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Love in a Covid climate
Ah Jenny Harries. We knew her words were coming but when she confirmed that if two halves of a couple are currently living in different households they should either stay in them or test the strength of the relationship and move in together, it was tough to hear. It was one hell of a dilemma for many in new relationships, although as it happened, not for mine.
We were tripping hard on oxytocin and for the past month or so had taken any excuse to make the forty five minute journey between our homes. But I am a single mum who, due to the impact my ex-husband walking out had had on our son, still hadn’t formally introduced my boyfriend to him. We had remarked that my child was an effective brake making us take things at a sensible pace and at this choice presented to us on the 24th of March, that brake was firmly applied. We wouldn’t see each other.
It’s been hard but we’ve been better at it than Neil Ferguson and Antonia Staats. I mean honestly; I joked that the boyfriend and I were essentially a single household but I’d never actually try and put it up as a defence!
As well behaved citizens, following the rules was one thing but we still needed to have a relationship. Because we had never face timed, we hit upon the idea of “seeing” each other once a week and these weekly Skype dates have been something to look forward to. For one of our first dates I sent him a trio of Sipsmith gins and some tonic water. I placed the same order for myself and told him not to open them before our date but that he should probably make some ice. It was pretty easy to guess the theme of what I had planned and his contribution was to name and make a sign for our bar. Rather than think about not knowing when I’ll see him next, it helps that I only count down the days to my next trip to Cook, Tales & Dreams.
For one date I decided to send him a bottle of one of my favourite rums. I first tried Don Papa when my mum brought me back a bottle from The Philippines and as I’d never cooked a Filipino dish before I thought this was a nice idea. I sent him an ingredient list and we each made Chicken Adobo. We got pretty drunk but the food was nice. I hadn’t been able to buy any of the pak choi I’d been craving so instead used cauliflower leaves. I can’t believe I’ve previously thrown them away as they’re delicious.
Romance without restaurants
It is really really strange eating and drinking across screens. Much as I wanted to reach through the screen and give the guy a hug, I also wanted to test whether he’d made his G&T how I made mine. We had differing reactions to the Chicken Adobo and I wanted to compare them. Whenever I’ve run cookery courses at Gloucester Studio, my students have jumped in with spoons to try each others creations. It seems to be an instinctive reaction to want to share experiences.
I think this is one of the problems that social distancing presents to restaurants. While I enjoy eating out for the experience of trying new things or indulging in favourites whilst taking a break from cooking myself, there’s a reason my boyfriend and I visited restaurants more than we ordered takeaways. The reason I’ll buy a glass of wine for the amount I’d spend on a bottle drunk at home is atmosphere.
Our first date was on a wet night and people shook their umbrellas and crowded inside the restaurant for glasses of wine and plates of tapas. I’m sure I’ve added in details that were never there (why do restaurant soundtracks always have glasses clinking?) but the soft lighting, the buzz of conversations around us and the staff moving about the tables really set the scene. We weren’t meeting because we were hungry or thirsty. We were meeting because we wanted to see whether the rapport we’d found messaging each other on the dating site was backed up by physical attraction. There’s no reason such a date couldn’t happen on a bench in a shopping centre but as a restaurant owner myself I understand the work that goes into making dining establishments places for romance, celebration and fun.
Tables are placed not just to maximise covers at the same time as allowing the flow of service, but to create intimacy whilst allowing some privacy. Space the tables for social distancing and hide the waiters smile behind a mask and an experience we seek out goes from sensory to transactional.
I don’t know what the solution will be but compared to the reopening of non-essential shops where I’ll happily keep my distance as I quickly buy some new pants for my son, I can’t imagine returning to that little cocktail bar in my boyfriend’s town that makes great negronis if we won’t be leaning close together to make conversation over the rowdy group at the next table.