COVID-19, killing my new love

As published on Medium:

Dating Jack, whom I met at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, continued briefly, to be: romantic, genuine, sweet. He organised a Zoom dinner date that wowed my friends, arriving outside my door with a heavy black tote bag. Our hands didn’t touch.

I ran upstairs and unpacked it on the coffee table. Inside: the ingredients for an undisclosed recipe, all thoughtfully prepared in an array of appropriately sized Tupperware containers. There was even a small dessert in tin foil — homemade apple crumble. I laid it all out, heart very full, and snapped a photo.

“He’s teaching you how to cook on video chat? That’s literally the cutest thing anyone has ever done,” my best friend texted. Another agreed: “marry him!”

Expectations were high, and the online dinner date was as sweet as it was awkward. The Wifi connection was temperamental, the boiling kettle was too loud. Jack froze, mid smile, in front of his fry pan of cherry tomatoes. In the next room, my housemate sat watching television and listening, like we were filming episode of The Bachelor and housemate was part of the production crew. After dinner, Jack and I settled in for ‘Netflix party’ and apple crumble in our respective bedrooms. We chose a series to start together, but the link didn’t work and we both stalled. One, two, three, play. We couldn’t kiss at the end of the night.

Still, we continued to persist with our budding ties. “Dinner at mine? I’m sure that’s okay.” We planned it three times and each one fell through. The slightest sore throat — a housemate with a friend of a friend who tested positive — we held off, held off. I baked Greek biscuits from my grandmother’s recipe and drove the half an hour to his house, singing in the car. I left them on his doorstep beside the white rose bushes. COVID-19 wasn’t going to take the romance away, it was going to create more. I’m not sure if I was determined or naive.

Stage Three restrictions and working from home. Messaging was becoming harder, more strained. There wasn’t much to say. “That seems odd,” the girls’ group chat reported back to me. “Neither of you have anything to do! Shouldn’t you be talking all the time?” There’s no bigger rejection than to not reply during social isolation, said the memes. I guess that’s true.

I initiated an online chess game with Jack. It felt metaphorical to our dating, to wait on a phone for each other to move the pieces. We played for all of Sunday morning while it stormed with rain outside. I lost.

The days were getting longer. Well — shorter, if you counted the end of daylight savings. Longer were the silent hours in a quiet apartment block, my watch ticking. He said he felt it, too. I’m going to feel terrible at the end of this. Social isolation is the worst. I hadn’t seen Jack for so many days, I’d almost forgotten what he looked like, the colour of his eyes. I searched on social media to see. He was the last human who touched me. He still is.

Another quiet day passed. Jack didn’t message, and I didn’t message Jack. This had become a long-distance relationship, between Melbourne suburbs. I went to the supermarket and wiped down my trolley. I worked on a lesson plan for the children in my class, Home Learning, Remote Teaching. I wrote one thousand words of my novel, and almost Command-A, select all, deleted everything. I waited until after five o’clock to watch a screen — my self-imposed rule. I made a stir fry for dinner, using the recipe book Jack had recommended, and ate it alone on the couch.

“I’m not sure I’m feeling this anymore,” Jack said on the phone at ten-to-eight. His voice was kind and serious. I nodded. I agreed. I deleted our most recent chess game with a single click.

Maybe, if COVID-19 hadn’t happened, Jack and I would have been a thing and it would have worked. Maybe real life would have pumped some excitement into the Us we were becoming. We’d have gone to candlelit bars and held hands down the street. We’d have laughed with our friends and kissed at the cinema. Or not. Maybe, more likely, COVID showed us, stripped back, how much we really would have worked out together. Nothing like a light pandemic to test new relationship waters. Though, I can’t say I recommend.

Single again in the age of corona. I will await future Zoom dinner dates and making deliveries of sweet biscuits on Northside doorsteps. Farewell, sweet Jack, and the future of us that wasn’t meant to be.

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