dating

'I met my partner right before lockdown. Now, we're only just learning about each other's lives.'

I met my boyfriend Tom in February. We had one of those slow burn beginnings - I was busy with work, he’s a nurse and had a lot of evening shifts. We never seemed to match up our schedules and as such, we wound up seeing each other once every couple of weeks.

It wasn’t until mid-April when we finally got it together and became official. What followed were those heady days of early dating - you know, just hanging out 24/7 and doing so much PDA you make your entire suburb nauseous. 

I met a few of Tom’s friends, and he met a few of mine, but it was all very top-level stuff. 

We thought we had ages to get to know each other’s worlds. 

Then, NSW went into lockdown.

Watch: How to communicate anger with your partner. Post continues after video.

Tom ended up moving into the house I shared with my sister, and she moved in with her boyfriend of a year. It was chaotic, but we were in love and probably being a little stupid. 

Shockingly, it worked out. 

Our relationship didn’t crumble with all the new "who left the kitchen light on all night" and "could you not leave your day-old bolognese festering on the coffee table" dramas living together brings. We grew together, worked through the teething issues and after a few months, we rented our own place.

Like all couples who live together, we were joined at the hip during lockdown. 

At first, this was overwhelming - the combination of mild depression due to that restrictive period, and this 24/7 forced togetherness did bring its hardships. It’s such a different experience to spend all your time together because you have to, versus doing it because you want to. 

But after a few weeks, we settled into that comfortable rut of food shopping, puzzles, long walks, and getting way too obsessed with Game of Thrones for the second time around.

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I don’t know about you, but coming out of lockdown this time around was hard. Really hard. I’d grown attached to that boring bubble of same-same days and early nights. Socialising en masse all of a sudden was intense, and while I was thankful to see my friends and family again, it was a LOT.

It was also a massive shift for my relationship. We’d spent the majority of ours as just us - like, really just us, not in that cute loved-up way we spent heaps of time together initially. If we saw friends, it was alone on socially distanced walks. If we spoke to family, it was over Zoom. And since we hadn’t met each other’s parents yet, it didn’t feel right to do introductions over some glitchy Wi-Fi and an iPhone screen.

Image: Supplied.

Now here we were, able to see anyone and everyone - and everyone wanted to meet us. 

I went to a huge family gathering and met cousins and aunts and brothers and parents, all at once. Tom came on a weekend away with my family. We attended birthdays and picnics together, meeting scores of friends within one weekend. It was that weird mix of wonderful and terrifying, heartwarming and anxiety-inducing. It was like inviting everyone into this little love bubble world we’d made, all at once.

It was also a massive learning curve. 

Sure, I knew 'Lockdown Tom' through and through - he liked Weet-Bix Bites and craft beer and caring for our house plants. He annoyed me by tossing and turning in bed and forgetting to unstack the dishes. 

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But 'Real-Life Tom' was someone I only sort of knew. Early dating might be intense, but it’s also a very superficial look at someone else’s life - and lockdown dating limits your understanding of someone to how they are with you, and you alone.

I didn’t know all these new sides of Tom, like how he socialised and what he liked to do on the weekend when he had actual options. Our predictable schedules suddenly became all-over-the-place nightmares of, "Are you free Thursday? Okay, I can do a quick dinner before drinks with work friends" and, "Okay, you can take the car Saturday morning but I need it Saturday night".

We also quickly worked out that I like plans, while Tom likes spontaneity. 

We didn’t realise this because there was nothing to plan and nothing to be spontaneous about in lockdown - we did the same stuff, every week. Now, he was going for a "quick one" with his mates and barrelling in at 1am. Not ideal for a control freak like me. On the flip side, my love of a plan wasn’t as obvious during lockdown, and we quickly clashed over my sometimes obsessive need for locked-down details, and Tom’s free-wheeling socialising. 

The good news is we’re still together, and going strong. We’ve just been doing everything upside down - and I’m sure if you’re in a relationship you started just before, or during lockdown, you’re feeling the same.

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Normally, we learn what our partner is like in the real world, first. We see them interact with waitstaff and see them around their friends; we learn if they’re workaholics or party animals. But lockdown lifestyle was homogenous - we all did the same stuff, with little to no interaction with others. We got a crash-course in intimacy with our partners, but skipped the bit where we see what they’re like outside of the love bubble.

For some couples, it’ll be the death knell.

Maybe you were seeing someone who was sweet and lovely, only to find out they were controlling about when and who you went out with. You found out they got jealous of guy friends, or lived a completely different lifestyle to you. That heartbreak is going to be difficult and I feel for you, because lockdown brought us together with partners in such a deep, connective way - like we’d been dating for years.

For others though, and hopefully for you (and me!), it can just be a bit of a bump in the road. Yes, we’re having to do things in reverse in a way, but with a little compromise and communication, the teething issues of exiting lockdown as a couple can be resolved. 

For example, Tom and I have a new rule around nights out. If his plan changes from a "quick one" to a potential all-nighter, he just needs to give me a heads up. On my end, I have to stop being so rigid with plans and expectations - unless we had our own plans later, why does it matter if he was originally just having one beer, but he’s having a great time and wants to kick on? 

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I realised the way I grip to plans and got super disappointed if they changed - even if that change didn’t affect me - was unhealthy.

So be kind to yourself and to your partner. These are weird times! We built these relationships within those times and it’s totally understandable that lifting them out and placing them in an entirely new set of circumstances would challenge us. Where possible, don’t react when you get upset, disappointed, or disillusioned with your partner - try to take a breath and talk it out when you’re both feeling neutral.

We didn’t get given roadmaps to take our relationships from lockdown to real life, but I’m feeling confident that we’ll get there.

Melissa Mason is a freelance writer. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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