Rosie Green on navigating a new relationship in lockdown

I used to think ‘honeymoon periods’ were a fallacy. Just like the existence of people who ‘forgot’ to have lunch or who actively liked kale. But no, age 45, I’ve discovered they are a thing and that thing is really rather nice. Then, boom, Covid.

Rewind: I split with my husband last year. We were married for 15 years, together for 26, and got together so young that the stretch of time supposed to be ‘honeymoon’ was (for me anyhow) blurred by a deficit of experience and excess of alcopops. Now a year and half on from the break up, and after a six month of period dating Scandi entrepreneurs, unsuitably aged photographers and suitably aged, but sometimes not suitably dressed, MAMILs/CEO’s/plumbers, I’ve begun seeing someone. Exclusively. (Although not insta official. That feels more exposing. Somehow more so than writing this for a few million Red readers. Go figure).

Now we are in the aforementioned honeymoon period: Romantic dinners, hand holding, messaging. Mini breaks, city breaks. Brunches, lunches. Rosé drinking, coffee in bed. And the kissing. And those tender touches. All the more life affirming because they’ve been absent for so long. Plus, there’s the excitement of the uncertainly; of not really knowing how the other person’s feeling. Each new message or flirty exchange delivering a fresh dopamine hit. But for me, fear comes with it too.

The fear of opening up my heart. Bruised and battered from the torturous end of my last relationship. The nights spent alone in an empty bed, the agony of unanswered texts, or worse, texts devoid of love and reassurance. To gain some kind of control, I would turn my phone off for days at a time. My self esteem, once so robust, was shattered into a thousand pieces. Now the cracks are fusing together, healing slowly. But like bones that have been broken, I wonder if they will always be weaker where the fractures lie? Or perhaps the opposite is true? I think it might be.

I, ever the optimist, believe it won’t be as stringent as he thinks

Monday 23rd March. The Covid crisis hangs heavy in the air. Pubs and restaurants are shut. Spring stops for nothing and the scent of freshly cut grass sweetens the air. I am in London with my boyfriend (this still feels weird to say), whilst my kids are with my ex in Oxfordshire. As D Zooms his morning meeting, I write a feature in the kitchen. We drink coffee. We have breakfast together. This level of domesticity is all new to us. We know lockdown is coming, but it feels so unbelievable. I, ever the optimist, believe it won’t be as stringent as he thinks. I will still be able to visit I’m sure.

I leave on that sunny morning. We hug. We kiss. He stands at his door and waves. That was five weeks ago.

So what does it mean for us? In relationships you progress through the firsts. First WhatsApp, first phone call (this is a big one..), first dinner out, first sleepover, first dinner in, first dinner with friends, first mini break. Lockdown has affected the natural order. Or, for us, pressed pause.

Now we are, to misquote Elvis, experiencing a little less (okay zero) action and a lot more conversation. We are missing the bonding oxytocin that comes from human touch. Missing the eye contact and the body language that communicates more than 100 WhatsApps ever could. Which, as we all know, can be misinterpreted.

I feel lucky this didn’t happen at an earlier stage, when we were circling around exclusivity. I feel lucky that he is a good communicator. Interesting. Interested. Still it’s a challenge, and frustrating. In many senses of the word.

If my break up has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t control anyone else’s feelings, only your own.

One challenge is that, ironically, the adult humans we see the most of are our exes, which could tap into all kinds of insecurities. I’ve had lunches with mine. So has he. Played with the children. Discussed the crisis. Had tea. But I’m rational about it. If my break up has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t control anyone else’s feelings, only your own.

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D laughs when I ask him for the pros and cons of lockdown on our relationship and says ‘there are no pros.’ But when pressed, over WhatsApp audio, says ‘well you’d never normally get a break like this to take stock.’ (N.B. I’m going to take this as a positive thing. See… it takes effort.). He’s pragmatic. He says he’d hate it if I was too too hysterical, too needy. Hmm. Needy. A word that strikes fear into the heart of all of us.

When does vulnerable (which is a good thing according to every therapist/Insta quote out there) tip into needy? How do you strike the right balance? Be truthful enough to expose your underbelly, but not allow yourself to tip into paranoia or the need to control? And certainly now, when there are less distractions, it could be the perfect opportunity for negative thoughts to creep in. To overthink.

But weirdly, though I have a diary blanker than a Love Islander’s expression, my days seems full enough so stop my mind racing: Zooming, working, homeschooling. Plus as a single parent I’ve become sole cook, cleaner, handy man, PT, IT technician (I’m deeply crap at the latter. And the former come to think of it). And I think, I hope, we are both self-aware enough to know prodding and teasing that you might be tempted to do IRL, to test the other’s level of interest/commitment, is not a suitable game for these times.

Put simply you need to keep your shit together. And recognise that when one of you is feeling, er amorous, the other person might be well standing in line at Waitrose. True story. Plus, if you are looking for positives, there’s also a kind of deliciousness in it. That wanting of what you can’t have.

We discuss our post-lockdown meet up in exquisite detail. Where we’ll go, what we will eat, what we will drink, what we’ll do. You’ll be my first diary ‘event’ I tell him. Well, right after my colourist….

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