By Jessica Goodman
When Josh and Paul, both 31, got together in August 2020, their routine became full of classic COVID-era dates: Long walks in the park, elegantly cooked meals at home, TV marathons on the couch, and perhaps an outdoor brunch if the weather was cooperative. Activities that were absent from their relationship? Concerts. Boozy group dinners with friends. Birthday parties held at sweaty bars. Meet-and-greets with vulnerable family elders.
Like many couples who met in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Josh and Paul still haven’t done many of those activities and have really only seen one another in intimate social settings. “We joked about it at first,” says Josh. “Like, what if you’re a goofy dancer or not fun at parties?”
Now that they’re both vaccinated and have been participating in more gatherings like weekend getaways with friends, they’re learning way more about one another, like how they interact in groups, how late they like to stay out, and how the other acts around family. “Turns out Paul is a goofy dancer,” says Josh. “But it’s one of the things I love about him.”
However, not every couple’s transition into the current post-vaccine era has been as seamless. Lisa, 32, admits that once she saw how her new boyfriend behaved at a party for the first time, she was turned off by his brash attitude and his disinterest in her friends. “We spent so much time alone, I had no idea he’d act that way in public,” she says. “It was such a turn-off.” They broke up soon after.
Now that more and more couples who got together in 2020 are starting to see different sides of each other, there are bound to be hiccups, missteps, and doubts about whether these bonds are built to last. Here’s how to tell if your pandemic relationship will be able to survive this tumultuous—and kind of awkward!—re-entry into a post-lockdown world.
You’re both cool doing your own thing
Now that our social bubbles have opened up, it’s likely that you’re spending less time with your partner and not doing everything together like you were a few months ago. “During the pandemic, we were getting our needs met by one person,” says Dr. Megan Fleming, a sex and relationship therapist. “But now we have to remember that you don’t always need to share the same friend groups or interests. Pre-COVID, you wouldn’t have been attached at the hip and you wouldn’t have those expectations of one another!”
In fact, having flexibility to do your own thing can help strengthen your relationship, and having close connections outside your romantic one is a great sign. “People who have multiple close friends tend to be people who have the emotional health and interpersonal skills needed to sustain a romantic relationship,” says Dr. Diana Wiley, author of Love in the Time of Corona: Advice from a Sex Therapist for Couples in Quarantine.
You cut each other slack—especially right now
Let’s be real, even though we’re in a post-vaccine world, this is still a wildly stressful and anxiety-filled time. We’re all facing new challenges like going back to the office, re-entering public spaces, and navigating friends and family who may not have the same views on masks and vaccinations as we do.
“Transitioning back to life can be traumatic,” says Fleming. “It’s not atypical or uncommon to show up with anxiety when they hadn’t before.” So if you or your partner are acting differently in public than you did in private, it may be because you’re having trouble adjusting. Understanding that everyone may be struggling right now—and refraining from getting mad at the other person for out-of-character actions—is a good sign that you’ll be able to keep that kind of support going later on in your relationship.
Your partner is open to changing or evolving
There were some good things about dating in the pandemic, like really getting to know someone intimately through cozy, uninterrupted hang time. And while it’s great if you’re able to keep up the activities and one-on-one interactions that brought you together, there’s a good chance your relationship will have to evolve with the world reopening. If you find that your partner is very open to change or growth in this transition period, it’s likely they’ll continue to be throughout your time together, which can help keep your bond interesting and fresh. But if they aren’t adjusting, it might not be a positive sign for the longevity of your relationship. “If a person is set in their ways, there’s a good chance the relationship will stagnate or that they won’t be willing to modify their life to include things that you like,” says Dr. Wiley.
You’re able to talk openly about your newly discovered differences
Now’s the time when you might be learning things about your partner you didn’t know before, like if they prefer to stay out until 2 a.m. while you like to be in bed early. Or if they love going to crowded museums, but you’re actually anxious around large groups. What’s important is how you talk about these differences. Rather than framing it in a negative way, says Fleming, start the conversation from a place of “longing or wishing.” So if your partner is standoffish around your family, for example, Fuentes recommends saying something like, “I feel offended when you isolate at my parents’ house. It would mean a lot to me to try to converse with them more.”
If your partner doesn’t hear you out or makes no effort to improve, that’s a red flag, says Wiley. But if they hear you out and you’re both “able and willing to move towards finding a compromise, that is a good sign for the longevity of your relationship,” says marriage and family therapist Chelsea Fuentes. It signals respect and a sense of equity in the partnership.
COVID-19 is still very much present, and some couples who got together in 2020 have yet to see how they function in “normal” daily life. But as we (hopefully!) inch back toward a more relaxed, safe world, keeping these signs in mind will help you know when it’s time to move forward together or cut the cord for good.