Welcome to Love Lockdown: a weekly column about how people are navigating romantic relationships in the time of coronavirus.
This week, Sam R. tells us about what happened when she moved back home to lockdown with her parents who don't approve of her dating, and what this has meant for her year-long relationship.
Around a week before the lockdown started, I hesitantly decided to leave my flat in London to stay with my parents in Yorkshire. My four flatmates had all left to be with their own families, leaving only myself and my boyfriend, who had kindly stayed behind to keep me company. It was wonderful, back then at the beginning of March, to get so much time together as university life came to an end. He's particularly good at nurturing me when I’m anxious and created a tender space for me and my heightened nervousness as the situation escalated.
He’s always been exceptionally warm-hearted. We started hanging out last July after he called me on a drunken whim despite having met me properly only a couple of times through our mutual friend, my flatmate Carol. But my curiosity and his drunken eagerness meant that the next day, after talking until 6am, he felt like my best friend.
A week of friendly hangouts, a break-up and several emotional hook-ups later, we were together. By October we had proclaimed our love for each other and the rest, as they say, is history. At any given moment from then on I was either with, texting or thinking of him.
Now, with me in Yorkshire and him back with his family, everything has changed. Being separated by over 5,000 miles (he's in California) means we have all the traditional difficulties of a long-distance relationship. On top of that, we're also having to navigate the challenges of carrying on our relationship while I am in my parents' home, where our relationship is forbidden.
My parents disapprove of the intimacies of modern premarital dating and so as not to upset their beliefs, I’ve never shared my dating life with them. They wish for me to meet potential partners through traditional Islamic means and find someone who has iman: faith in Islam. I've never met someone I like who has iman and sadly, my boyfriend, a secular Iranian-American, was set up for immediate failure in that category.
At university in London I’d been considering these difficulties far less than I had during my teenage years. Growing up, I spent my time dating with debilitating guilt, caught in a web of lies while trying to hide prohibited relationships from my parents.
My boyfriend’s virtual presence in my parents' home during lockdown – on my phone, my laptop and in my head – means not much has really changed. I try not to think about it but I am constantly bombarded with my own deceit. It’s a constant reminder of whether my parents will ever accept my choice and, if so, how to bring it up.
It's never felt like the right time to talk about such a hefty, life-changing topic with my parents, now even less so thanks to the pandemic. So in my secrecy, I've reverted to my teenage dating methods of camouflage: changing my background images from pictures of my boyfriend, reminding him not to call when I’m with my parents, silently mouthing "I love you" during FaceTimes. Most of our calls are made at night, when my parents are asleep and not constantly barging into my room; when they do barge in, I’m able to quickly signal to my boyfriend, who understands my facial expressions like a secret language.
Luckily, despite the struggles we’re able to maintain some romantic energy, often falling asleep on the phone together as if in the same bed or scheduling movie and 'dog walk' dates, when we chat for hours. These sweet escapes from my reality at home make me feel like I’m present with him in our natural habitat, and these idiosyncrasies seem like blips in an otherwise perfect relationship.
As a Muslim myself, I understand why my parents value an Islamic emotional connection. Yet I can't help but feel like it would hurt me and my boyfriend if we were unable to figure out a way for us all to happily fit into my way of life.
There was no right time to bring this up with my boyfriend, so I just jumped right in. Eight hours of late-night blubbering later, we decided that there’s no correct way to navigate the situation. I wasn’t ready to challenge my parents and create potentially irreparable fractures within our family, and it wouldn’t be right for my boyfriend to change his beliefs to fit my life. The only options we were left with were to end it or accept that we're just going to have to figure it out one step at a time.
Supportive as always, he approached the situation with an openness, saying that all he cares about are my needs. Maybe I too should have seen it that way from the start. No relationship is easy, especially when you fail to ruminate on the obstacles in your future.
During this lockdown, I have figured out that while it’s draining to make the conscious decision to act against my parents' beliefs, grappling with it lovingly is the only way to consider it realistically.
Muslims are not a monolith but it’s difficult to remember that. I need to do what’s best for my own interaction with faith and love. Loving in the way I desire doesn’t feel antithetical to my religion. More importantly, this relationship feels nourishing and why shouldn’t I enjoy that?