Lockdown has been hard for everyone, but particularly hard for couples separated not by law but by circumstance. When the Government announced the lockdown rules on March 23, my husband and I were perplexed by advice from Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, to “test the strength of our relationship” by moving in together.
Like a quarter of UK couples, we Live Apart Together (LAT) in separate households; now, following an update to the guidance, we remain unable to be intimate after 10 weeks of isolation. We can see up to six friends in a park, or even in a private garden – at a distance – but the restrictions state that “no person may participate in a gathering” indoors with two or more people; a clear implication that any form of intimacy inside is banned.
Many people in solid, committed relationships have had to be apart under lockdown and a hug or a kiss remains illegal; this change, without parliamentary scrutiny, is unimaginably cruel.
Adrian, 56, and I have complied with lockdown. We each live in what we call an “iso-bubble” – neither of us has had contact with anyone else or gone out outside except to buy food or exercise. As far we as can tell, neither of us has had Covid-19.
But none of that has mattered, as far as easing us out of lockdown is concerned. From the off, we knew the needs of couples like us (some nine per cent of UK adults) were not being considered by those making the rules.
Adrian and I have never doubted the strength of our relationship, but I’m 58 and remain adamant that I don’t want to live with anyone again after two live-in relationships ended, and I was the one who had to start over in a new home. My husband was still co-parenting his teenage son one week in two when we first met, and we quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm of dates and stayovers, mostly at mine. When his son went to university we still didn’t see the need to move in together.
And when we announced our engagement, few of our friends were surprised when we said we’d still be living apart. On marrying in 2018, we did make a commitment to move in together when we get really old and infirm, but not otherwise.
Pre-lockdown, we always spent the weekends together and roughly two nights during the week. We went out a lot – to gigs, restaurants, the theatre and then we would stay at my flat in Manchester city centre. On quieter nights I’d head five miles out of town to his house in a leafy suburb. It is an arrangement that has already worked really well for us over the past five years. Until 10 weeks ago.
When the first rules on mixing households were announced, we had an intense conversation as to whether to move in together or stay apart. I was made redundant from my job as a sub-editor the week before lockdown, when all my proofreading work was cancelled, too: without a laptop, I needed to be at my home desktop PC in case any of it returned. I also have legal commitments as a director of the block of flats I live in, and with our management team working from home, felt I should stay to keep an eye on the building. Adrian, having been burgled twice, wasn’t comfortable about leaving his house empty.
We each accepted the other’s decision and needs without recrimination or grudges. But we thought lockdown would only be three weeks. And then it became six. We have managed with video calls twice a day, but it has been really hard; made worse now, knowing that an end remains out of sight. The police cannot now fine anyone for doing anything outside that previously contravened lockdown.
But, terrifyingly, they now have new powers to fine or arrest couples who break the indoor rules. Those who do could be charged and end up with a criminal conviction. We are struggling to accept that intimacy between us could amount to breaking the law, and a possible conviction, if we meet and have sex.
At the weekend, we met and walked in a park together – at a distance. Not being able to kiss or touch was unbearable. Our marriage is strong and this will not break us, but it could be months or even years before lockdown is eased enough for us to hug, kiss and be intimate. We don’t know what damage this could do. We can only hope the government will see sense and allow those of us forced apart to be together again.