Rose-Tinted Glasses, Rolled Up Sleeves and Fish Finger Sandwiches: What It’s Like Falling In and Out of Love During Lockdown

Words: Eve Smallman
Friday 12 February 2021
reading time: min, words

Being in love is gripping. It grasps at your heart as it falls into your throat, fills your lungs as you breathe in the moments, and sinks into your fingers, so imprinted you can’t let go. During this past year, we’ve all come to rely on it as everything else around us falls down and tightens up. But this year of instability forced me to let go of collapsing cliffs and find the joy of carving out new shapes. And so I embarked on a year of love lessons during lockdown...


Around this time last year, I was gazing at the Eiffel Tower from a balcony in Montmartre. My boyfriend and I were celebrating our three-year anniversary, and I’d just finished crying after reciting a poem I wrote for him. I wasn’t crying because I was so in love with him – I was crying because I was scared of this moment being one of our last big ones together. We’d been battling long-distance, and COVID-19 was quietly creeping up the headlines. But it didn’t matter, as we were in the city of love. 

Long-distance is difficult enough without the pain of a pandemic. We had differing views on so many aspects of life, but we had plastered so many layers of gloss onto our would-be and could-be that it didn’t matter how different we were so long as we had each other. It was so easy to do that in person when we could look at each other and know we wanted to keep brushing. Or so he could look at me and I’d keep patching up spots that appeared. But we couldn’t. Text messages, phone calls, they hold electricity but they can’t jolt together that need and want if it’s not well and truly there. 

When he told me of champagne parties on his street while I grappled with the shock of almost losing my father to COVID-19, I took a step back. I put my paintbrush down. He didn’t want to fill in the cracks, and I realised I didn’t have the energy any more. We were in two different worlds, that couldn’t be put together no matter how much I wanted. Three years, and I ended it all with a phone call, as we couldn’t meet in person to do it. Did lockdown speed up the inevitable? I think it stomped on my rose-tinted glasses and I needed to find out there was more to love than climbing up a never-ending hill. And when we had our first post-breakup call and he rattled off a list of everything wrong with me, I was pushed down it. But I was able to, for the first time in a long time, come up for air. 

For my birthday, my ex sent me a box full of my old clothes and a book with annotations on why I’m so impossible to be with

Like many twenty-somethings, a couple of months later I found myself on a dating app. The summer sunshine was sifting through the window, the bars and restaurants were bubbling with beer and conversation, and I was soon sitting outside Blend with a tall guy who ordered a black cup of tea. No frills, no extra grande mochaccino. There was something so quiet about it, so uncomplicated and yet so warm. On our second date, we were lying on the grass in the Arboretum, and he offered me his jacket to rest on. On our third, he rolled up my sleeves when I was washing up. And as we trekked up hills on the outskirts of Nottingham to head to the pub, I started to pin down the feeling. 

When I occasionally cracked – whether from spilling pizza dough all over his kitchen counter or from the weight of COVID-19 breakages in my life – he’d just stay calm and make me a cup of tea. Sometimes he’d even make me a fish finger and waffle sandwich if I was lucky. But he wasn’t afraid of the bad sides of me. He didn’t resent me for them. Oh, this is it. This is what it feels like, to have a real boyfriend, who wants me. Just me, and not just because I want him too. But the fantasy and the reality are woven together, and that’s what he wants. He wants all of it. 

As the sun set earlier and the leaves crunched beneath my feet, lockdown hit again. But there were no questions. The taste of the summer pollen lingered in our throats, but it wasn’t a fling or a memory. Even with the difficulties of lockdown, we made it work and tried hard together. He parked his car and we ate chips, overlooking the road while it rained down. It wasn’t the Eiffel Tower, but I didn’t want it to be or need it to be. The taste of salt washed down with a Diet Coke brought me an inner peace that I didn’t know I didn’t have when I was sipping espressos and enjoying patisserie croissants. 

For my birthday, my ex sent me a box full of my old clothes and a book with annotations on why I’m so impossible to be with. At Christmas, I closed my eyes and dipped my hands into a box crisply wrapped, full of beautifully tender presents handpicked for me. I’m still doing that every day, in little ways. It hasn’t been easy. We’re still working through obstacles, lockdown-shaped and others. But whether we’re having a fierce debate about nothing or trying to put into words that this is something we’d actually quite like to give a go, I’m always quietly smiling. 

What I’ve learned about love during lockdown is that life is far too short and spontaneous to waste energy on someone that doesn’t appreciate you. Inside and out and all over, for the right person you’re worth fighting for. I’ve also learned that it’s little acts of love that build a mountain, not big pushes that wear you down. You need strong motivation around you to navigate these difficult waves. Shipmates that will help steer you back to shore, whether that’s family members, friends, or something more. And everything that’ll come after lockdown… That’s just all part of the journey. 

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