their salary, which restaurant they will take you to. But whether they comfort you in moments of despair, whether they celebrate your wins as their own, whether they give their time and emotional support selflessly. I hope lockdown has given us all a new set of eyes from which to look at love and what is truly important. Because we all deserve to be loved the way we are.