This essay is part of a series from Autostraddle writers about how they’re approaching dating and relationships at our current stage in the pandemic – read the rest here!
Over the course of the last year I have been intensely careful about visits and contact. In the Before Times I worked as a freelance restaurant and events photographer, a production assistant, a prop stylist – in short, a lot of jobs that almost immediately disappeared with the awareness of Covid, jobs that are not likely to return any time soon. But given the endlessly rising cases in NYC, and given my shift to remote freelance work, I restricted my in-person visits to only two people: my husband, and my best friend. And over the course of this last year, my husband has become my ex, and my best friend has become my girlfriend.
All that to say, what began as a very small quarantine circle managed to grow even smaller. And as someone that hasn’t been on a date with a stranger since 2008, dating in many ways feels like a bit of a mystery, even as relationships feel very familiar.
My girlfriend and I have talked a lot about both joy and grief lately, the magic of realizing that we had feelings for each other partnered with the sorrow in not getting to share these early months of dating with our friends and communities. We got to tell a handful of close friends that we were together during careful outdoor visits, but most of our friends heard the news through Zoom calls, through texts, through the phone. We’ve tried to create special events for each other when we can, going on safe little getaways and making dinner dates in our homes feel fancy with candles and music. I bring her flowers, make her playlists, cook her dinner, do my best to make our time together special. But of course, it’s not quite the same as getting to help each other throw parties for our loved ones, getting to meet up at bars and restaurants and events, getting to sneak into corners at parties to make out or slip out early to be alone together. Our time with each other is planned, intentional, isolated from the rest of our community. And as wonderful as this time together has been, as close as we’ve gotten, we both know that once the world opens up a bit more, we’ll finally get to have a lot of our “firsts” — and that it may be bittersweet to finally have our first date six months into being a couple.
I think in some ways, there is a kind of magic and intimacy to what we’ve done. Our relationship likely would’ve been intense anyway, as the transition from very close friends to lovers and girlfriends is not one that many make lightly. But doing all of this in isolation has undeniably heightened our connection, deepened our bond in ways I didn’t anticipate. Starting a new relationship with so much privacy, only ever seeing each other instead of getting to gossip and gush with friends separately, has meant that we are relying on each other even more profoundly than we did before. And in the same way, we have had to be very thoughtful about boundaries, intentional about how much time we spend together, honest about how we communicate. We’ve learned a lot about how we can support each other, and about when we need to step back and turn to others for advice and encouragement. It’s not always been easy, but it’s always been worth it, and I truly believe that our relationship is stronger for having started in quarantine, for enduring in spite of everything else we are going through.
After eleven years of being married, after coming out as bisexual while in a monogamous relationship with a cis straight man, I absolutely love getting clocked as queer when my girlfriend and I walk around, masked, in the park. I’m excited to finally get to take her out on a date, to hang out with our friends together, to meet the important people in her life in person. And while I’m anticipating getting to venture out into the world again with her by my side, while I can’t wait to move into this next, more public phase of our relationship, I think I’ll always look back on these months of dating in isolation with a bit of fondness. It’s a unique experience, falling in love during a pandemic, and that makes it feel strangely sacred.