It was after September when Sophie Vale, 26, realized she’d never danced with her boyfriend.
She’d met him at the end of March on the dating app Hinge, which she’d opened “purely out of boredom” during Massachusetts’s first COVID-19 lockdown.
She had no intention of meeting up with anybody — the pandemic meant it wasn’t safe — but she started trading messages with this one man, and after a few weeks, they had a phone date.
“I gave him my actual cellphone number,” Vale said. “That was our first official date — we watched a movie via FaceTime together.”
The movie was “Slumber Party Massacre 2.” “We’re both into B horror movies,” Vale explained. “The killer has a song and dance number.”
After weeks of meeting for virtual dates, Vale and this man had a masked, socially distanced walk around Whipple Hill in Arlington. Then, in April, after much negotiation with each other and their roommates about COVID-19 rules, they formed a pod. The relationship has been great and growing ever since.
But for as much as they know each other, for as lovely as it’s been, there is a long list of everyday relationship moments that Vale and her boyfriend have yet to experience.
Vale has never sat with her boyfriend inside a restaurant (they went to Harpoon Brewery outdoors, and only once). She and her boyfriend have never seen each other navigate a big party, or learned how loud the other is in a movie theater.
They haven’t danced — at least not in public.
Vale’s boyfriend went alone to his friend’s small outdoor wedding on Labor Day weekend. When he returned, and Vale was able to see him again after his 14-day quarantine, she told him what she wanted, which was to dance like they would have, had they been able to attend the wedding together, in normal times.
“I told him, ‘I want to dance with you,’ so we got to do that inside an apartment. We both really like the Smiths, and we really like the Beach Boys. We love Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, so we did a lot of like “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” which we both agree is the top wedding song.”
Vale says this is how love during COVID-19 grows. “We’ve had to mimic things in private.”
During a year of isolation, loss, and grief, a silver lining might be the new relationships that have blossomed during the pandemic. Some couples who met after March say that if they hadn’t been forced to slow down and stay home a lot, they wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to meet and bond with someone new. They say that during 2020, they were more open to showing vulnerability and appreciating good company without wondering what they might be missing. They say they feel lucky to have found a match in a year of so much sadness.
It’s a weird thing, though, to fall in love in a vacuum.
Now, with the promise of an end to the pandemic, they’re wondering what it will be like to enter the world again with a serious partner they’ve barely seen in the public world.
“We don’t feel like we ever got to like date each other in the getting-to-know-you phase,” Lauren Champagne, 34, explained, of her relationship, which started in August. “It was like, well, you started staying over at my apartment within a few weeks. Basically, all of our time spent has been on my couch and in my kitchen.”
Champagne’s relationship began as a setup. A friend wanted to introduce her to a man who’d recently moved back to Massachusetts from California. Neither party reached out to the other, though. Champagne, of Duxbury, was often busy with her 4-year-old son, who splits his time between his parents.
Then, one night in August, while bored, Champagne remembered the would-be setup. The man was Bobby Shadley, a mechanic who helped run his family business. “I slid into his DMs and I was like, ‘Do you want to hang out with me because I’ve been so bored.’ I’d been single for like over a year, I’d had a great summer — [my son and I] were at the beach the whole time, and I was like, I’m tan. I’m fit because I’ve been working out. I’m mentally in a great place. Where is the man? Let’s try this one.”
He accepted her invitation and began seeing her when her son was with his father. He’s since bonded with her son and they’re all in a pod, but sometimes it’s like they’re going through the relationship stages backward, with emotional intimacy coming before casual dates.
One Boston couple, who declined to be identified, said their relationship might have fizzled in normal times, in a world with more small talk. Over many dates, they wound up bonding over wine and hours of playing the board game Trouble. Both admit they’re curious — and a bit puzzled — about what life will be like when there are fewer limitations and they have other people to see. (One of them has a big community of friends, the other keeps his social circle small.)
Another pair — Tim Cahill and Kristina Libby, who live in New York City and are from Massachusetts and Maine respectively — answered deep questions on one of their early outdoor dates because, really, what else was there to do? Libby brought a card game with question prompts. They wound up sharing big things pretty quickly.
“It’s this little card game called something like Getting to Know You,” Libby said. “It forces you to kind of just go in, super in, really fast.” On that date in a park, there were no hugs or kisses. The outing ended only because Libby eventually had to go to the bathroom.
Over a few months, the two negotiated how to spend time together without masks.
“Early on, we had a lot of really frank discussions,” Cahill said.
“They’re all just stoked to meet [Adriane]. They’re like, “Listen, you can’t get married until I at least meet her in person once.”
Adriane Johnson, 41, and Ronni Morgan, 33, also bonded quickly over big questions, and they’ve been documenting their COVID-19-era romance on social media. The two, who live in in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Fort Wayne, Ind., respectively, met on Her, a dating app for LGBTQ women. Morgan has a chronic illness that makes her high-risk for COVID-19. Meeting up was going to take preparation and tests, and would require staying somewhere overnight, so they spent early dates online, having long conversations. As a getting-to-know-you activity, Johnson made a list of big questions and e-mailed them; Morgan loved answering. The first round of Johnson’s questions included, “What are you really looking for?” and “Who hurt you?” The second included, “Have you dated outside your race before?” and “Are you a fan of travel?”
“I would never say I’m glad COVID happened; I’m not,” Morgan made clear. “That being said, I don’t know if Adriane and I would have met if not for COVID and being forced to really get to know someone with anything physical being off the table. I think it really allowed us to dive deep into [knowing] one another in a way that honestly kind of sometimes takes longer when you’re in a more normal dating situation.”
Johnson said she knows they wouldn’t have met if not for the changed world. It took a pandemic to make her open to looking for partnership after being single for 11 years. Now she wants to talk about it.
“Trusting it enough to be public, that this is the one. It’s happening. I’ve asked the universe for it, and it happened, so let me tell you [about it].”
But like other couples, they’re waiting on so many things, including real introductions to each others’ friends. Morgan said, of her inner circle, “They’re all just stoked to meet [Adriane]. They’re like, “Listen, you can’t get married until I at least meet her in person once.”
Sixto Muñoz, a therapist who works with couples and manager of Integrated Behavioral Health Services at Fenway Health, said that if he were advising partners who met in a siloed world, he’d tell them to accept that they don’t know how things will feel after the world is fully open again.
“That could mean being open to dissolution ... that this [relationship] actually might not work, and that’s really scary to think about.” But, he added, more optimistically, “I think like 70 percent of the battle is how are you with somebody just one-on-one.”
Learning to share a partner’s time with many more people could be one of the biggest changes, post pandemic, he said.
Lauren Landry, 31, who met Corey Maguire, 32, through a friend in June, said that’ll be the big change for their relationship. They met and liked each other and then “two weeks later we went on a first date that was 48 hours. … I’ve been with him ever since.” Normally, she said, “I would have come home and had [other] plans the next day or something,” she said. “We just kind of assume we’re hanging out with each other on the weekends.”
Landry said she’s excited for a new phase of their relationship: normalcy, whatever that means. She knows it’ll come eventually.
“We just talked about this together — what we wanted our 2021 goal to be, and it was like, go on vacation, just like a tiny thing like that,” she said. “We have talked about living together once my lease is up in September, so I’m like, we might live together before we can even go to a bar with a group of friends or go to a party … which is weird.”
Meredith Goldstein writes the Love Letters advice column and can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.