What about the relationships that sprouted up amid stay-at-home orders? Shaped by an insular world, these courtships presented their own anomalies.
A year and a half into the pandemic, we asked several couples who got serious in the pandemic to share what they’ve learned about their partner throughout this time. And we started with one of our own: Lily Deputy Editor Lena Felton and her partner, Nicholas Budler.
Started dating in March 2020.
I’ve never been one to take risks. So when I invited a practical stranger to live with me in March 2020, I was as shocked as anyone. You’re moving in with who? my parents asked, incredulously, over the phone. To be honest, I didn’t yet know the answer.
I’d met Nicholas in a packed, sweaty bar in January, when the coronavirus was barely on my radar. I liked the way he moved through the crowd, but I wanted to be single, and he struck me that way, too — aloof, self-assured. He came off as intense and witty, hard to crack. To put it bluntly, not someone I’d typically go for.
But we got along, so we decided we’d date casually, be something like friends. Then, a few weeks later, the reality of covid-19 took shape in the United States. When D.C.’s stay-at-home orders came, it was clear: We should either self-isolate together for a few weeks (he had roommates; I lived in a studio), or part ways. Inexplicably, we both chose the former. Looking back, I inherently trusted him, and maybe we were really starting to like each other.
Soon I learned that Nicholas’s cool exterior didn’t hold up. He did smile, a lot; his reserve quickly melted into goofiness once he felt he could trust someone. He was mature beyond his years, had been through a lot and had a lot to teach me, especially in a time as stressful as this. Oh, and he could be very earnest — especially when it came to cat videos.
I had been right about a couple things, though: He was self-assured, a trait I’d always prided myself on and found I respected in a partner, even if it meant we were both headstrong in arguments. And he was intense — but that came to manifest as a steadfast loyalty, a willingness to be my support during some of the most difficult events of our lifetimes.
Indeed, living with a practical stranger in a tiny apartment during the pandemic will teach you many things: how to be vulnerable, learn from someone, throw yourself fully into at-home date nights, give grace, be silly, grow.
Taking a risk, I’ve come to find, was the best out-of-character decision I could’ve made for myself. And when I need to hold onto something as the world continues to swirl in uncertainty, I keep coming back to this: We really did manage to fall in love in a pandemic.
— Lena Felton, 26, D.C.
In March 2020, I packed a suitcase, grabbed my computer monitor and knocked on the door of a woman whom I’d gone on about five dates with. We decided we’d do a two-week quarantine when stay-at-home orders hit D.C.
Of course, you know how this story goes: The city did not open up again in two weeks. Or in the two after that. Or in the year that followed. We gave up trying to predict when it would, but we continued spending most of our waking moments together.
And that worked well for a while. We made it through some really hard months of the pandemic with humor, takeout cocktails and park walks.
The hard conversations were easy to avoid then. Sure, we talked about our feelings, our past relationships, our families — but we laughed at how easy it all seemed, how lucky we were. We thought our relationship would always look like sherbet California sunsets and pandemic wine nights.
But eventually we got into an argument that was simultaneously messy, disorienting and important to finally have. Leases were reconsidered. Therapists were called.
The effect of my irreverent humor and middle-finger approach to dealing with the world had finally arrived. And if you know Lena, you know how stubborn she can be — something I love, by the way. It was time to have real conversations about past relationships, privilege and trauma.
As summer waned and the trees lining the park turned orange, we really started to talk about the ways our pasts and patterns collided — and how to support each other and if we wanted the same things.
Lena still loves yoga on Sunday afternoons and prosecco in the park — the things we built our pandemic life on. But our relationship has grown and matured as we find a balance between who we both are.
I lost a pandemic roommate when we eventually signed a lease together, but I found a partner, one who has taught me so much about support, love and building a relationship with two headstrong people.
— Nicholas Budler, 25, D.C.
Started dating in July 2020.
Rath and I met on Tinder. Actually, we’d been introduced about four years earlier, and I’d always thought Rath was super hot, but our lifestyles were very different, so there wasn’t much overlap. Fast forward to matching on Tinder — neither of us was looking to date, but there was mutual curiosity, so we met up.
What followed was a long and slow courtship. We spent three months just getting to know each other, hanging outside, six feet apart. What we discovered is that while on the surface we’re very different (I live out in the country with farm animals and my child, while Rath is a city kid, big into clubbing and parties) we’re the same in some major, core ways.
By being forced to really get to know each other, and then decide if we wanted to take the relationship further, it implanted a level of intentionality and trust in our relationship (“Yes, this is worth the covid risk”) that I’m not sure could have been accomplished during more carefree times.
So what did I learn about my partner during the pandemic? Everything.
— Ana Poe, 44, Martinez, Calif.
I feel like I’ve learned to be a lot more patient with things, especially because we weren’t able to be physically romantic for almost the first three months of our relationship. It allowed us to build a lot of trust with each other. And that trust is so in the forefront of our relationship.
Some of the things that really stand out to me are how emotionally present Ana is. They’re super busy being a small-business owner like myself, and being a parent and having a ton of people in their life, but I always appreciate how present they are with our relationship. Our relationship feels really healthy and stable.
It just felt like, from the get-go, Ana was someone I wanted to get to know. It felt worth waiting to see what could happen, and I continue to feel really blessed and grateful for Ana to be in my life.
— Rath Skallion, 48, San Francisco
Started dating in July 2020.
Marvin and I first met in the middle of the pandemic, right in the center of Boston. Given the fact that we had so much time on our hands, I was able to learn a lot about him quickly! I learned how much of a communicator he is, all about his love for travel, his self-taught photography skills, how innovative he is and how much he deserves to be heard. However, most of all, I learned that Marvin doesn’t like to see his loved ones struggle. He and I are service-industry entrepreneurs, so we are really helpful people by nature. But what I’ve learned about him the most during the pandemic is that when I remember to ask and allow him to help me, instead of trying to do every single thing myself, I’m able to let him be his truest self.
When we first started to get to know each other, receiving help was a challenge for me, mostly because I wasn’t used to a partner who was genuinely helpful without selfish motives. I had to learn to trust him and be vulnerable with him to let him take the lead and help me in areas where I was unnecessarily struggling, practically and mentally. The biggest help he has been thus far is assisting me in raising my teenage daughter. Overall, I’ve learned that Marvin’s help is great for our relationship as a whole. We don’t need gender roles, just love.
— Lakeisha Maria Harewood, 33, Boston
As entrepreneurs, we’ve had busy schedules trying to run our newly created businesses. Lakeisha showed me how to rest. I’ve learned that resting helps me rejuvenate, find some peace in the midst of a chaotic workweek and reset. This time spent together helped us create peace together.
Lakeisha was able to make me feel comfortable enough to open up about who I am, my childhood and any traumas that I went through or am dealing with now. Lakeisha taught me that it is okay to be open with your significant other, to let your guard down and give people the chance to love you and to talk about things that are on your mind and not fully thought out.
— Marvin Germain, 32, Boston
Started dating in August 2020.
Ruth’s dedication to making the relationship work is something that has really stuck out to me. Our first few dates were virtual, and then I had to move because I lost my job. We stayed in contact, and then we started dating each other. She was always positive and wanted to make the effort.
You always want someone to come to the table with the same energy that you do, so it’s awesome to see that happen.
— Jose Perez, 29, Raleigh, N.C.
There are many things I can say that I learned about Jose. From the very beginning, I knew that he would not let anything stop him from achieving his goals. I’ve also learned how caring and patient he is with others. To see someone very compassionate about others even with the uncertainty of the pandemic has shown me that there are still good people in this world.
Patience is the biggest trait I have learned about him. At the beginning of the relationship, I still had my guard up, but he showed me that with time, trust can be built. Throughout this year of being together, he has been patient with me and very reassuring that as long as we work together and we both want this relationship to flourish, we will exceed our goals.
— Ruth Islas, 23, Durham, N.C.
Started dating in May 2020.
I feel like this pandemic allowed me to really get to know Danielle in a deeper sense than most new relationships, because we spent so much time communicating only via phone or text without meeting one another. By the time we met in person, we had shared so much knowledge about each other and had such deep conversations that it felt easy to dive into a relationship.
One of the things I learned about Danielle throughout this pandemic is her passion for cooking and making people happy through food. I also learned about her quirky side that she would normally not show to anyone or reveal so soon after meeting someone.
Throughout the hard times our world was having, I learned that Danielle is resilient and can find numerous ways to stay calm, as well as provide peace and encouragement to those around her. We both like to think we are one of the few good things that happened in 2020.
— Jojo Taveras, 32, Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Initially, I learned that Jojo is a psychology graduate, and one of the first things she did was send me the book that inspired her to enter the field of psychology. No one had ever made a gesture like this before and I absolutely loved it. It allowed me to learn a part of her that she was so passionate about.
I learned that Jojo also has this beautiful ability to take anything and make it special. From curated beach dates filled with her delicious homemade sandwiches and my favorite rosé to a holiday evening filled with Christmas music and boozy hot chocolate with matching Santa socks — she has the ability to make each thing (big or small) feel so thoughtful.
— Danielle Rapin, 38, Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Started dating in June 2020.
What I learned about Brad during the pandemic is that he is the most caring and kind guy I’ve ever encountered. He resembles me in many ways, in that we overthink and wear our hearts on our sleeves, but it works for us. Brad is the guy who will show up at your house no matter what time it is just to get a bug or will help you break the lock if you locked yourself out. He steps up and does what’s necessary, even if it’s just holding you when you cry or encouraging you to follow your dreams.
Brad is smart and super awkward, which I find so funny because it’s something I’m not used to seeing in anyone other than myself. He isn’t afraid to try new things with me or just relax on the couch if I don’t feel like doing anything at all. He’s a give-and-take type of person, like if I watch a dumb action movie with him, he’ll watch a romantic comedy with me. And it’s that type of stuff that really matters.
— Joretta Morris, 27, Florence, S.C.
What I learned about Joretta during the pandemic is that she is caring, compassionate and romantic. She pays attention to detail in so many different ways. That’s one of the main reasons I think that she will make a great television writer, along with the fact that she has a colorful imagination. I also learned that she’s the biggest television and movie buff I know.
Joretta is very open-minded and always willing to try many different things. She has a great maternal instinct for her niece and is also a very determined and resilient person, the kind that doesn’t let adversity hold her down for long. Lastly, and probably my favorite, she’s goofy and a true night owl.
— Brad Law, 32, Florence, S.C.