The screen flickers and I see the beams of Ruth’s kitchen ceiling, and I picture her little country cottage nestled in a picture perfect Cotswold village, surrounded by rolling hills and endless green English countryside. I see a figure in a dressing gown moving about at the bottom of the screen, and a voice shouts, “hang on, I’m just sorting my coffee”. It’s 8am in the UK and Ruth tells me she’s only been awake a few minutes because she forgot to switch on her alarm the night before.
“I can’t believe how long it’s been, it’s just mad,” she says, referring to lockdown. “You know that whole 84 days of running I’m doing? Well the 84 came from me making a guess of it all lasting 90 days and we’d already been in lockdown for a bit so I set myself a challenge. I’ve not run every day for the whole time because, you know, I’m human, but I’m on seventy-odd days, and as far as I’m concerned lockdown’s not finished.”
She puts the milk away and starts folding up a tea-towel, “while you can now move around a bit more, have sex with someone from a different household,” she smirked, her eyes wide, “and have bubble mixtures, whatever the hell that means, until they open the gym,” she laughs, “and the hotels, and the pubs, lockdown doesn’t mean anything to me, I can’t go back to work as normal.”
Ruth works as a Project Manager for a software company, and normally spends a good chunk of her week out on the road visiting clients or at the head office.
“I’ve been alright though. Some people have been really struggling. I’ve had moments of up and down. You know me, I never stay in the house much anyway, was always out, and I was joking the other day ‘check on your extroverted friends, because we are not OK’,” she laughs.
“I’m so glad I live where I live, this beautiful village filled with sheep, goats, Shetland ponies, and, on the whole, nice people. I can go out of my front door and run in any direction for 10 miles, and be totally safe seeing amazing scenery. So every now and then, when I’ve got a bit blue, I’ve given myself a bit of a talking to, you know, ‘you’re lucky, it could be so much worse’ and then made myself go do a long run or something, and felt fine afterwards.”
She tells me she categorically hasn’t go the running bug though, that she’s just bored and it’s something to fill the time, and as soon as the gym reopens or the nights draw in, then it’s all over, “it’s just something to stop me getting fat, bored and depressed during lockdown.”
She changes the subject, and says, “the black death in the Middle Ages sparked renaissance art, one of the most beautiful and poignant art installations of our existence as humans on this planet, the 2020 pandemic arrives and we have TikTok and memes. What beauty have we developed during our black death of 2020? Bloody TikTok and memes.”
She leans into the camera and a cheeky grin fills the screen, “what you really wanna know about is the dating, don’t you?”
I smile and tell her I want to hear about whatever she wants to talk about; it’s her story.
But yes, of course I do.
I shift around on the sofa to get comfortable and she tells me about a neighbour commenting on her dating. She continues, “I suppose to somebody married on the outside when they look at a single person dating in their 40’s they might feel a little bit like, ooh, she’s got another new boyfriend, and I’m like, eh, love, I’m on a timeline here,” she laughs, pointing to her watch, “I am gonna keep trying, and it is exhausting, and I hate the apps, and I hate the weeding of them all out and all that, but I’m gonna keep going. Because if I decide to take a break, I could be 55 when that break is over. So yeah, I’m gonna keep going.”
At the beginning of lockdown Ruth was seeing someone.
“He was nice enough,” she shrugs, “and I thought it might go somewhere, and he was local too, and I never date local. I always like ’em at the beginning, that’s the problem. Someone at work joked I’ve got an expiry date on men, and yeah, I mean, if you don’t love them after eight weeks then let them go,” she makes a sweeping gesture with her hand, and it reminds me of a balloon floating up into the sky, never to be seen again.
“I’ve made that mistake before. The last chap I dated for eleven months was heartbroken when I dumped him, and I can’t blame him because I kept him for almost a year and I should have ended it after eight weeks. Because I knew I was never gonna love him, so I’m trying to be a little bit fairer-slash-callous now.”
We laugh, but it’s an awkward laugh because we both know how uncomfortable ended something is. She tells me how she quite liked the guy she was seeing at the beginning of lockdown, even introducing him to her friends. “I looked back afterwards,” she cringes and covers her face with her hands, “and was like, ‘ohh, why did you do that’, why didn’t you keep him in the bedroom box for a while.”
They decided to “pool resources and eat all the food in one house” and he went to stay at Ruth’s house when lockdown was announced in the UK. “He was still going to work, and he’d come home from work, go straight upstairs and have a shower, put his ‘old man’ pjs on, eat the dinner I’d made and paid for, and he’d sit on the couch in his old man pyjamas next to me and we’d watch telly. After something like 21 days together consecutively, he’d fallen asleep on me, and I just sat there,” she throws her arms up in the air, “and thought ‘what am I doing?”
Ruth’s not the type of person to just sit and watch TV and do nothing in an evening, she’s generally doing something.
“That was it, pfftt, next morning, gone, off you pop. Again, heartbroken, loads of text messages, loads of emails. I thought he was going to turn up on the doorstep. People say, ooh they always fall for you don’t they, and I say no, they just don’t know when to be dumped. That was the 4th April and I’m still getting messages randomly saying ‘I still miss you’. Do they think I’m all of a sudden going to remember them and realise I miss them?”
He was, in Ruth’s words, the ‘first casualty of lockdown’. “Mild guilt. Anyway, straight back on Tinder, straight back onto the swiping. Some absolute fucknuggets out there, as we both know.” I laugh, knowing exactly what she means. “One thing I did discover, is that you can get through the fucknuggetry really quickly on a video call, and you don’t even have to waste any perfume! At £80 a bottle, this was the revelation of a lifetime,” her hands raised in the air, “lockdown silver lining number one: you don’t have to waste good perfume on a shit twenty-minute date.”
Any dates particularly shit, I ask?
“Oh one was awful. He was called Chris, he was from Bristol, and in the first six minutes of the call-yes, I timed it-he’d corrected me on my story,” she starts counting on her fingers, “interrupted me twice, and commented on what I was wearing. Then he proceeded to walk me round his house until I felt ill, ate a tin of tuna out of the tin with a fork while talking, and then tell me how it was all dripping in his beard, I was just like,” she dry heaves, “if you don’t mind Chris, I need a short comfort break, I’ll ring you back. Never. Beeeeep.” she mimics pressing a cancel call button, “but the thing was, on paper, his profile and his photos, he was perfect, like, how on earth is this man single, then I went on that call with him. Now I know.”
Ruth continued her “Tinder tirade” and met a nice chap from Leamington Spa who she chatted to for a month or so. “He helped keep me sane. It’s the same as many stories I’m sure, someone you’re probably never going to meet, but it’s so nice to wake up to a text from someone in a morning, from a complete fucking stranger, whose referencing you don’t really need, you don’t care if he thinks you’re beautiful or not but it’s just nice to get the message.”
“He was wonderful. Perfect on paper. Tara, I could have married him,” she jokes.
So what happened, I ask?
“He just went weird. It was just literally like someone had just flicked a switch. Massive, massive depressive, to the point I was really worried about him, I didn’t think he should be left on his own. It was the whole ‘I’m not responsible for him, but I really like him and I’m now worried about him’. I didn’t know what to do, so I just had to leave him alone, and he stopped responding to any messages. He eventually apologised, and told me he’d thought he was ready to date, but clearly wasn’t.”
I joked that he seemed too good to be true, and Ruth laughed.
“Everyone joked with me that I’d caught feelings; well, there’s worse things to catch on Tinder. Anything else and you can take a tablet for that, I was proper broken-hearted about it. But I realised it was the lockdown, because normally I’m the queen of cold. I’d gone from having a void, to having him text me forty or fifty times a day, boosting my ego to then it just disappearing, and it being totally out of my control. All I kept thinking was ‘this is karma’, because if I think about it, I’ve not been dumped by a man since 1999,” she puts her hands on her head, “I’ve always been the dumper. It wasn’t my heart, it was my ego, and it took me quite a few weeks to work that out,” she smiles and takes a sip of her coffee.
“It doesn’t matter anyway, I’ve got a new one on the go now,” she giggles, “I almost don’t want to tell you about him, well I do, but I don’t, because I feel like I might jinx it. We’ve been talking for a while, although we met for a [socially-distanced] coffee pretty early on. I couldn’t do another month of talking to someone only to find out they’re a dick.”
She tells me she’d gone back on Tinder, and there’d been four or five men that’d been filtered through to Whatsapp, then she had a video call with two or three of those.
“This one passed the video call interview,” she joked, leaning in towards the camera, “he passed the selection. There was massive chemistry when we did meet up, I’ve not had chemistry like that on a first date since my first husband. It was insane, the connection between us. I don’t know whether it’s all the flirting we’d been doing, the video call flirting, or just because we have great chemistry, but it’s still there now, over a month on.”
Now the UK has introduced the concept of bubbles, Ruth’s been able to meet up with him ‘properly’ and she’s wondering how she’s going to feel post lockdown.
“Am I going to care that there’s some guy on the end of a text message? Although he’s starting to show signs of,” she makes quote marks with her hands, “boyfriend material”.
I joke with her that it’s called ‘affection’, and she laughs, “I know! Me, the non-hugger, liking affection. As a non-cuddler, it’s surprised me how much I’ve just wanted a cuddle.”
She doesn’t want to jinx it, and is still wondering whether she’s “behaving, acting, wanting this, because of lockdown.”.
Only time will tell.