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Moving a Lockdown Relationship to Real Life

For relationships that started during lockdown, there may be some adjustment.

The pandemic slowed down most people's dating lives, with increased stressors and fewer opportunities to meet. But many daters persisted, driving a surge in online dating. But what happens when people move relationships that started during lockdown into their "real lives"?

Are you still as serious as you thought you were?

Surveys of singles during the pandemic showed that many were getting more serious about their search for a long-term partner. With the pandemic literally causing people to think about life and death on a daily basis, many experienced some existential angst — a crisis of meaning. When people think about their own mortality, they tend to re-evaluate their priorities, which can include their intimate relationships. But now that the crisis is fading and people are returning to their pre-Covid lives, will their existential angst also fade? Is this newfound seriousness fleeting? And if it is, will that lead people to re-evaluate relationships that started under lockdown?

You may discover you have less in common than you think.

Similarity is a major driver of attraction: We like people who are like us. Often, when we lack information about people, we assume they are more similar to us than they really are. This has been cited as a potential problem in online dating. People get vague information in an online dating profile and infer that they have more in common with the person in that profile than they actually do. For example, two people may describe themselves as movie buffs, believing they have a lot in common, only to later discover that they have very different tastes in films.

This problem with online dating may be further exaggerated in the time of lockdown. Under normal circumstances, dissimilarities and incompatibilities may emerge as new couples engage in activities together and become integrated into each other's social networks. Without those extra tests of compatibility, some lockdown relationships may have seemed more harmonious than they would if they had been field-tested more. As these partnerships emerge from lockdown and people integrate new partners into their wider social sphere, more dissimilarities could emerge.

You may notice other possibilities.

One major determinant of our commitment to a romantic relationship is our perception of what alternatives are out there for us. This has been called our "comparison level for alternatives" (CLalt). How does our current relationship compare to what we could be getting outside of it? Alternatives can include other people we could date, or even other things we could do if we were single. With little to do and few opportunities to meet new people, CLalts were likely to be especially low during lockdown. As people return to their routines, they may begin to see their alternatives to their new partner as more desirable than they were during lockdown.

Integrating a new partner into your world takes work.

As romantic relationships develop from less to more serious, it takes some work to readjust our lives to fit our new partners. We need to figure out how the partner fits into our daily routines and our work and social lives. New partners might need to figure out how to adjust their work schedules to each other to make time to be together. Partners need to determine how to balance their new relationship with their other social obligations and help integrate their partner into their existing group of friends or family members. Research on the relational turbulence model finds that this can be a bumpy transition for new couples. Thus, many couples experience a decline in satisfaction early in their relationships, but eventually recover as they learn to fit the new relationship into their lives.

This relational turbulence may be especially sudden for couples whose relationships began during lockdown. They may have gotten into a routine in which the outside world didn't fully exist, and suddenly, they need to readjust their routine to accommodate the rest of their lives. Normally, these adjustments occur in tandem with the relationship gradually becoming more serious. But in the case of some lockdown couples, this may only occur after they've already gotten serious and is likely to occur more rapidly. This could create a period of readjustment that puts strain on the relationship.

How should you adjust your relationship to the post-lockdown world?

You may need to re-evaluate your relationship goals and the way you see your relationship fitting into the rest of your life:

  • Is the relationship at the level of seriousness that you want in your life now?
  • Are there incompatibilities or deal-breakers that you overlooked during the lockdown?
  • How can you best fit your new partner into your old routines and social relationships, and are your expectations fair?

Relationships that began during lockdown may have some extra hurdles to overcome, but working through these issues with your partner can help you to smooth the transition.