Not long ago, the longest time Ewa Lelontko had spent in her partner’s company was two weeks.
For all of their one-year relationship, Lelontko, 31, was living in Brighton while Diego Vidal-Cruzprieto, 30, was in York, studying for his PhD; they saw each other every other weekend.
Now they live and work together, forced into round-the-clock cohabitation by the coronavirus crisis.
“We’re trying to work from one room, trying to exercise in front of each other,” says Lelontko. “Of course it’s testing our patience. We’re setting boundaries and we’re learning new things about each other, but actually, being together in this is really nice.
“I know some couples who have to be separated – so we’re very lucky.”
The choice they faced is far from unique. Travel restrictions have fast-tracked many relationships, at least temporarily. Faced with being apart indefinitely, many couples’ response has been to ask each other: your place, or mine?
Jenny Harries, the UK’s deputy chief medical officer, reluctantly assumed the role of a relationship counsellor on Tuesday, confirming in a press conference that couples currently living separately should remain apart for the duration of the lockdown – or move in together.
Concerns have been voiced for victims of domestic violence, trapped at home with their abusers. For new couples, there are different challenges. As Harries put it: “For quite a significant period going forwards, they should test the strength of their relationship.”
Lelontko is optimistic, already anticipating separation anxiety once the lockdown lifts and she can return home to Brighton. “I think once we have to go back to our distance, we’re going to be missing each other more.”
Another couple, Louisa Davies, 27, and her boyfriend of 18 months, had no plans to live together pre-corona. “It felt like quite a big jump,” she says.
On Tuesday he moved into her south London home and, Davies says, it was the right decision given the uncertainty over when they would see each other next. “There’s pressure on both sides – the pressure of not seeing each other, or the pressure of being in a very contained situation for a long time, with no space.”
What do the new restrictions involve?
People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home
Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:
- Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
- Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
- Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals
Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.
Meanwhile, for Fajah, 27, from Hampshire, (who only wanted his first name mentioned), there was no question of being separated from his partner of nearly two years – even though that meant coming out as gay to his conservative father.
Fajah is out to his mother and sister, with whom he shares the family home, while his father has been living and working abroad: “I never thought I’d have to worry about telling him.”
When his father returned to the UK last month as coronavirus spread, Fajah “bit the bullet” and told him he was gay. “It didn’t go down too well; there was a lot of anger.”
For Fajah, it was “more a practical necessity than an emotional case”. He says his choice was: “Will I not see any of my family, for however long lockdown goes, to save my dad from a little bit of tension – or put my partner in an intense situation?”
After his partner moved in, Fajah says, “the first few days were a little awkward – but now we’re just doing our own things. It’s almost like having a house share.”
And it is a “weird relief” to be out to his dad – the coronavirus crisis was just that “bit more of a push”.
“Moving in together was another thing that I would have done anyway,” says Fajah, “but maybe not in quite the same way.”
Many relationships have been fast-tracked. Serena Coady, 26, has been sharing her boyfriend’s houseboat on the Thames for the past two weeks; they met two months ago. “It’s moved fast because of the current situation … neither of us want to be alone”.
Some couples are seeing the positives. Alex Hickson, 23, from Leeds, had loose plans to move in with his boyfriend, Oliver, 32, later in the year. Coronavirus took off some of the pressure of taking that next step, he says.
“I’d worry about all of the practicalities, when was the right time, if there was a right time. It’s kind of forced our hand, but I see it as more of a positive than a negative.”
The biggest challenge has been working from home, says Hickson: “We’ve both realised that we put on phone voices that we’ve never heard before.”
Arwyn Keast, 42, and Anna Leach, from Hastings, had been together for six months when the lockdown was announced. “There was a choice: we can either isolate from each other, or we can live together – from tomorrow, for an unknown amount of time,” says Keast. “I don’t think the former was an option, really – it could be months.”
Since Leach moved in, he says, they have been helping each other to stay positive and keep their mind off the news. “It’s just so supportive to have someone there … I can only imagine what people are going through on their own.”