“I wish I was going home under better circumstances,” my diary entry on the 15th of March 2020 begins, “Basically there’s a global epidemic – the coronavirus or COVID-19.” After describing the symptoms, I wrote, “I’m heading home where I can socially isolate with my family (and Brett…guess I need to introduce him too).”
This is the story of our relationship, and of our biggest adventure together to date.
Brett and I met in September 2019 at an Expedition Society social on the third day of Fresher’s Week at the University of Exeter. We went on our first date four days later, dinner at an Indian restaurant in the city. Brett, who is also an American, is working on his PhD in Climate Physics and I had just started my master’s degree in Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture. While on our first date, he invited me back to his place to watch David Attenborough – I couldn’t say no to that! – and from then on, we began seeing each other regularly. Being recently single, I told him that I didn’t want to be in a relationship, yet fast forward two months, and Brett had already met my mum and my sister…After a day trip exploring Bristol together, we agreed we were an official couple.
Brett met my dad at the beginning of March 2020 on a crazy four-night trip to Paris. It was our first proper holiday abroad together, and we realised we make great traveling partners. I was happy that Brett got along great with my parents and fit in easily at the Hash (a worldwide running group my family is a part of, and the reason we were in Paris that weekend).
As I returned to Exeter, Brett continued his trip in France, traveling south to meet some academics at different universities (and get some sun!). As coronavirus continued to spread and countries across Europe started locking down, my mum told me, “it’s better to be scared here at home than alone in Exeter,” so I started making plans to return to the Netherlands, where I lived from age 8 to 18. My mum also suggested I invite Brett to join us, and I was relieved when he agreed – I couldn’t stand the thought of him having to endure lockdown alone in his (fairly awful) student house in Exeter. The very next evening, my parents greeted him at Schiphol Airport as I boarded the overnight ferry at Harwich on my way home.
And that’s how, after knowing each other for just six months, and officially dating for only four, my boyfriend and I moved into the guest bedroom of my family’s home in the Netherlands. We were joined by my sister and her (now ex-) boyfriend (who none of us had ever met before), taking the total up to three couples living in one house. We began to call the "White House Commune."
The pandemic threw us all together under one roof, and while the world around me felt like it was falling apart, Brett and I grew closer. We went on cycling trips to the tulip fields and the dunes, ate lunch on the “promenade deck” together in the sun and worked from a picnic blanket in the front yard. Brett accompanied me on outings to take self-portraits and we developed a love for film photography. We cooked meals for the family together and curled up on the couch to watch films with my parents in the evenings.
We spent every night together, comforting each other when life outside of our little bubble looked dark. We felt relieved to be safe and lucky to be together during such crazy times. I guess you could say things moved fast…we were together in the Netherlands for just a month before we said, “I love you.” After thinking our relationship would only last a year, we were suddenly talking about a future where we would try to stay together!
What we thought would just be a couple weeks' stay quickly turned into months. We celebrated multiple birthdays, as well as Kings Night and Mother's Day all together in lockdown. Brett became an honorary member of the White family and I felt relieved that even after spending days and days together, we weren’t getting bored or annoyed with one another.
On the 26th of May, I carried out the “biggest trust test for my relationship with Brett” – cutting his hair. I’m proud to say it wasn’t a total disaster, and since then, I have been his sole barber, and he mine. Luckily, we both have curly hair, so you can’t see where it hasn’t been cut straight.
On our 100th day in Holland, we cycled 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Voorschoten to Amsterdam, where we spent two days exploring the city together. We visited museums and wandered along the canals, grateful to experience the city without the normal crush of tourists. I knew Brett was a good match for me when he agreed to get up at 5 in the morning to take portraits at the Rijksmuseum, which we had completely to ourselves as the sun rose. That evening, we cycled back home through the dunes, a ride which ended up being our longest bike ride to date, at 72 kilometres (45 miles).
The first time I saw him looking for flats in Exeter for the autumn, I cried, thinking our time together was about to come to an abrupt end. Little did I know then, the pandemic had other plans for us. As my hopes for a gap year traveling abroad diminished, I made the decision to stay in Exeter. On the 1st of August – 139 days after moving in with my family – Brett and I boarded the ferry back to the UK. Less than a month later, we had signed the lease for our dream flat in Exeter’s city centre and had moved in together “officially.”
The next six months were a rollercoaster of emotions. Finishing my master’s degree and being thrown into the world of job hunting, all while under the threat of a looming visa deadline, made for some very stressful days. But at the same time, I was living in a beautiful flat and spending my days with the boy I love. We went on amazing adventures, wild camping on Dartmoor and hiking for days along the South West Coast Path. You can read about some of those adventures here on this blog. Together, we found peace in the pandemic.
With my UK student visa expiring at the end of March, I was forced to leave Exeter and leave Brett’s side. After being together since the beginning of the pandemic, it broke my heart a little to be separated right when things were starting to open back up again in the UK!
We’ve been apart for three weeks now, but have stayed close with daily calls, backgammon games and watching shows together on Disney Plus. Brett joins my family for dinner (virtually, of course) at least once a week, meals which often end up with us all chatting together for hours. As of now, we have no idea when we’ll see each other in person again – a fate countless couples have faced since the pandemic started.
I know how lucky I am to have been able to spend so much time together with Brett over the last twelve months and I am so grateful to have had him there to support me through everything this year has thrown at us. No matter what comes next, Brett will always be my lockdown lover.