Ned*, 25, hooked up with a coworker one night over the summer. Before he knew it, they were spending all their time together and dating exclusively. “It just kind of happened,” he says. “Between the pandemic and the office, we really couldn’t stop seeing each other.”
Now, several months into the relationship, he sees that it probably should have been a one-time thing. But their lives became entangled, and now he can’t imagine untangling them until the pandemic is over. They are both far down on the list of vaccine eligibility, and currently aren’t really able to see friends or meet new people. To add to these complications, she has since lost her job, and although they don’t live together, they often share costs, like groceries and vet bills for the cat they co-adopted.
“It’s time for [the relationship] to be over. But it doesn’t feel like a time we can end things—until she finds a job, or the pandemic ends,” he says. “It was just something we kind of got forced into and by the time I was able to look back and say, ‘This isn’t something that I see as a long term thing,’ we were already down in the rabbit hole.”
Ned admits there is nothing wrong with the relationship in the day-to-day. “She’s lovely. We don’t fight or anything. We make dinner every night,” he says. “It’s just, she’s very much in the place where she wants to be married and have children in the next year or two, and I am not.”
The circumstances of the pandemic forced a lot of daters to get serious much quicker than they might have normally. From becoming exclusive after only a few dates, to moving in together after only a couple months, the COVID DTRs happened quickly. But 10, 11 months in, some quarantined couples are reexamining their hasty unions, and wondering, how did I get myself into this? And more importantly, how do I get myself out?
The sense of lives becoming intertwined, personal mobility thwarted by financial and logistical hurdles, and the reality that it’s way harder to meet someone new right now anyway so you might as well stick to the one you’ve got, lest you risk Being Alone, have kept some couples GQ spoke to in a kind of limbo, waiting the relationship out until the vaccine becomes more widely available, or herd immunity is actually achieved, or whatever post-pandemic life becomes provides an exit strategy. History, both recent and century-old, has given us reason to forecast a great post-pandemic uncuffing. We know in Wuhan, China, divorce rates spiked once quarantine lifted. And plenty of observers have already drawn comparisons between life after the vaccine and the party-and-sex-fueled Roaring 20s, which followed the 1918 influenza outbreak.
In the meantime, some twosomes feel trapped. Liam*, 29, realized back in August of 2020 that he and his partner needed to split up. They got into a heated argument about having kids—she doesn’t want them, but he does—which made Liam ask himself, “What’s the point in being together?” But they tabled the issue. “I think we left it drunk and passed out and then didn’t speak about it. There was a vague discussion of Zoom-based couples therapy which didn’t go anywhere.”
Liam is reluctant to break up, though, because as a freelancer whose work has “pretty much dried up” due to COVID, he can’t afford to move out right now. He’s also reluctant to broach the issue because, “I’m worried if we talk about it too much she would break up with me, as she is in a better situation financially to do that.” Although he recognizes that it’s unfair to her that he’s stalling—“if I had split up at the time [of the argument] she could have been moving on”—he feels that his hands are tied due to his financial situation. On a day-to-day basis, things between them are “basically fine, just a bit, uh, quiet…an atmosphere of ambivalence.”