Six feet apart

Updated: May 10, 2020, 08:47 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

The fear of an apocalyptic year is making some rekindle an old relationship and others start a new one. But, will their romance survive an extended lockdown?

When I watched teenagers Stella and Will fall in love and find ways to connect despite strict rules of social distancing and isolation, their relationship seemed surreal. How could one find intimacy in the absence of physical presence? But, these hospital-bound cystic fibrosis patients, who were at a constant risk of cross infection, overcome traditional rules of romance in the tearjerker Five Feet Apart (2019). The film is now suddenly essential for all of us finding love.

If you thought dating was complicated before the lockdown, buckle up. Until now, we were trying to dodge ghosting, benching, breadcrumbing and catfishing. But, with the Coronavirus outbreak, the path to finding new love seems all the more dodgy. Add to it memes that a global pandemic is not a good reason to text your ex or be an item with someone new. But, maybe it is!

The virus cannot get the better of us. Whether browsing dating apps or getting introduced to someone through a friend, we are finding ways for romance to blossom from behind a screen, and under separate roofs. We're distancing, not fully insulated from human interactions. New Yorker Zach Schleien, who created a live video dating platform Filter Off, agrees. "Given that we have more time on our hands and are in total isolation, it's more important now than ever to find a romantic connection. During this time, we're all lacking social activities. But with Filter Off, you can date in quarantine. Plus, it's fun," he quips.

The question is if we are ready for a star-crossed romance that demands maintaining six-foot distance? Time will tell, say these new couples.

'Who cares about ego now? I think he could be the one'

Diksha Dwivedi, 29 Author /// Mumbai

My last serious relationship ended after about a year-and-a-half. We parted amicably because I could feel that there was something missing. We couldn't envision a future together. I've always wanted to fall in love, it's just the kind of person I am. A few months after the break-up, I met Kabeer, a dentist from Delhi.

For about six months, we kept in touch despite long distance. I was at a point where I wanted to get serious about someone and Kabeer made that long distance almost-relationship seem a bit easier with his surprise visits to Mumbai and cute gestures. But, our relationship had a communication gap. In January this year, we had a major argument and called it off.

Over the next few months, I met a few men, some really nice, but always ended up missing Kabeer. He understands me, and I could not find that connection with anyone else. We are both very ambitious people and I like that about us. So, a few weeks after the lockdown was imposed, I texted him.

Unfortunately, I did not get the response I was looking for. So I sent him a cold birthday message a few days later. He replied and it felt like there was more to our story. Then, two weeks ago, I again dropped him a text on Facebook and we ended up talking for three hours. It was unbelievable. And we've been talking continuously since. We have not addressed the fight that took place in January yet, but have decided to meet once the lockdown is lifted and talk it out.

I hadn't texted him out of desperation. I texted because who cares about the ego now? This is a good time to pause, press the reset button, reconnect with yourself and your feelings. Now is not the time to act busy and pretend to be cool. If all goes well, we might even make this happen. If we don't try now, we will never know.

'We hooked up five years ago, and reconciled in isolation'

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Rashid Raza, 46 and Avani, 29
Consultant and lawyer /// Delhi

Rashid: Five years ago, Avani and I were introduced by a common friend. We hooked up a couple of times in Delhi and that was that. Later on, we dated different people and didn't keep in touch. We would only send vague replies or react on Instagram posts. So, she is not technically an ex. But, on March 11 this year, we hooked up again.

Avani: He reacted to my Instagram post, which was a subtle hint, I think. For the first time, we were actually talking. I usually send him monosyllabic responses but this time, it was different. Initially, I thought it would be yet another hookup. But, I got a message from him the morning after. A few more messages followed. Interestingly, I was following a full-fledged routine then as the courts were functioning. So, I did not talk to him out of boredom. I had plenty of work on my plate, but I made time for him.

Rashid: Honestly, I was nervous about messaging her. And I wanted to appear cool, too. She had hinted that she thought of this as a hookup and nothing more for the last five years, so it was difficult to message her this time. I didn't think she would take me seriously. Just when we started texting, and met once, she had to leave for Lucknow. We made plans of talking about this when she returns. But then the lockdown happened. While the lockdown has delayed our meet, we make it a point to keep in touch every day. This may blossom into a romance. We are looking forward to it.

Avani: Let's just say our status is 'it's complicated'. Because we never really interacted five years ago, and since then, we have only met once in March this year. There is so much more to know about him. I want us to make that effort.

'We haven't committed, but I like talking to her'

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Pratap Baramatikar, 28
Manager at a private home vacations firm /// Mumbai

When the lockdown started, a friend suggested I sign up on a matrimonial site. I wasn't actively looking for a life partner, but thought I could give it a shot. Since I ended up paying for the premium account, I went ahead and started using it every day.

That's how I met Shreya in April. We connected easily, and hit it off. Slowly our conversations moved to WhatsApp. But soon, I realised things were moving fast, and that I wasn't ready. I have never dated before, so I wanted to maintain a certain pace. I told her about this, and was honest about the fact that I am speaking to a couple of other women on the app. She, too, had not stopped looking for a life partner. So we are on the same page.

We are already talking how couples do. She is doing her MBA, so I know about her schedule. We keep each other in the loop about all our routine activities. It's going pretty well. We even think there is a possibility of us meeting in person when the lockdown ends.

'We are making post-lockdown plans'

Ankita Bose, 28
Media professional /// Delhi

The last time I dated someone was in 2015. While I've had casual relationships in between, it was only in December 2019 that I found someone special on Hinge. We matched on the dating app, and I sensed chemistry. But he is terrible at communication and at one point dropped what I thought was a hint at being a philanderer.
We met a couple of times, given that we live close to each other in Delhi. In January, however, I realised it's not working out. And when I confronted him with this, he started making an effort to communicate better.

In the first week of March, we both felt this relationship would work, but now we are under lockdown. Just when I started thinking about the fate of this new-found relationship, we began dating virtually. We make it a point to keep in touch every day. He is a doctor, and I am a media professional so we both have hectic work schedules. But we are making plans together, that we are certain of executing once the lockdown ends.

The start of our relationship has not stemmed from loneliness. Both of us have an active social life, so that cannot be the case. And fortunately, the pace of our relationship picked up just before the lockdown, so there isn't a chance that this is going to fizzle out. We are in this for the long haul, I hope.

'We have decided to not connect offline till the lockdown is lifted'

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Kevin Mendonca, 36
Retail operations manager /// Mumbai

When the lockdown started, a friend and I signed up on Hinge together, and while she is getting a lot of matches, I am starved of them.

Now, this is the first time I am doing something like this. I have not even attended community gatherings for single people. But this time I thought it's time to put myself out there. People are fairly free even if they are working from home, so communicating is easier. And voila, I matched with someone two weeks ago.

We have some rules in place. We have designated time slots in the day when we speak to each other. Unless it's something worth sharing during work hours, we don't disturb each other. Another important rule is that we don't want to share our contact numbers nor do we want to connect on social media.

We both think it's important to take our own time and get to know each other better now. If it lasts, then we will definitely meet. For now, I am exclusively talking to her. I haven't asked her if she is. But I don't want to come across too strong, by posing that question to her.

'She asked if we were seeing each other or dating'

Radhika J, 23, and Varun Markande, 24
Former PR and trade media journalist /// Mumbai

Radhika: I connected with Varun two years ago, while working for a public relations firm. Since he is a trade media journalist, we would communicate over the phone for press releases. Then, this one time I saw him at a work event. Then in February this year, a common friend told him that I found him cute and the friend decided to set us up.

Varun: The initial expectation was for me to drop a message on Instagram, so after much delay, I did. We got talking. Then one day, she reached home early from work and asked if I was up for meeting at Juhu Beach. I was game. We had a lovely time. We ended up meeting about five times before the lockdown. After one such meeting, she asked me if we were seeing or dating each other. I didn't know there was a difference.

Radhika: I had to explain that the two are different. He said that he isn't doing any of this with another woman, nor does he have the time for it. So, of course, he said we were dating. I was thrilled. But then the lockdown happened.

Varun: We have started doing movie dates now. From sending voice notes, to chatting on Instagram to flooding each other's WhatsApp with messages and doing video calls, we have come a long way. Initially, I thought we were going too fast, but the lockdown made me realise this pace is correct. We are either working or spending time with family all day, but somehow manage to give time to each other. This is special.

Use the time to judge compatibility

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Dr Parul Khona, relationship counsellor and psychiatrist

Dr Parul Khona thinks it's natural to find love during lockdown because we are all trying to fill a void. The value of a friend and a connection is heightened during a crisis, "Those who are texting their exes could have been missing something in their life even before the lockdown. And now with so many social media platforms available, it is easy to drop a text and ask, 'how are you doing?'" Due to a disruption of action and activity, mundaneness could have set in. "How will serotonin get activated?" she asks about the feel-good hormone.

But will the connection that people are seeking and finding last when the lockdown is lifted? It all depends on how much of it is being sought for intellectual stimulation, and how much for a true connection. As for those finding new and interesting partners online whom they are yet to meet after lockdown, Dr Khona says, "I believe people are smart enough to know that physical distance is essential right now to ensure our safety. We should steer clear of hugging, kissing, even if tempted. Most are seeking an emotional connection for the moment. They want to see if this potential partner can become something more, is s/he displaying signs of compassion, is s/he committed to keeping in touch, is there an interest being expressed to meet post lockdown, etc. For now, I would advise everyone to keep an eye out for this, and get to know the person better. Don't settle because of lack of options. Use the time to judge compatibility."

Some names have been changed/ withheld on request

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