Can Pandemic Relationships Survive "Normal" Life? Reality TV Holds The Answer
Sarah*, 21, slid into her significant other’s DMs in March 2020 and the rest is, well, unprecedented history. What began as a casual hookup turned exclusive to avoid spreading COVID-19, and feelings soon followed — as did sleepovers and carpools to testing centers. But the one thing Sarah fears she might not be prepared for? When life returns to normal. What will her relationship look like after the coronavirus pandemic’s worst is over?
We’re all familiar with COVID-era couples who got together after the pandemic began, whether they’re flooding our Instagram feeds or gracing our TikTok For You Pages. I was skeptical of these relationships at first. Were pandemic couples just cuffing up because they were bored at home and afraid of being alone? I wondered if these relationships would fizzle out once life returned to normal, the same way couples who meet on reality TV shows like The Bachelor and Love Is Blind often break up once they leave their bubbles on set. But according to Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a licensed clinical psychologist and bestselling author, the pandemic has created an environment that actually facilitates romance.
“Crises in our lives crack us open,” Dr. Solomon tells Elite Daily. “We’re more likely to fall in love just after a move, just after the loss of somebody who means a lot to us... There's something about a personal crisis that primes us to fall in love.” Traumatic as they may be, life-altering experiences like this pandemic can bring clarity to your life, Dr. Solomon says. If you want a relationship, you might be more motivated to pursue one. That explains why the 2020 cuffing season was on steroids (and also why I fell deeply in love with Regé-Jean Page).
These Couples Might Be Stronger Than They Think
Cameron, 21, matched with her current beau on Tinder all the way back in March 2019, but she didn’t give him a shot until the pandemic left them stuck in their hometown for the foreseeable future. To stay safe, they rarely spent time with each other’s friends and family. Their relationship flourished without any outside influences. But Cameron worries what will happen once socialization returns and outsiders can weigh in.
“We all want to say that people's opinions don't matter, but they super do,” she says. “I think part of me wants him to remain perfect.” Cameron fears that if her family and friends point out his quirks and flaws, she won’t be able to unsee them.
Couples are also worried about weathering temptation as the world opens back up. Sarah says, “This sounds kind of f*cked up, but it was really easy to isolate, and only think about him.” She adds, “It makes me a little bit hesitant about when parties are a thing.”
Dr. Solomon says these concerns aren’t necessarily red flags. Every relationship is faced with challenges, and COVID-era couples might actually be even more prepared to meet them.
“Potentially, a pandemic relationship will have a stronger base when it comes time to navigate those [challenges],” Dr. Solomon said, “because they've spent the time getting to know each other and establishing healthy communication habits.” While Sarah and Cameron have realistic concerns, the foundation they built in quarantine may be more sturdy than they think.
When The Quarantine Bubble Pops
Many new couples say they feel like the pandemic has created a bubble around their relationship. This bubble, which protects them from temptation and social pressures, exists in another universe as well: reality TV. Both pandemic relationships and reality TV couples are formed in closed-off environments that largely eliminate family, friends, parties, and physical distance, and leave couples wondering, “Will this relationship work on the outside?”
Sarah isn’t so sure. “Like bro, you haven’t gone to Target with me,” she says. “You haven’t seen how indecisive I am.” In these unprecedented times, reality TV relationships might be the key to revealing what pandemic couples are in for once their bubble pops — or at least deflates.
Love Lessons From A Parallel Universe
Kenny Barnes, a contestant on Netflix’s hit show Love is Blind, didn’t just date in a quarantine pod; he got engaged in a literal pod. In this experiment, he got to know a variety of women through lengthy conversations in which they were separated by a wall. Because this environment stripped away any outside distractions, it was easier for Kenny to get to know the women on a deep level.
He explains that if you’re on a date in the real world and someone mentions that they’re close to their family or had a bad breakup, the conversation can quickly shift back to what looks good on the menu without digging deeper or asking follow-ups. But as he spent time with his final four women in the pods, Kenny says he didn’t have those distractions. He says, “I knew more about those four women than [I did in] probably my previous three relationships, just because you can get through stuff.”
Although Kenny left the pods engaged to fellow contestant Kelly Chase, their relationship ended when she said “I don’t” at the altar. Kenny later found love off the show, joining the many couples who put a ring on it during quarantine.
Former Bachelor contestant Katie Morton got engaged to Chris Bukowski on Season 6 of Bachelor in Paradise, but experienced struggles readjusting to the outside world. She tells Elite Daily, “I needed more reassurance [from him]. Being long-distance right after being together with someone for 30 days straight... that made it so hard.”
One thing that might have eased the transition? Deeply exploring their compatibility while they were still on the show. "Because later, when the gates are open, and you're out with your friends, and now that people are maybe having drinks and going on vacations, those are the times you forget to ask the hard questions,” she says.
Katie and Kenny’s advice leaves COVD-era couples with an important task: Take advantage of this time — as strange as it is — because it’s going to come to an end. Just as the camera always cuts and sexy singles have to leave Mexico, pandemic relationships won’t stay in the pandemic forever.
That doesn’t mean they are fated to fail. Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton, another couple from Love is Blind, are still happily married, and many Bachelor babies are crawling as we speak. Relationships formed in bubbles can work, as long as both people are flexible enough to adapt to the outside world.
Don’t Overthink It
Sarah, whose pandemic relationship was born in the holy space of Instagram DMs, confesses she occasionally feels like her relationship isn’t "real" because she and her boyfriend haven’t been tested in the traditional sense. “It sometimes makes me question the legitimacy of it,” she says.
Dr. Solomon says people like Sarah shouldn’t worry. “When a story starts to creep up in your mind that sounds like, ‘Oh, we’re doomed, or we fell in love during the pandemic so it’s not real,’ let go of those stories,” she says. That is simply the fear talking — fear that could hold us back from embracing a good thing. We can all come up with stories or reasons as to why our relationship won't work. Maybe you met when you were too young, or during a pandemic, or maybe he’s the star of Netflix’s Bridgerton, so he’s a little busy.
According to the CDC vaccine tracker, 26% of adults in the U.S. have been at least partly vaccinated for COVID-19, with President Joe Biden promising that vaccines will be available to all adults who want them by May 1. Restaurants are slowly opening back up, warmer weather has everyone feeling optimistic, and life is beginning to look ever so slightly more normal. In the coming months, couples who met during the pandemic may be put to the test. But if they’ve made it this far, they’re probably stronger than they realize.
*Name has been changed.