Sarah and Tom had been on a few dates together, but when lockdown began they had to make a decision about their relationship.
They could either let it fizzle out or take the plunge. They decided to take the plunge.
Dialling into a video call from their separate homes – Sarah in Loughborough and Tom in Leicester – they shared their experiences of what it’s like to be in the early stages of a relationship at a time when you can’t see one another.
Tom Edwards matched with Sarah Greatrex on Tinder in February and met for a date soon after. It was crazy golf.
“We were both bad at it,” the 29-year-old says, prompting a raised eyebrow from Sarah, also 29. “Who won though?” she retorts. They went on eight dates in total before the lockdown was announced on 23 March.
But they’d never had that conversation.
So six days after lockdown began, Tom found himself dressed up in his kitchen, Sarah’s face on the laptop screen at the other end of the table. A candle flickered in between them.
He hadn’t planned on asking her to be his girlfriend on Zoom.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this over video call’. But then on the first date I sort of said, ‘do you want to start an actual relationship?'” he says.
The answer was yes.
Sarah says the pair hadn’t planned for the lockdown.
When she said goodbye to Tom a few days before it was announced, she assumed she would see him again at the weekend.
Colleagues and fellow research technicians at the University of Leicester had asked her how the pandemic might change things.
“They asked ‘what will happen if we do go into lockdown?’. I was like, ‘I have no idea’.”
“We didn’t know what was happening, so we didn’t think about it,” she shrugs. “It wasn’t that panic of ‘we’re not going to see each other’. I think we knew we could adapt.”
“It’s been so strange to say to friends that I’ve got a boyfriend now,” she adds. “They’re like: ‘What? But you’re in your house on your own – how does that work?'”
Every Sunday became date night.
Tom, a physiotherapist who has spent much of the pandemic working on a coronavirus hospital ward, says having to date on video calls has brought them closer together, quicker.
“I think because you’re on Zoom, you literally have just got each other to entertain each other. You can’t sit there and watch a film and have a hug. You’re just talking to each other,” he says.
“I think if you can do that for eight weeks in a row, it makes you stronger.”
It’s still not the same as meeting up in person, he says. “But I think we made the best out of a bad situation.”
“We got out of our pyjamas and actually put some nice clothes on,” he laughs. They cooked the same meal – roast lamb one week, slow-cooked chilli the next – and “just sat down with wine and a candle like we were on a date”.
Frustrated by their failed efforts to break free from a pandemic-themed escape room on a pre-lockdown date, they tried out a virtual version for Tom’s birthday in April.
They even had an online Monopoly double date with Tom’s housemate and his girlfriend.
“I tried to make charades happen but it was a one-way game, really,” he says.
Every Friday, Sarah now takes part in a virtual quiz with Tom’s family – even though she hasn’t met them yet. Sarah is teammates with Tom and they talk on the phone.
But while she catches snippets of the group conversation, she hasn’t been formally introduced on the Zoom chat yet.
“I’m not doing that on Zoom,” Tom laughs. “My parents both tried as hard as they could to shout to Sarah and try to embarrass me but I don’t think Sarah could hear them properly.”
Sarah has even taken part in family scavenger hunts.
She thinks these snippets of communication will ease the pressure when she does finally meet his family in person.
“I know their personalities a little bit now, so at least there’s something to talk about,” she says. “It’s not just initially meeting… and they’ll ask ‘who are you and what are your intentions’?”
Last month, after Boris Johnson announced that two people from different households could meet in England, Sarah and Tom were finally able to see each other in person again.
They hadn’t realised quite how much of an impact the decisions of the prime minister would have on their relationship.
Their Sunday date nights quickly became socially-distanced date days.
The first time, Sarah found it odd to sit on separate picnic blankets outdoors, each with their own afternoon tea in a takeaway box.
“I said, ‘I don’t want you to touch my food'” she says.
Because of the nature of their jobs – and the fact that she has been shopping for her parents who are shielding – she says they both “overthink” social distancing measures.
But Sarah says it “just wouldn’t work” if one person was less strict than the other. “We’d just think, ‘we can’t be together if we’re not of the similar mind-set about it’.
“It’s just funny – instead of a bottle of wine you’re sharing a bottle of sanitiser.”
The ‘freedom list’
And so the couple are now making plans for the future.
Tom has a “freedom list” saved in the notes on his phone of date ideas for when the lockdown does end.
It features the names of restaurants they want to go to, meals they plan to cook together, a second attempt at a real escape room, and a visit to an alpaca farm.
For now though, socially-distanced meet-ups are still an improvement on not seeing one another at all.
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