How do we notice a moment? When autopilot is switched on and we’re making the bed, chopping a potato, putting away socks. The inconsequential luggage of life so absorbing and yet, there, in a second, I see him. Propped up by the radiator, scrolling through Twitter, the condensation of early morning heating meeting November cold cloaking the window. Something so ordinary and familiar, but in this moment life paused and I stepped out of the everyday engine to consider with striking clarity how lucky I am to be so in love in such unusual circumstances.
Although I have definitely learned a few lessons from love in lockdown. At the beginning, the prospect of having company at home for however many weeks was exciting. It had the comforting air of ‘holiday’, that incommunicable feeling you get before your birthday or Christmas where the shroud is slightly lifted and you start to think about all the things you could do with your life. That feeling quickly faded when presented with the reality that when one person is working and the other person is not, it doesn’t always make for sweet household harmony. Not that it was divisive, but when one of you essentially has a 6-week break and the other is working as normal but with little fun or escape, the playing field doesn’t feel level. The scales of stress are tipped.
In fact the whole equilibrium of the house was off. I really love cooking when I have enough time to do it slowly (or I can watch EastEnders while I do it), but finishing work to cook dinner for someone who has been relaxing all day upstairs… That left too much of a sour taste in my mouth. Which is silly, because I like to do it. I actually find cooking quite relaxing, but being stuck at home, repetitively working, cooking and cleaning – especially for a man… The relics of my early anti-housewife feminism started to jangle. Consciously I align with choice and freedom being fundamental to feminism – that a person can choose to be a homemaker and a mother and there is power in that which is no less valuable than the ‘career path’ – but subconsciously, it still scares me. In the same way that I know pink is just a colour but I avoid wearing it for fear of being ‘Barbie-fied’.
It forced me to confront a truth I’d been resisting for some time now: when it comes to love, I am a caregiver. I don’t want to be – I want to be independent and fierce and forceful in my individuality – but I’m not. I want to take care of someone. I like being half of something. I like cooking dinners for my partner and hearing the hum of positive feedback. I like picking up the bits he needs from the shop and putting his socks away and deciding which eco-friendly laundry detergent is best for us. My Mum is a caregiver and so is my Nan, so I think out of auto-rebellion I tried to position myself on the other end of the scale, but hello, my name is Chloe, and I’m a feeder.
Where there is caregiving, however, there must be acts of service. I’d never considered love languages much before lockdown but when your world suddenly becomes much smaller, you start to examine the threads in the fabric of what’s left. The more I read about love languages (and the more late-night quizzes that I do), the more I recognise that supportive actions from a partner are crucial to my long-term happiness. I don’t want someone to say they’re going to help me, I want them to do it without me asking and come back to me with the invaluable gift of time. I want someone to recognise when I’m stressed, overwhelmed or low, and step in to lift a little weight of my shoulders without me having to turn my head. In short, I want to take care of someone while they also take care of me, picking up the bits that topple down my tower of ‘I’ve-definitely-got-this-all-under-control’. But not too much – I still need to feel like I’m steering the ship. Maybe it’s an ill-fitting combination but love in lockdown has taught me that these things don’t always make sense.
One thing I’ve sorely missed is date night. And I mean date night in its full measure: the glass of wine you pour yourself to sip while you get ready; the outfit options voted for in the group chat; the comfortable-shoes vs cute-shoes conundrum; the blazer in lieu of a coat; holding hands in the backseat of a taxi; asking ‘what are you going to eat?’ even though you know what they’re going to eat; the warm buzz of tipsiness that floods from your chest down each of your arms; feeling tethered to someone, connected by an invisible line, watching them shine as they always do, but in particular radiance tonight, in front of an audience.
Here’s something you aren’t often told about date nights as part of a long-term relationship: they deliver a timely and welcome reminder that each of you, as respective individuals in a partnership, can be attractive outside of each other’s opinion. Outside the familiarity and comfort of the everyday. It gives you the opportunity to feel desired outside the realms of expected desire, even if said desire is entirely fabricated in your mind after someone momentarily glances at you on the way to the toilet. It reaffirms your choice to be in a relationship, and the choice of the other person to be with you. When we get dressed up together (or gussied up if you prefer Simlish), there’s something powerful in that for me. I feel good and he looks good and maybe it’s simply showing off, but so be it – I love to show him off. It’s just not the same pulling over-the-knee boots on when you know you’ll just be sitting at your dining room table. I miss the electricity of date night.
For all the goodness, that has been a tricky part of love in lockdown: keeping the excitement alive. There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do. The pockets of the year in which you’d reliably pop new memories are full of toilet rolls and hand sanitiser, and in the monotony of time without distinction, without real weekends like toe dividers to give respite in separation – well, it’s easy to only exist. To get stuck in the ordinary routine of things, putting your head down and pushing through like you’re finishing a really shitty late shift. It’s hard to keep reigniting a spark without adventure, especially when that lack of excitement extends to every corner of your life. ‘Flat’ is the best way to describe it. Hats off to any couple who have maintained a regular at-home date night; I try, but when I excuse myself to go to the toilet and see the clothes-horse which hasn’t been cleared for 3 days, the illusion of date night is immediately shattered. I need to be out in the thick of things, close together, perfume and cologne mingling in a heady bouquet. When we’re allowed to do so again, I won’t be taking the opportunity for granted.
What I’ve learned most from love in lockdown is more of a confirmation than a lesson (and I wish it were different so I had something meatier to write about, but the truth is the truth): I’m very, very in love. More in love than I have ever been, with all of the giggles and silliness of the honeymoon stage but with the respect and intelligence that only comes with knowing someone over a long period of time. Over the last few years there have been moments of real difficulty – as there are in any long-term relationship – and in those moments you lean into the fear that it will never feel right again. But it feels good to love someone so much and know, without any semblance of doubt, that the same is returned to you.
Maybe it’s tone-deaf to signpost something beautifully synergised and selfishly mine, but I think there’s something to be said for celebrating a bud of togetherness when the theme of the year is separation. Even in the darkest of days, there is a grain of something good: love.