The Pandemic Has Turbo Charged Love, but Is That a Good Thing?

Words by Victoria Strokes. Art by Jessica Lin.
This year has forced many couples to move in together during the very early stages of their relationships, but should you ever hit fast forward on love?

Shack up or be separated. It was the ultimatum no one saw coming until the pandemic came along, but with stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures making young love difficult, many fledgling couples saw themselves cutting keys, splitting finances, and moving in together to avoid being kept apart. It’s a trend some experts have now called “turbo love.”

Before the world turned on its head in March, a majority of people said that between six months to a year was the ideal time to wait before moving in together, but the pandemic has changed the rules of the game. Now, some couples are sharing a flat, a bed, their finances, and even an office space as they work from home mere weeks into their relationships.

According to a recent report from dating site eHarmony and the charity Relate, over a third of people newly living with a partner feel the past two months are the equivalent of two years of commitment. Meanwhile, 59% of new couples say they feel more committed to their partner during the pandemic, and 36% say they’ve hit common relationship milestones, such as moving in together, much quicker.

Is moving in together during the early stages of a relationship a fast-track to lasting romance, or a recipe for disaster?

Victoria Stokes

For now, taking it slow may be a thing of the past. But is moving in together during the early stages of a relationship a fast-track to lasting romance, or a recipe for disaster?

For Sophie, 32, it’s definitely been a case of the former. She and her partner Joe had been dating for just over two months when the pandemic hit, and thinking it would be only a temporary measure, they decided Sophie should move in with Joe and his family rather than try to navigate long-distance.

“It was an unusual way to meet the parents,” Sophie laughs. “But Joe’s parents couldn’t have been more understanding of our situation. The alternative was to spend an unknown amount of time apart and only communicate through Zoom. That wasn’t an option for either of us.”

Sophie says it’s been “weird, but fun” adjusting to one another in such a short period of time. “When you’re newly dating, you tend to hold parts of yourself back, but you don’t have the option to do that when you’re sharing a space. They get to see the real you very quickly, and you the real them. I had to get used to Joe seeing me with messy hair and no makeup on, or stressed after a day at work very, very quickly. These are all things you’d try and hide on first dates, but you don’t have the choice when you live together.”

Despite not expecting to still be living at Joe’s eight months later, Sophie says it’s been going well. “I think carving out time for ourselves has been key. I’m an introvert, I like my own space, and I’m very clear about that, so we’ll spend some evenings doing our own thing. My friends and family all thought I was mad and that it would end in disaster, but I’m quite enjoying proving them wrong.” 

According to the couples surveyed, 63% of turbo couples feel stronger as a result, while 58% said they’re now convinced they want to be with their partner forever.

Victoria Stokes

Sophie is happy, choosing to solidify her relationship rather than risk side-lining it completely. Others, like 28-year-old Mike*, and have not only found love during the pandemic, but turned it into a solid commitment.

“I just wanted someone to talk to,” he says. “I was missing that connection, so I went on Grindr not really expecting anything to happen.”

Mike got chatting with Ryan, also 28, and hit it off right away. “We chatted on Zoom every single night for two weeks. There was a real spark. I’m not sure who was the first to suggest meeting up, but we were both aware that it was going to be tricky with all the restrictions.”

In the end, Mike and Ryan decided their best option was to form a support bubble–a UK government-backed initiative where individuals living alone can go and stay with someone else who’s living alone. “The day Ryan moved in was the first day we met. He was wheeling a suitcase up to my front door the first time I saw him,” Mike laughs. “Our first date was watching Netflix and drinking wine in our pajamas.”

The idea of inviting a romantic interest, who is on most accounts still a stranger, into your home might sound like a precursor for a true crime documentary for some. For Mike, it’s been exactly what he’s needed. “What I really wanted throughout this whole pandemic was a companion. One of the slogans I’ve seen a lot is ‘we’re all in this together.’ I didn’t feel I was ‘in it’ with anyone when I was living alone. With Ryan here, I have someone with me through all the uncertainty. And I’m there for him too. It’s been really fun getting to know each other.”

Of all the couples spoken to for this feature,  the majority said they were happy to have hit fast forward on love. (Only one disaster story was encountered,  from Claire, 35, who said moving in with Tony*, a guy she’d been seeing for four weeks, was “a fast-track to finding out how incompatible we were.”)

The research has a similarly rosy outlook on turbo relationships. According to the couples surveyed by eHarmony and Relate, 63% of turbo couples feel stronger as a result, while 58% said they’re now convinced they want to be with their partner forever.

Our expectations right now are quite low. We don’t have a lot of outside influences putting pressure on us.

Lisa McFarland

But what do the experts think? “If the research says that most of these couples are thriving, it’s my thought that it’s because there hasn’t been any other outside influence,” says relationship coach Lisa McFarland. “Couples have arguments when one of them goes out with their friends and forgets to text. They have arguments when expectations do not meet reality.

“Our expectations right now are quite low. We don’t have a lot of outside influences putting pressure on us. As we’re at home, we also have plenty of time to explain what our expectations are so there’s less chance of confusion. But when life’s really busy, sometimes we forget to tell our partners what our expectations are. Then, when those expectations are not met, that becomes an argument.”

While it looks as though the majority of these relationships are thriving, McFarland says turbo relationships are absolutely not without their risks. “At the very early stage of a relationship, you’re not really in love, you’re in lust,” she points out. “It’s all about the chemicals that are attracting you to each other, so it can be a little bit risky.”

Fortunately, if you want to hit the brakes, “it’s absolutely OK for couples to take a step back until they learn more about each other and learn how to do relationships,” McFarland adds.

The success of a relationship hinges more on how much you value yourself rather than how long you’ve known one another.

Victoria Stokes

So, is speed a reliable indicator of a relationship’s success or failure? No. Whether you’ve shacked up after six weeks or waited for two years to move in, the success of a relationship  hinges more on how much you value yourself rather than how long you’ve known one another.

“Loving and accepting ourselves is the most important thing you can do for yourself,” McFarland says. “The more self-worth you have as an individual, the better your relationships will be.”