It’s only natural that when two—or more—people are in close proximity for an extended amount of time, someone’s bound to catch feelings. After all, there’s a good reason why plenty of great reality shows start with such a simple premise: Get a bunch of people looking for love and put them in one house. See what happens.
You’ve probably encountered some version of this in your real life, too: Summer camps are popular places for first love to bloom, and two people on any given college dorm floor are bound to get together. And even beyond that, on the edges of society, you’d be hard-pressed to find a free-love-flowing commune that didn’t have at least one confirmed couple. But from early 2020 to now, you’ve likely found yourself in a different kind of relationship crucible. Maybe you’ve come out on the other side of quarantine with a stronger bond with your S.O., or you are continuing to navigate long distances—or maybe the lockdowns of the past year and a half have impacted your more casual relationships in an unexpected way.
Wherever you stand, it can be helpful, at certain points in your relationship to have a check-in with your partner to define—or sometimes, to redefine—your relationship. Here’s how you can navigate these checkpoints.
If you’re newly dating
If you tried your hand at socially distant dating, you were probably forced to get creative with FaceTimes and outdoor dates in weather that—let’s be honest—was probably far from ideal. Now that vaccines are widespread, things aren’t back to normal as COVID variants persist, but it is a lot safer to continue dating like you did pre-pandemic.
There’s a good chance that, if you were single for most or all of lockdown, you may find yourself with a new eagerness to put yourself out there. Sure, some people are finding this time to be a great opportunity to explore their sexuality and date around, but lots of people are interested in finding a long-term, committed partner. Whatever you want is fine—just make sure that you’re clear about what you’re looking for upfront, either by noting so in your dating profiles or by being honest with people straight-up. It will save all parties involved some heartache when, months down the line, you realize that you want completely different things.
If you’re in a committed relationship
The surprising number of Zoom weddings in 2020 and early 2021 are at least proof of one thing: Isolating with your S.O. might confirm how well you both get along in the long run. But that’s not to say it’s all good all the time. When Variety writer Meg Zukin tweeted for people to email her about their relationship drama—especially if they thought co-quarantining might put those relationships in jeopardy—she got so many responses that she decided to turn it into a charitable opportunity. After compiling the stories she got into a Google Doc and charging $1 per person to view that doc, she quickly raised $5,000 for various non-profits across the country. She expanded the idea into the Social Distance Project, where people can continue to donate and commiserate.
Post-lockdown, you’re probably in a different situation with your partner than you were before—maybe that’s led you to a stronger symbiotic relationship or even an engagement. According to data from The Knot, COVID led to a delay in proposals as a whole, but also an increase in of-the-moment proposals.
On the flip side, some couples may have found that their relationship couldn’t weather the impact of an ongoing traumatic global event—it happens. If you’re not sure where you stand, the best thing to do is to communicate: how you may have changed, what you need, and how you can support each other, if you are willing to work at it. The inability to communicate your needs is a definite red flag in a relationship, so if your partner isn’t at least willing to talk it out, it may be time to reconsider.
If you’re married
Once quarantine was lifted in several Chinese cities, like Xi’an and Dazhou, divorce appointments at the registrar were quickly booked up, but for other couples, things went differently—you’ve surely seen jokes aplenty about the baby boom we might see in the latter half of this year. But this time doesn’t have to lead to something so dramatic—honest communication and lots of long walks go a long way.
And if you’ve been quarantined apart from your long-term partner? That’s a whole different story. Traveling internationally, depending on where you’re looking to go, may still not be realistically, but if you and your partner are both domestic, you may have found long-distance oddly easier; when the whole world seems to be doing it, it’s easier to put things into perspective. But still, isolation can be hard—and it may be worth considering if you’re in the position to do so, whether it might be time for one of you to relocate.
If you’re in a platonic relationship
Distance affects platonic relationships, too. Even if you’re not quite in the Zoom happy hour routine you maintained in early COVID, now is a good time to continue reconnecting with those friends you may not regularly see. Schedule some phone calls or meet in person if you can. If the past year and a half have taught us anything, it’s that connections of any kind are not to be taken for granted.
If you’re in an open relationship
Maybe the experience of lockdown has inspired you to open up your relationship. After all, open relationships can be a great way to have your needs met in different ways, according to sexologist Megan Stubbs. They may not be for everyone, though, and if you’re interested in opening up your committed relationship, there are a few things to keep in mind: It’s important for both people in the relationship to feel good about the prospect (so one partner doesn’t end up feeling like they’re making a sacrifice for the other), and to set mutually agreed-upon guidelines. Communication is important in any relationship, and there’s no exception here. Make a point to check in now and again to make sure your arrangement is still working for you both.
If you’re in a polyamorous relationship
Polyamory is more common than you might immediately assume—one in five couples in the United States engages in nonmonogamy. While it might be more challenging to transition a committed one-on-one relationship into a polyamorous arrangement, it’s certainly not out of bounds. When in doubt, talk it out, and see if it’s something your primary partner would be interested in. The same goes for those already in polyamorous relationships; learn how to express your needs and boundaries and how to listen to those of your partners, and you’ll be better primed for healthy, loving relationships.