Love During the Pandemic: Lockdowns Make and Break Young Couples

Bryan Gomez and Rachel LeMonnier, both 18, moved in together during the pandemic and plan to stay in their newly leased one-bedroom apartment. (Photo by Ann LeMonnier)

By Ann LeMonnier | Jan. 25, 2021

Scott Pease, 22, is rummaging through his kitchen, near frantic, listing various beverage offerings. His boyfriend, Dexter Cypress, 21, sits a couple feet away, smirking, as he pets their cat, a white American shorthair. Their New York City apartment is filled with photographs of the couple and paints a picture of two people who’ve been together for ages. In reality, Pease and Cypress have only known each other for a year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges have had to close their campuses, including dorms, and switch to remote learning. This has forced student couples not only to adapt to their new surroundings, but to navigate an often new relationship in a time of crisis.

Cypress, a student and full-time babysitter, met Pease, a student and bartender, on the dating site Hinge in December of 2019.

Three months into their relationship, Pease’s dorm building was forcing their residents to move out because of the COVID-19 lockdown and he ended up moving in with Dexter.  In the following four months, the couple adopted a cat, met each other’s parents and road-tripped cross country to Washington state, all while still getting to know each other.

“The pandemic obviously brought us closer together,” said Pease. He had plans to go to Thailand, or law school. “Now I’m somehow settled down with two cats and a shared lease on a one bedroom,” he said.

Though he admits he was hesitant at first, Cypress agrees that moving in together during lockdown helped their relationship. “I’m a private person. It was hard for me to let Scott in, but I can’t imagine my life without him,” he said.

The closure of college campuses and dorm buildings have also affected New Yorkers Rachel LeMonnier and Bryan Gomez, both 18. The couple, who had been dating for three years prior to the pandemic, graduated high school in spring of this year. They did not want to start college remotely and decided to both take a gap year. This led to the pair signing their first ever lease together.

“I think it’s because we’re so young that people doubt us, but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” said LeMonnier.

The couple has lived together for four months now. When they attend college next year, they will continue living together, instead of moving into dorms. “A year ago, I was stressing about how me and Rachel were gonna do long distance and now I get to see her every day,” said Gomez.

However, not all couples are experiencing the same closeness. When conducting a study on relationships during quarantine, Christopher Stults, a professor of psychology at Baruch College, found that 9.4 percent of the 1,090 participants interviewed reported some form of abuse or imbalance in their relationship.

“This includes physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, emotional, or financial abuse,” said Stults. In addition, 21 percent of the 103 participants who reported abuse claimed that it started or began occurring more frequently once the pandemic began.

Richard Slatcher is a professor of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Georgia and is the founder of The Love in the Time of COVID Project, a research study that distributes a bi-weekly survey to over 2,000 participants across the U.S. Slatcher found through his study that 50 percent of people feel less socially connected and that the pandemic has made them want to isolate further from their partner.

This is the case for Ben Aronson, 21, who after being forced to leave his dorm at Alfred University in upstate New York, decided to quarantine with his girlfriend of two years in her mother’s apartment in New Jersey.

“I realized we never actually spent more than 24 hours together. I mean we slept at each other’s dorms before but that was different because I could go back to my room the next day. Here, I couldn’t escape her,” Aronson said.

After a month of living together, Aronson decided to break things off. “I honestly don’t know if I would’ve realized this if it weren’t for the pandemic. We were doing fine before. I don’t know if I should be relieved or not that I found out I couldn’t live with her,” he added.

Conversely, Slatcher also found in his study that 25 percent of people surveyed reported that they actually felt more socially connected.

“[This] could be a result of people having more time to slow down and connect, more use of video platforms like Zoom, and the collective sense that we’re all in this together,” Slatcher said.

When Ella Breunig was forced to move back in with her parents in Massachusetts, after her dorm at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute closed, she began talking with her friend James Straub on the phone for hours every day. Straub, a student at Pace University, had also moved back in with his parents.

Two months into quarantine, the pair admitted they had romantic feelings for each other. From there, they began sending love letters and care packages to each other’s homes.

Breunig said, “there was something so intimate and romantic about it all. I want to say we’d be dating regardless, but the pandemic weirdly made our relationship special.”