Romance, unprecedented

Making it official in the time of COVID-19

Talia Steele

Crossing over the one-year mark of COVID-19, some Winnipeg couples anticipate two anniversaries: one marking the first year of their relationship and one of lockdown. 

Dating in a pandemic has put a pause on many relationship “firsts.” For some, the first night out could take place five months into a relationship. For others, it could mean putting off meeting each other’s family and friends for months, or even a year.  

The Uniter spoke with folks who managed to find love in the time of COVID-19 – however unprecedented these times may be. 

Days before Manitoba went into lockdown in March 2020, Rebecca Simiyu, a University of Manitoba student completing her final year in the political studies program, and Christian Higham, a master’s student in the cultural studies program at the University of Winnipeg, matched on an online dating app.

What would follow was two months of texting, FaceTiming and Netflix party date nights – all before meeting in person in May 2020.  

“Our first date wasn’t really a traditional first date. We just took a walk, because that was all we could really do at the time,” Simiyu says. 

“When we first started talking, we were able to get to know each other so deeply,” Higham says. “By the time we hung out, it was so intense to be experiencing that in person finally.” 

Not long after they met, Simiyu and Higham made the decision to move in together to avoid the safety risks of going back and forth between residences. 

“The first part was like accelerated U-Hauling,” Higham says. “We could live together or not.” 

Though the couple hasn’t been to a movie theatre, travelled outside of Manitoba or attended a concert together, Higham says the experience of getting to know Simiyu was something she wouldn’t trade.  

“I think it’s also something that we may never get to experience again – getting to know someone so thoroughly and slowly,” Higham says.  

For couples like Megan St. Hilaire and Andrew Roper, who also chose to move in together recently, pandemic dating has accelerated some aspects of being in a relationship, while decelerating others. St. Hilaire says the seriousness of COVID-19 forced them to reconsider how they approached getting into a relationship. 

“I’ve always been someone who tries not to get head over heels (or) ahead of myself in relationships,” they say. “With COVID, it was kind of like, okay, you either need to give this your all, or nothing is going to happen. You really learn quickly whether or not you guys are going to work.” 

While St. Hilaire says they joke about never having been on a real first date, the couple has managed to make a sanctuary out of their shared space, having movie nights and anticipating a time when going to the cinema is safe and feasible. 

“We’re both kind of introverted hermits, so it’s a good co-existence, but it definitely gets cabin fever-y sometimes,” St. Hilaire says.

Gillian Brown, a student journalist at The Manitoban, says she and her partner Ty Brass, who she met while working at the paper, only went on their first real date in March 2021 – despite calling it official in August 2020.

“I feel like we skipped a lot of the beginning stages of the relationship. We didn’t go on dates really, (and) we haven’t met each other’s family and friends,” Brown says. 

For Brown, not being able to meet each other’s families or celebrate holidays together has been a challenge. Oftentimes, she says Brass was the only person she saw. 

“I think the family thing is difficult for a lot of people,” she says. “With the lockdown, with social distancing, there’s just a whole other part of the relationship that we don’t get to have right now. 

Others, like Sharee Hochman, a writer and student completing her final year in the rhetoric, writing and communications degree program at the University of Winnipeg,  experienced the end of a relationship during the lockdown. 

When faced with the option of travelling to Germany to see her then-significant other, Hochman says she found herself caught between a moral dilemma: accepting the health and safety risks of travelling during a pandemic or remaining long-distance for the duration of lockdowns. 

“It gave me a lot of anxiety to think about going against the guidelines and the safety of others,” she says. “It was difficult to know that the consequence would be breaking up if I didn’t go, but I think I would’ve felt worse being there if I didn’t go with my gut instinct to stay back in Winnipeg.” 

In the end, Hochman’s relationship eventually came to a close, in part due to her choice to stay in Winnipeg. It’s a decision that, while difficult, she says she doesn’t regret. 

“It gave me the opportunity to set my boundaries and stick to my morals,” she says. 

For many COVID-era couples, what lies ahead in the post-pandemic future remains a beacon of hope. 

Simiyu and Higham have been making the most of the pandemic dating world through skateboarding, walks and picnics. Still, the pair looks forward to a future where travelling and interacting with each other’s greater circle of friends is safe. 

“Usually, I find that, after a year of dating, people have done a lot of firsts together, but we still have so many first things to experience together,” Simiyu says.

Similarly, St. Hilaire and Roper dream of a future of camping and theatre outings in addition to the bike rides and pizza-making nights they’ve enjoyed together throughout the pandemic. 

“I feel like we’ve made a lot of memories in this little bubble we’ve created, and I can’t wait for that bubble to expand,” St. Hilaire says. 

Published in Volume 75, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 31, 2021)

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