Dating, like everything else we used to take for granted, has been altered beyond recognition since the COVID pandemic took hold.
Gone are the days of holding hands in the cinema or sharing a spoon to eat an ice cream in a restaurant — ok, that may be a romanticised vision of what going out with someone was like — and has been replaced by socially distanced walks and messaging online.
The pandemic has rewritten the rules of dating and while some have found love and even got married in the throes of the virus, others are struggling, with some even identifying as "lockdown Incels" (a portmanteau of "involuntary celibates").
With Valentine's Day just around the corner — here are the Euronews audience's experiences of love during lockdown.
'We locked down together just after meeting' — Natalia, France
Full disclosure: Natalia is a journalist for Euronews. Her story had me and others in the newsroom hooked, so I asked if she'd mind sharing it with you.
She met her partner on Tinder in January 2020 and they went on a few dates, but their relationship started off as "nothing serious". When the first lockdown was announced across much of Europe, including France, he found himself without a flat after the friend he was going to live with got stuck in Morocco due to COVID restrictions. One of Natalia's two housemates had gone to live with her parents, leaving her and her sister with a big flat, so she offered for him to come and stay.
"I felt like he was a nice guy and I had nothing to lose," she explained. "It was very much a crazy decision. I remember when I was saying it I was thinking: 'Oh, my God, what I'm doing?'"
She saw it as a way of testing their compatibility early on in the relationship, but at the same time had in the back of her mind that she didn't know how long the lockdown would go on.
And did it work out? "It was super easy to live together and, to be honest, I don't really know how lockdown would have been for me if I wasn't with him because it was difficult being isolated and away from my family who are in Bolivia. But having him there made things a lot easier."
They've now found a place to live just the two of them after six months in the flatshare together.
People turn to dating apps in search of ‘quarantine & chill’
With bars and clubs closed and singles confined to their homes for swathes of last year, dating apps took centre stage in connecting people.
Tinder was most downloaded for Europeans in 2020, global app insights provider Sensor Tower told Euronews.
On the app, pandemic-themed pickup lines took off last year with mentions of "quarantine & chill" soaring in March, as well as one-liners like "wash your hands so you can hold mine" becoming more popular.
I split up with my longterm partner and hit the apps... it wasn't so bad — Fred, France
One single French resident in his 30s, who we will call Fred as he didn't was his real name to be revealed, told Euronews how splitting up with his partner last year forced him to find new ways of dating during the pandemic.
"The obvious challenge is how to meet up during a lockdown or curfew," Fred explained. "This was the case for my first meetup as the usual places such as restaurants, bars, and cinemas were no longer an option."
But according to this new singleton, “necessity is the mother of invention and thus the walking date came to be".
"The very idea was daunting at first, but it provided a perfect backdrop to get to know my dates. The physical limitations of how long we could walk for removed any real pressure of forcing the conversation or having to make awkward excuses about having to leave," he said.
The lockdown Casanova said the strangest thing about the experience was not being able to see the other person’s face, but added "in the grand scheme of things it did not really matter" because you can gauge if you are physically attracted to a person on an app before meeting them.
"When I first met the lady that I am currently seeing, I knew that I was physically attracted to her but the question was whether we were compatible. After three walking dates, the answer was clear: We had things to things to talk about, we had similar interests, we made each other laugh.
"If we could keep each other entertained for hour-long walks, spending an afternoon, an evening or even a weekend together was not going to be an issue," he said.
"By the time we had moved to an indoor setting we were already comfortable with one another. It was almost like going into a first date after having three practice dates with the same person."
What did Fred make of searching for love during the pandemic? "Dating during COVID has been difficult but if I have managed it, then I’m pretty sure that anyone can!"
And the French resident wasn't alone. Happn — another of Europe's most downloaded dating apps of last year — interviewed its users in France and 51% said 2020 had been an opportunity to meet more new people online.
Looking at Europe as a whole, it said there had been a rise of 18% in people using the app's messaging function to communicate in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Happn told Euronews its users have tended to focus on fewer people during the pandemic as first dates are complicated at a time with social distancing and public spaces closed.
New ways of dating
In addition to meeting up for a walk, Tinder said it saw the emergence of new on-app dating trends such as "TV Show-mancing". In the UK, one in five Britons aged between 18 and 25 they surveyed have virtually watched a series together as part of a first date.
Happn said its video call feature became more popular for people who wanted to go on virtual cooking dates, have drinks via video link, or just chat.
Together 4 months, met 5 times... with a glass door between us — Kendra, USA
Kendra, who is 24 and from the US, told Euronews how she split up with her boyfriend of four years in the midst of the pandemic last August.
"I live with my parents who are high risk, so I’m not really able to leave the house. I just felt so lonely, I’m fairly extroverted so not being able to go out and meet new people generally was so hard, even more so after a breakup," she said.
Kendra's sister suggested she try a dating app, but make it clear on her profile that she wasn't interested in dating, just meeting new people because she was struggling with the lockdown.
"And then I met Peter," she explained. "He was so funny and kind and charming, we seemed to have everything in common, so much so I actually asked my sister if she put one of her actor friends up to it to make me feel better! So, I figured it’s a global pandemic, why not take a chance on him? Why not allow myself a little happiness?"
Despite living 20 minutes away from her new beau, because Kendra lives with her parents they have chosen not to have any physical contact.
"We’ve been together for four months now, and I think we’ve met in person five or times – from 6ft away or with a glass door between us. It’s really hard to date when the person lives 20 minutes away but you have to act like it’s long-distance," she said.
How do they make it work? "We call all the time, video chat, we send letters. Sometimes we’ll have food delivered to the other person’s house. He bakes me cookies and will deliver them to see me through the door."
Kendra says they are hoping to get the vaccine before summer, so they can go on a real date when the weather is nice.
"He is by far the best thing that happened to me in 2020, and he tells me the same all the time. I can’t believe how lucky I am to just join an app on a whim in the midst of all that loneliness and find someone so perfect," she said. "It’s also so surreal to be so personally happy when the world is falling apart, it’s a weird dissonance. But I’m still so grateful for it."
We lived in a lockdown bubble, but then life went back to normal... — Bruna, Brazil
Bruna, who is 24 and from Brazil, was already with her boyfriend when the pandemic hit.
"It brought us closer together," she explained. "In March, we began spending weeks on end at each other's homes. We crafted our own socially-isolated, alcohol-curated, and mask-filled routine. With 8 am coffees, yoga routines from random apps, late-night films, pizzas from weird places."
"We created an entire environment where we could be safe and still enjoy each other. Whenever the other one went out, we'd take an incredible amount of care when getting back home. From showering to washing the entire outfit and masks," she said of the time.
But when her boyfriend started going in to work, he stopped staying with her, because she lives with her family and they didn't want to put them at risk. "He also started having depressive episodes again and again," she explained.
In September they decided to move to Canada together and have a common-law marriage. But things started to go downhill from there. "Depression hit, I wanted to heal him but couldn't. I kept things from him because of his depression, but that was wrong and I know that now."
"We spent the entirety of October arguing on whether we should be together or not because we both thought of the other one as 'The Ones'," Bruna said. Finally, they returned to the notary in November to put an end to their common-law marriage.
"It's February and I'm now trying to learn how to date during the pandemic," she said. "I had the perfect routine with a great man but he wasn't perfect for me. I'm sure I'll find a routine that's just as good soon with someone new."
Hitting the right notes — Sabiha and Hüseyin, Turkey
"We met in mid-February last year and got married three months ago," Istanbul native Hüseyin said of his now-wife Sabiha.
They first connected on Twitter when he saw a video the performance poet had shared of herself reading one of her creations to music and he told her the choice of song was off.
"I replied but I thought my answer was a bit smart-ass, so I apologised via DM and suggested some other music. She didn't get offended and liked my choices. We started messaging and finally met in person when lockdown restrictions were lifted," he said.
Of their first date in real life, Hüseyin said: "When you meet someone online, within time, it feels like you have a crush on an imaginary person and you desperately want to meet that person to figure out if that imaginary woman is the same woman in real life.
"We met at a cafe and she was sitting at the table waiting for me. I didn't even say hello, I just sat and looked into her eyes. We couldn't talk for some time and lost sense of time and place."
But after their meeting lockdown measures were imposed. Sabiha explained this was hard for them as they were unable to meet up and were forced to message each other online again. Both of them have young sons from former relationships who they had to consider. Finally, in summer, restrictions eased and they could see each other again.
"My proposal was not very romantic," Hüseyin said, "it's both of our second marriage."
When he saw that his son got on well with Sabiha, he just came out with it. "We were sat by the pool one day and I just said: 'We should get married.' It just came out of my mouth naturally and she smiled back and said: 'Yes'."
Their wedding was a muted affair with limited guests and everyone wearing masks. "No dancing and partying" was had due to COVID restrictions, according to the couple.
Despite this and not being able to go on a honeymoon right away, the pandemic hasn't made the pair bitter. "I fell in love with the man who gave me back my smile again," said Sabiha.
Got a tale of love, or lack of it, you want to share with us? Use the hashtag #loveduringlockdown on social and tag us.
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