"My wedding dress is in the garage," she said. "He is going to ask you to marry him, you know." This was the first time I had met my boyfriend’s mom and little did she know we hadn’t even said "I love you".
Last summer we visited his mom in Devon, UK while restrictions allowed it. It was pretty soon for us to meet but who knew what was going to happen with the pandemic? He had already cleaned up projectile vomit from my housemate’s clothes drawer (because drunken me thought that was a better place to throw up than the carpet) and I had already met his Mormon grandparents during a trip to Leeds, so this was a walk in the park.
Working from home, it was his stable internet connection that first moved me from my flat to his. It was casual, comfortable, then official.
My relationship went from zero to 100 during COVID and I’m not alone. 2020 might have felt like a write-off but some couples found it took their casual situationship somewhere else entirely. People adapted, got creative and got serious. Lockdown turbo-charged relationships up and down the country, with many lovebirds finding themselves living together within weeks. One year on, is lockdown love made to last?
The pandemic accelerated Daniel Hall’s relationship, too. The day he learned England was going into a second lockdown, he moved his boyfriend Lewis into the shared house where he was living. "Not seeing each other for three months seemed like a long time," Daniel said. It had been just three months since they swiped right on a dating app and bonded over music and movies.
Soon, things went further. "We thought, Things have worked really well so far. We know we can live together, so let’s just get a flat," he added. "We did and it's been really lovely.
"Sometimes, [before Covid] it just feels 'right', but it’s too fast [according to society]. But with lockdown, we just moved in together."
It was all smooth sailing until one thing changed. "Lewis went vegetarian," Daniel said. "At first I was like, How on earth am I going to cook anything ever again?"
Clare Friel met her partner Leon on LinkedIn before the pandemic. They chatted a few times before she realized, months later, that he was hitting on her. The mom of two asked her daughter’s permission to go on the date. The family were quick to welcome him, despite never getting his name right. "My son decided he doesn’t look like Leon," Clare said. "He looks like a Brad, he was gonna call him Brad."
Brad, however, was soon swapped out for "Governor" after a day of bonding at the beach. It was also at the beach where Clare’s eager mom surprised the sunbathing couple.
"I warned Leon, my mom is nosy," Clare said. "And she knows we are here. Then there’s her Irish accent like, Hello, guys. You must be Clare’s friend. She kept asking if his name was Fernando. I was like, Mom, who is Fernando? I don't have an ex called Fernando or anything."
Leon moved in with the family ahead of the second lockdown. In March, they bought a house. "It’s not even like we’ve moved fast because with normal dating, you don’t know how often you’re going to see each other," Clare said. "This has been condensed."
These whirlwind couples are navigating the ups and downs of both their relationship and the pandemic, which has undoubtedly turned life on its head.
Ayoub Merali got serious about finding a partner after losses in his family, with his grandad dying after testing positive for coronavirus. He met Iman on dating app Muzmatch and they got married six months later.
Due to working from home, having more flexibility and not commuting, Ayoub says he had more time to get to know Iman. "We were never off the phone," he said.
As well as hunkering down and tying the knot, the couple have launched a baking business as Iman finishes her studies at Le Cordon Bleu London. This is all before they uproot to settle in Dubai, adding further pressures to the mix.
Ayoub said: "There's no doubt me and Iman have confrontations. We have two different personalities but that also makes us gel very well together. It’s absolutely crazy… Everything’s just fitting into place."
With the end of lockdown in sight, the easing of restrictions could itself be a challenge for relationships built on one-to-one walks and endless video calls but Daniel, Clare and Ayoub remain confident.
Last summer’s brief respite gave them an inkling of insight into how things will work post-COVID. All say their other half was a big hit among friends and family but stress the importance of clear communication and shared values in building a happy relationship.
"I’m apprehensive about a lot of things but not my relationship," Daniel said. "Before this year I would very much take it slow. I was guarded, I would never say I wanted to do stuff and would hold people at arm’s length.
"But when we first met we had all these plans of things to do and places to go. Being able to do those without worrying [about the pandemic] is going to be amazing."
Preferring to head out in a pair of jeans instead of heels, the pandemic removed the pressure of formal dates for Clare. "It was just a walk," she said. Before lockdown, she was always working or at events so never had the time to find love. "I won’t be going back to that," she added. "I needed a reality check on my work-life balance."
It was Maya Angelou who said you can learn a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. So perhaps relationships built amid this intense chaos are really here for the long run.
"Starting a new relationship in the past 12 months allows a person to see what their partner is like in times of crisis," said relationship expert Cheryl Muir. "If a relationship is tested during this time and it lasts, it could be built to last.
"It’s also possible lockdown has collapsed time for many new couples. During lockdown, you spend almost 24/7 together. After a week, you spend more time together than during months of dating. Add into the mix the heightened emotions of this period in our history and you could be bonded for life."
However, if pace comes from unhealed trauma or unhealthy attachments, rushing may be an early warning sign. "People sometimes rush due to a need for connection and stay in an unhappy relationship out of fear of being alone – especially during lockdown," Cheryl said. "Those relationships typically crumble with time. I predict intimacy would be eroded when life returns to normal and you are more different than you realized."
She added: "The past 12 months have taught us the value of human, in-person connection. We need it. We crave it. We’re wired for it. Digital dating has got us through but it won’t move us forward. We need to continue to connect with each other in person, when we can, to stay happy, healthy and well."