With most of the world under lockdown, a lot of people in relationships are suddenly spending their entire day with their partner. “Me time” for couples in forced isolation has become synonymous with (somewhat transgressive) work Zoom calls, book club discussions, online happy hours…and that’s pretty much it.
Whether they’ve been together for years or have just started seeing each other, countless couples are now confronted with a whole new dating experience.
For couples who already struggled with poor communication, being stuck together 24/7 can naturally lead to more frustration and arguments (a record high divorce rate has been reported in China since the lockdown, with some provinces having received up to 30 per cent more divorce requests in March 2020 in comparison to March 2019); but for others, quarantine is an opportunity to reconnect with their partner and grow stronger.
We asked five young Arabs what it’s like to be quarantined with their partners.
Khalil, 23, Tunisian
“My partner and I chose to isolate together because we don’t live in the same city, so that was the only option that made sense to us. It’s been great, we rarely argue and the human presence is really enjoyable. We really made sure that we were both going to have a busy schedule and some kind of structure, without going beyond the pale. We don’t impose anything on each other, for example, if my partner’s not hungry when I’m about to have lunch, then it’s fine. But we still try to organise common breaks during the day and go to bed together. Because we live in a small apartment, we also agreed that the bedroom would be the “personal space”. So if one of us decides to go there, it basically means, “do not disturb” and that’s completely fine too, because it’s something we agreed on together. We also text each other when we don’t want to interrupt each other but still need to ask something. Quarantine has brought us much close to each other. We’ve been together for nine months but I now know I could live with my partner and commit on a much bigger level to our relationship.”
Yasmine, 27, Algerian
“I’ve been with my boyfriend for seven years. We’re not used to being stuck together at all. I’ve learnt to be very independent. We both have strong characters but are also very patient with each other. I moved to Berlin recently but he decided to join me here just before the lockdown so we could isolate together. To be honest, I was kind of dreading it because I knew I was going to be busy with work while he has much more spare time right now. I was scared that he was going to be bored and frustrated and that we were going to fight all the time. I’m an extrovert and love seeing people, whereas he’s more shy. Quarantine isn’t making such a big difference in his life. We have managed to establish rules and a routine. If we can take breaks together we do, if we can’t, then we don’t. We watch films together in the evening, but he knows that at 8pm I’m taking a bath and watching Netflix. In terms of housekeeping, it’s never been more organised, he’s been really helpful with that. But romantically speaking, I haven’t been into tenderness lately. I feel bad for him, but he hasn’t complained yet. It’s been great actually, but I can’t wait to see people!”
Nour, 25, Lebanese
“Quarantine has been really hectic. My boyfriend moved to Paris from Beirut before the lockdown to see if living here with me would please him. And then, all of a sudden, before we even knew it, he was stuck here with me. We’ve had lots of ups and downs since the early days of the confinement. He’s blaming me about the whole situation, meanwhile I’m constantly stressed out about hygiene and making sure he’s respecting all the rules, and it’s making the whole experience even more unbearable for both of us. It’s getting better now but we were almost about to break up, but also couldn’t. I don’t know how things are going to turn out but I think both of us aren’t ready to sacrifice anything for each other anymore.”
Hala, 22, Tunisian
“Isolating with my boyfriend is what’s helping me to cope with the situation. I was alone at the beginning but I quickly realised I was not going to manage my stress and anxiety in solitude. Generally speaking, I’m feeling really lost, it seems like everything lost meaning. Spending time with my boyfriend is what has helped me put myself together. I know I can count on him if I’m feeling down. We thought isolating together was going to ruin our relationship but now, it’s obvious to me that this is the only viable way. We’re learning to communicate, respecting each other’s concerns and looking after one another. The lesson I’m learning is to never take love for granted. Being in a relationship is an everyday labour.”
Mashael, 26, Kuwaiti
“It’s really tough for me because the Coronavirus crisis has revealed deep differences between my partner and I. I loved him a lot, and probably still do. We haven’t navigated this experience similarly, which is okay; I can understand that. But to me, this quarantine really hit hard and I’ve embraced it on spiritual and political levels. I’m taking it as an opportunity to literally rewire my life and question my career goals. I’ve decided I need to feel useful to my society and have been extremely sad for hospital staff. On the other hand, my boyfriend has felt quite detached from the whole situation and thought quarantine could be an opportunity for us to reconnect and spend quality time together. It comes from a good place, but we’re just not on the same page and I don’t know what to feel, think and do anymore.”