‘You’re always on your phone,’ he said, as my index finger was poised to make yet another left swipe. ‘What are you doing?’ I mumbled something about a group chat with school friends and locked my phone so he couldn’t see Mark from East London’s profile.
This was one of the many times I’ve had to think on my feet (or fingers) over the last few months, as I’ve been nervously navigating the world of online dating whilst living with my ex.
Being single at 37 – when I’d been in love and trying for a baby the year before – wasn’t how I’d imagined 2020 would pan out, let alone sharing a home with my now ex during a global pandemic.
We’d broken up in late 2019, a painful but mutual decision after months of strain. On New Year’s Eve, I’d left the flat we owned to travel the world and reset.
Three months and a fling with a gorgeous Kiwi musician later, I had a spring back in my step. I was getting used to the idea of being single again in my late 30s and wanted to move forwards. But Covid-19 had other plans.
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I was forced to return early. Most of my friends were living with partners or young families, and with no desire to put them at risk, my only option was to move back in with my ex.
Naturally, I was frustrated. Why should self-isolating with my ex have to get in the way of moving on? Cautiously, I began to browse Bumble.
If you’ve been on the apps during lockdown you’ll know that online dating is on steroids right now. Suddenly there are single men everywhere with a lot of time on their hands, keen to lure you into breaking lockdown rules.
I matched, I chatted and soon I found myself getting ready for my first virtual date with an actor from South London. That’s when the next wave of awkward questions came up.
‘How come you’re looking all done up?’ asked my ex suspiciously as I sauntered through the kitchen with freshly washed hair, a slick of kohl liner and glossy lips for the first time that year.
‘Oh, just going on Houseparty for Emma’s birthday – thought I’d make the effort.’
I hated lying. I still care a lot for my ex, and I knew it would hurt him to see me talking to other guys just as I wouldn’t want to find out about any of his goings on.
I’d been faithful throughout our relationship and living together with no idea of when lockdown would end, I didn’t want to make things any more difficult.
So, there I was, on my first virtual date, vodka tonics lined up for Dutch courage. I’d carefully scheduled it for when my ex was busy on Zoom. Mr Actor looked like his photos and was clearly used to the camera; the flirting started ramping up.I was laying in what I hoped was a coquettish angle on my bed, twirling a strand of hair in one hand, when the door swung open.
‘What are you doing? I’ve been calling through for ages, do you want to watch the next episode of…’ My ex stopped short, suddenly realising I was talking to a guy. I frantically, straightened my outfit, put my phone face down and glowered at him. ‘Don’t just burst in, I’m busy!’
‘Clearly,’ he muttered as he shut the door behind him. We never spoke of it again.
Things never went further with Mr Actor but with no job and endless days of lockdown to fill, I wanted to give online romance another chance.
Dating chat during a pandemic has been pretty consistent: Bumble Boy asks ‘What’s your lockdown situation? Are you home alone or living with nightmare housemates?’ and I have to think carefully before answering. After all, how many guys are comfortable hearing that you still live with your ex of five years?
I keep it vague until I grow more comfortable with someone and feel they were worth opening up to.
The first time I did, surprisingly it wasn’t a deal breaker. Finance Boy responded positively. ‘That must be tough for you, but you’ve got a great attitude, why make things more difficult for you both?’ It was one reason why he became my first ‘real date’ when Boris threw us singletons a lifeline and allowed park meet-ups.
I still had to field awkward questions back home like why I was at the park for so long and find a reason for wearing my fancy playsuit to go on a bike ride, when I’d been living in joggers for six weeks.
Lockdown with my ex has been more harmonious than I’d ever thought it could be.
We’ve cooked our favourite meals together, been glued to the latest season of Ozark and even teamed up for a family quiz. So there have been moments when we’ve been laughing and I’ve asked myself, ‘How did we lose all of this?’
Deep down, however, nothing has changed. Lockdown is an artificial bubble and has removed the temptations that broke us in the first place, such as my ex’s hedonistic behaviour. But it won’t change the fact we’ll go our separate ways once life returns to ‘normal’.
My ex has told me he has zero interest in a new relationship but it’s helped me see that being single in my late 30s isn’t a closed door.
I also know I want to change my living arrangements as soon as it’s feasible, gain space from my ex and build a new life for myself.
And perhaps the very chaste Victorian-style dating scene of Lockdown London has been a blessing in my situation: it goes at a slower pace, I can get to know someone the old-fashioned way and there is no sudden pressure to get naked for the first time.
That might have proved problematic with my ex in the next room. With another social distance date lined up this weekend, it looks like I might have to come up with some creative excuses for my sexy new cycling gear.
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