Anna, 32, an account manager in Manchester who went into 2020 “single, dating, having lots of fun”, describes total compliance at the start of lockdown: “We were told it might last just three weeks, and it’s fine to not go on a date for three weeks.” But I can almost hear her throwing her hands up, down the phone line. “This is nearly a year. You can’t go for a year without exploring that side of yourself.” Gordon, 43, a coach, describes single friends splitting into two camps – the ones who put everything on hold, and the ones having “bootleg sex: we were going to do it, but not shout about it”. Anna is now in a casual relationship, but “casual” no longer connotes “carefree”. “You still want to make it as safe as possible,” she says. “So you’re making agreements about how many other people that person is seeing; ideally, you’re only seeing each other. It’s a constant negotiation. It’s exhausting.”
Becky, 35, started seeing a colleague in early summer, but that has now ended. “It became impossible in a pandemic,” she says. “Both of us wanted to be able to see our parents. You feel guilty and ashamed; it makes it impossible to maintain unless you move in together straight away.” Did her flatmate ever object to her bringing someone over? “He could hardly – his [non-resident] girlfriend is here now.” The flatmate issue is far more important than you might think, given that nobody ever talks about it. In June, the idea of bubbles was introduced in England, meaning that a single person could link with another household. Neal, 32, from just outside Liverpool, runs the Twitter account @reunitecouples, which campaigns for the government “to grant noncohabiting couples the right to see each other again indoors”. He points out: “There’s an assumption that support bubbles solve everything. But people living with their parents, or in a house share, aren’t eligible.”
Faced with such a huge challenge to their sex lives, people tend to defer, not to the letter of the law, but to the most cautious person in the house. Rosie has two flatmates, both also single.