The COVID-19 pandemic changed the dating landscape and took a toll on many relationships.
Four people shared their stories about finding love, or questioning it, during the pandemic.
From virtual dating across the globe to struggling through lockdowns with family, here are their stories.
Like many people, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, Megan, 39, was bummed she had to cancel her upcoming vacation plans abroad. But more than a year later, she feels a bit differently about the situation.
"I met my husband because of the pandemic," Megan told Insider.
Dating and relationships, like most aspects of American life, were upended by the coronavirus. Social distancing guidelines and lockdowns disrupted classic dinner dates and bar meetups. Some people found themselves moving in with partners earlier than they normally would, while others found their marriage under tremendous strain.
Insider spoke with four people whose dating life or relationships were uniquely affected by the pandemic, for better or worse.
'Virtual dating suddenly became an option - the only option'
Megan, who lives in Seattle, is one of the success stories. She and a friend had planned an "epic trip" to Jordan and Turkey for the spring of 2020. Before the pandemic canceled their plans, she signed up for a local Turkish dating site, hoping to plan a date for their brief stint in Istanbul, something she had done before on international trips.
She connected with a nice guy named Ahmed and was excited to have a local to show her around the city. Even though that plan never came to fruition, she continued talking to Ahmed even after the trip was canceled.
Megan said that due to the lockdowns and being stuck at home all day, "virtual dating suddenly became an option - the only option."
"I would have never tried it before, but suddenly I might as well be dating someone on the other side of the globe because even if my date lived on the next block over, we'd be connecting through a screen anyway," she said.
She and Ahmed spent a lot of time on video calls in the early days of the pandemic when there was nowhere to go. She said by the time work picked back up for her and things began to open up, the two had already really connected. Eventually, they even started doing virtual introductions with each others' family and friends.
"It wasn't long before we knew it was love and that even COVID and an entire planet wouldn't keep us apart forever," Megan said.
Fast forward to January of 2021, she found herself flying to Istanbul with a wedding dress tucked in her carry-on. And while she had minor worries that finally meeting in person wouldn't live up to her expectations, they were unfounded.
Megan and Ahmed exchanged their vows and rings, but due to a COVID-related closure of the US embassy, they were unable to make it legally official. They're now physically distant again, with Megan back in Seattle and Ahmed in Saudi Arabia for work, but are counting down the days until Ahmed's visa is approved and he can join her.
Their official ceremony date in Seattle is now scheduled for January 10, 2022, exactly one year after they met in person.
"I have no doubt that, ironically, the pandemic that isolated everyone in the world is the catalyst for bringing me together with my husband," Megan said.
Being locked down with family and kids meant no chance for intimate moments
Though some found love in 2020, the pandemic also took a toll on some marriages. Rafael, a 37-year-old Brazilian who lives in Finland with his wife, said the strain caused by the pandemic led him to seriously consider divorce for the first time.
Rafael, who asked Insider to use a pseudonym, has been married to his wife for six years and they have two kids ages 5 and 2. Last spring, when the lockdowns began, they decided to move in with his wife's parents at their lake house, rather than remain in their apartment in Helsinki.
"It would've been crazy for us to be locked up in an apartment with two small kids not going to kindergarten," Rafael said. "So we thought, 'Why not go to the lake house? They'll have freedom to go anywhere, run anywhere, spend time with their grandparents.'"
In many ways, he said, the setup was great. He was able to work remotely, taking breaks throughout the day, and enjoyed being in the middle of the forest. But the living situation caused a stark change in his and his wife's relationship.
"I started to feel that my wife was more like in a daughter role and mom role, but then she kind of forgot to be a wife," Rafael said. "It was kind of pushed aside."
He said his wife told him at the time that being a wife "wasn't her priority right now," but the two hadn't discussed the situation beforehand, and Rafael said he found himself "really craving for her attention."
The situation also took a toll on their sex life, in part because he said his wife felt uncomfortable about it while being under her parents' roof.
They spent five months at the lake house, but even after moving back into their own place, the disconnect lingered. He said they continued to fight, and he was still feeling a lack of emotional connection. It got to a point where he couldn't stop thinking about ending the marriage.
"Divorce was banging in my head all the time," Rafael said, which made him insist he and his wife begin couples' counseling. He said the counseling has helped the two understand each other better, but that working through the issues is an ongoing challenge.
Recently, Rafael said, it feels like a tide has finally turned in a positive direction. The counseling has helped, but he said the increasing freedom from the pandemic has made a huge difference.
Now that his in-laws are vaccinated, he and his wife were able to leave the kids with them for a recent weekend and go traveling, "just the two of us." He said there are still difficult moments, but that he feels more hopeful for their marriage than he has been in a long time.
"Nothing happens because of a single reason, it's a process," he said. "But the upcoming months sound promising."
Pandemic dating 'set my priorities straight'
Kyle, 24, had already been dating his boyfriend for about nine months when the pandemic arrived. The relationship was serious, but with Kyle living in Santa Barbara and his boyfriend in Los Angeles, they were seeing each other about three or four times a month.
But when COVID-19 hit, Kyle said "that dropped to zero" for two months. There were so many unknowns still about the coronavirus that it felt safer to stay home, but he said those couple months of not seeing each other made it clear to him that this was someone he really wanted to be with.
"That really underscored for me that wasn't something that I wanted to do - be apart from him for that long," he said. "It really set my priorities straight."
After understanding of the virus grew and some restrictions eased, they began traveling again to see each other, and Kyle said made even more of a point to see each other often. While some relationships have been sped up by the pandemic, Kyle said not seeing his boyfriend for that time convinced him that faster was better.
Now, two years into their relationship, they're moving together to a whole new city, Seattle.
But while Kyle noted the phrase "distance makes the heart grow fonder," the opposite seemed to be true for Blue, an 18-year-old from Denver.
Rather than be separated by the constraints of the pandemic, Blue met his boyfriend in a quarantine pod. Last spring, a small group of friends who Blue describes as introverted, decided to form a hang-out bubble.
He said he "immediately hit it off" with one of the people, who was a friend of a friend.
"We actually started dating a week and two days after we met since we saw each other a lot and bonded quite a bit more than a usual person would," Blue told Insider in an email.
He said the two were very careful about dating in the pandemic, especially because his boyfriend's dad has a weakened immune system, so they barely went to public places and instead opted for picnics, watching movies at home, and watching the sunset at a nearby lake.
Even though they couldn't do traditional dating things, like going to a restaurant, he said finding fun things that they actually were able to do helped them bond even more than they would have under normal circumstances.
Do you have a story about dating during the pandemic? Or did the pandemic have a significant impact on your relationship or marriage? If you'd like to share, contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the original article on Insider