Julie Arbit It Turns Out the Pandemic Made Us Better Partners

This research is powered by the VICE Media Group audience. In June, we interviewed young people around the world and invited the VICE, Refinery29, and i-D audiences to take an online survey on dating and relationships during the pandemic. We collected responses from more than 4,000 people in more than 30 countries, with the majority of respondents between the ages of 16 and 39.

Despite the daily anxieties and stress brought on by the pandemic, young people say their romantic relationships have grown stronger.

Spending so much time together and getting to know each other better, whether in an old relationship or a new one, has enabled us to reassess what’s important in a relationship. Many have worked through long-standing issues, and others have re-prioritized which battles to fight, often leaving the more trivial things aside. Young couples are feeling incredibly grateful to have their partners by their sides through this experience, and say they are falling more in love with them. Forty-seven percent of those in relationships say they have experienced higher levels of love than before the pandemic.

Experienced more love than before the pandemic

ALL DATA FROM VICE MEDIA GROUP’S COVID-19 STUDY, LOVE AFTER LOCKDOWN, JUNE 2020. ALL CHARTS DESIGNED BY SAMANTHA ALDEBORGH.

Communication has been a key part of this. Whether they were good communicators before the pandemic or not, listening and having their voices heard was critical to the couples we spoke with. More than half (53 percent) say they have experienced better communication in their relationships as a result of the crisis. Many learned new things about their partners in the process, which led to greater respect and empathy for them. Sixty-four percent say they and their partner are more empathetic towards one another’s work/life demands now. The experience has also enabled them to work better together, with many describing more equitable sharing of household responsibilities.

Here’s a selection of responses from the people we spoke to.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Some names have been changed for privacy.

Kate, 26
Living with her partner
NYC, New York, USA

We’d definitely talked about living together when our leases were up and what that would look like. Now we’re suddenly living together.

I’ve improved communication on my end. I’m not the greatest communicator. Like solely in relationships for some reason. I’m super open with my friends. I think there are times when I just have assumed someone could read what I’m thinking. And now I’m like, okay, I really have to openly communicate. Like there’s no reason to wait three days for your partner to make up a silly fight that shouldn’t be happening in a pandemic where people are losing loved ones without having any last time with them. It gives you perspective of how precious time is.

I feel like we’ve gone through 30 years of marriage in three months. But it’s definitely shown me the resilience behind the relationship. It’s like a challenge that I think we both wanted to step up for. So it’s definitely made us stronger.

Thank God I’m with him now and not with anyone else. You literally never know when your life is going to be flipped and you need someone that speaks your love language and values the same things as you, and just is really supportive and that you also want to be that support for them. I’m just really, really grateful for the partner that I have.

Experienced higher levels of gratitude than before the pandemic

ILLUSTRATION BY VERO ROMERO.

We definitely need to get better at [romance] because it’s been a thing like, by the end of the day I have like a headache and I just have nothing left to give. He’s like, okay, I really need to get a job and I’m like, I need to finish this class. But we recognize that we need to carve out more time. We need to remind ourselves that we can’t just root for each other, we also need to connect with each other.

I feel like it’s just not a sexy situation, like globally. I think it’s just there will never be the same normal sex life in a pandemic, there is either a heightened emotion or new anxiety.

I feel like tone and mood is what sets a lot of sex drive. So—how can I create a set for myself that’s not dependent on the external environment? Like, one night we dressed up and I made a playlist and pretended we were at a bar, just making that moment. Even if you drink wine and watch a movie, be like, alright, tonight we’re setting intentions for it.

Fatima, 31
Living separately from her partner
New Delhi, India

We’re managing our relationship during the pandemic through social media and phone calls. I think the need to communicate has definitely increased. I mean, earlier, I think we were all just so busy leading our lives that it didn’t really matter. And now I think it takes more of a precedence over other things. There’s a lot more ups and downs and everyone’s dealing with their own anxiety. So you’re privy to a more emotional side than if things were different. We’re in a phase of getting to know each other, so it’s interesting to see one’s thought processes. I like that it’s a positive mindset that he has. So it’s kind of encouraging.

I think I was a bit worried about where this would lead because we’re in this in the beginning phase of our relationship. We’re in that phase where you want to meet each other, you want to hang out, and I was just like, oh my god, this is happening in the best time, when both people really want to spend time with each other. But oddly enough, it hasn’t impacted our relationship. So, I mean, it’s worked out for the best I would say.

Layne, 26
Engaged, living with her partner
Dallas, Texas, USA

I am engaged; we’ve been dating for four years. It’s a real good test of a relationship that you can be stuck in the same place as someone for such an extended period of time and not want to rip each other’s heads off. I think we’ve both been a lot more vocal about just how we’re feeling with things. I have a problem vocalizing my feelings and he’s very communicative as a person. I think the quarantine has made us both better about just being vocal on what we’re thinking. And if something’s bothering us, you know, we’ll let the other person know.

It’s also interesting because you really get a big insight into what your partner does for a living because now I’m hearing him on his calls and he’s hearing me online… It’s given us a much broader sense of what our responsibilities are. And I think it also increased our respect for one another, which, you know, I didn’t think could be increased. But it’s fun hearing him on the phone sounding so professional and getting things done. And then he comes over, he’s like, man, I’m so proud of you, you’re doing such a good job.

I remember telling him, a couple weeks ago, I said, Honestly, I feel like this quarantine has been great for our relationship because it’s brought us closer together. I feel like I’ve fallen even more in love with you. And I feel even more sure that I want to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you than I did before… And now we’ve got this little puppy that we can look after. So it’s kind of our first test as parents and we’ve been great so far.

But, oh my gosh, we’re turning into an old married couple because the second you get in bed, you’re like, I’m so tired. You know, one of us will be like, hey, we haven’t had sex in a while. And we’re just like, Okay, well, we’ll get around to it. And we’re okay with that. We still love each other.

Young people are having less sex than before the pandemic

ILLUSTRATION BY TWISHA PATNI.

Ida, 30
Living with her partner and 3 kids
Breukelen, Netherlands

I’m a stay-at-home mom, so it was always about the children, because I have three children. And when he was going to work, I was alone a lot, until after dinner, I think. So there was no time at all for me to think about myself, to think for myself. Now, because he can do a lot more with the children, I have time for myself. And I really needed it. I think I needed this quarantine to be really honest, my mental health needed this.

I hope that we can be more together in the future, just as we are doing now. Before COVID, it was like me and my rules concerning children and he was stepping in a little bit, but not too much because I found that irritating or something, and now he has his own thing with the children and his own ways to get them through the day. It came really naturally for him to step up a little bit.

More equality in household responsibilities

Paola, 30
Living with her partner and kid
Turin, Italy

We both work full time, so on an average day we would leave the house at 8am and come back at around 6pm, have dinner and play a bit with our daughter and take care of our things in the evening on separate computers. Also when going out we most of the time did it separately, given that we were not very happy to leave our daughter with a babysitter we do not know. Now we have a very different day. In the morning I work, while my partner and my daughter play. At around lunch time my partner goes to work and I spend the afternoon with my daughter. Then we have dinner together and in the evening me and my partner often time do something together such as watch a movie, talk, or plan things to do for our daughter.

Things have improved a lot during this crisis. First, communication. Before, I would keep to myself what would make me upset about my partner’s behaviors and act nervously toward him, making it worse. Now, I prefer to speak up and make sure he knows what makes me happy and what does not. Also giving the right importance to things and situations. In a situation of crisis it is easier to put things in perspective and understand what is really important and what is not. Both with my partner and my kid, I’m getting better at understanding which battles I need to fight and which ones I should forget. It’s especially good to realize that good behavior should be rewarded with compliments – it is often easier to point out something that makes us upset than something that makes us happy, but I’m trying to change that and focus on pointing out what made me happy instead. Doing that makes it easier to understand how happy my partner and my daughter make me every day.

Spending more time together, it’s important to leave some extra space. Especially in situations when one person is anxious or upset, it is important to give him/her enough space to cool down. I had the tendency to try fixing my partner’s mood any time there was something on his mind, but I realize that everyone has a different approach to such negative mental states, and I learned to respect that.

Mindy, 26
Living with her partner in an open relationship
Singapore

My partner lives with me and my family about 6 days a week and goes home once a week. At first for me it felt very awkward because I felt like whenever she was in the same room as me I had to give her my attention. But after a while we became comfortable being in the same room but doing different things. When we opened our relationship, we set the boundary that when we’re around each other we’re not texting other people and on Tinder. But after being together like 24/7, there’s no choice, right? So our relationship kind of flew into a space where it was okay to acknowledge the fact that we’re texting other people and talking about politics and stuff like that. I thought it was an improvement, like I feel more secure in our relationship. We were also able to renegotiate the boundaries of our open relationship after spending so much time together. Initially one of the boundaries we had when we opened the relationship was that my partner was not comfortable with either one of us having an emotional connection with other people. But it’s kind of unfair to whomever you’re speaking to, treating them like they’re disposable. And also romantic or emotional feelings come up. They just come out a lot, right? It’s kind of hard to control and can be quite agonizing to control that aspect of our relationship. And so we are having those hard conversations.

We already were living together for six days a week, but I was super apprehensive of eventually having our own place together and moving in together. Cuz then it will be like, really, real. And that was something that really freaked me out. So that was my mentality before the coronavirus. Now I’ve realized I have nothing much to be afraid about. It really doesn’t make any difference from six days a week to 24/7. Then I kind of felt more settled with the notion of like, maybe when we are financially able to we can actually live together and build a home together. And I felt more comfortable with that. Before this, I was really fucking scared.

Planning for the future has increased

ILLUSTRATION BY VERO ROMERO.

Alan, 25
Living with his partner
Mexico City, Mexico

We have our roommate, and we have two friends who live in China, but they’re here in Mexico City with us during the pandemic.

I think this time made our relationship more mature, adult, you know, because we’re still young. When we met, he was 25, and I was 21. So I think we have grown together. And I can say that this point in time has been making me, or making us, grow more as a couple. We are taking care of our finances more because of the situation. We are together now as a couple surviving with everything that is happening, because we are not working anymore. So we are like, what can we do to take care of our money more? For example, when we are making dinners and we’re like, oh, we can’t do this because it’s gonna be expensive.

I think there’s really great days but at the same time, I think it’s the first time in the four years we have been together that we are like, literally just together in the same house all fucking day.

I used to be like, “Why do you want to be alone so much in our room? Why don’t you want to hang out with me and our roommate?” And he told me something that I think made a lot of sense—he was like, we are gonna be together for another God knows how many months here in Mexico City. I want to be alone. And if I ever go to our room, and no one is here, please do not ask me why I want to be alone. I started to really understand him in that way. I think it’s a great thing that’s improved the relationship because I think for so long I was not understanding him about the privacy thing. I changed my mindset about that.

Adele, 26
Living with her partner  
Rouen, France

We were living a bit far away so we didn’t see each other often. The last time I saw him [before the pandemic] was in December. Just before they announced the lockdown, I booked him a ticket and he came, but we didn’t know for how long, maybe two weeks or maximum a month.

I think generally our relationship has improved, because we recently passed through a tough time. It was really bad. And we decided to see each other again and to continue this relationship. This lockdown and this COVID situation…it’s like a test, you know? It really got us closer.

It gives us this opportunity to kind of erase, not erase everything, but now we have spoken of everything that we needed to speak of, it’s kind of a fresh start. So maybe if we didn’t have this COVID situation, and if he didn’t come here, since it’s complicated to call each other and to really have these discussions, maybe we would have never had them. So I think in that sense that really helped us.

Now we are really together and spending more time together. And it’s been a year that we are seeing each other and I feel like we are discovering each other a bit more now, because we talk a lot. That’s basically what’s left to do. We discover the good and bad sides of each other.

A VICE survey of 4,000 people around the world suggests that we may be having less sex, but we’re more communicative—and falling more deeply in love.Read More

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