top of page

BBC, Radio 4,

From Our Home Correspondent


By Jane Labous

Producer: Simon Coates

Listen here


And how's your bubble? In June, it was announced that single person and single parent households could form a "support bubble" with another household. After months alone, Jane Labous, in lockdown with her young daughter, has taken the plunge. She's been speaking to others weighing up the pros and cons of "bubbling up".

There was a time, back in the heady, hazy days of 2019, when dates were two-a-penny, and the UK’s singletons seemed to have it easy.  On the dating app Tinder, you could set up a profile in the morning, and gather two hundred likes by lunchtime.  In the time-honoured words of singer Craig David, message on Monday and you could be drinking mojitos in a bar somewhere by Friday…  That was then. 


“Bumble has video-calling now: it’s a hellscape!” exclaims one friend about that dating app’s new function.  “Someone I’d matched with an hour before, video-called me.  I got such a fright!”  It’s just one of the radical changes to online dating protocol that’s taken place since March.  Real-life dates were out; people’s profiles began featuring surgical masks and barely-disguised pleas for company, anyhow, any way.  Online video ‘dates’ became the way to spend lonely lockdown evenings. 


Then came Boris Johnson’s announcement.  Though intended to offer social support to those spending lockdown alone, tabloid headlines proclaimed instead the demise of what had become known as the ‘sex ban’. ‘Singletons can hook up at last!’  Suddenly everyone was talking about cuddle buddies, and whether the prime minister’s use of the term ‘bubbling’ was cute, or faintly inappropriate. As a single mum with a young child, I was glad to find myself in the qualifying category after many months alone. And when an invitation to ‘bubble’ popped up on my phone too, I happily accepted…


Rachel, 45, joins me on the telephone from Birmingham, and we share a giggle about the bubbling situation.  A single mother who’s on three dating sites, she at first thought the support bubble was a nice idea.  “Lots of people on their own will be chomping at the bit to go and hang out with someone,” she tells me.  


“But then I thought, I like the bubble I’m in!  If someone put in their profile that they were looking for their ideal cuddle buddy, I’d just think, ew…!” she laughs.  “It would take someone really special to pull me away from the things I love doing, and spend time with them instead,” she explains.  “I’m not ready to do that!”


In current times, Rachel may be bucking a new trend.  Tinder last month reported that Britons on its site are having more chats, which are also lasting longer than usual.  Members are asking their matches, “Are you ok?” or “How are you feeling?” – which wasn’t always the case.  Perhaps lockdown has brought about a more genteel kind of dating; less casual, and kinder.  More – dare one say? – committed.  I take a look on Tinder, and sure enough, Pete, 54, in Northampton, would like someone to bubble up with.  And Clive, 47, from Torquay, is looking for his bubble mate. Oh, the romance! 


“If someone asked me to bubble with them, I’d say yes straight away!” laughs Carole, a vivacious 70 year-old in London.  She’s spent four months in lockdown.  Alone.  Her only significant social contact has been speaking with her business partner in New Zealand, and chats over the fence with the neighbours.  “I’d absolutely want to bubble with a friend – male or female – or a romantic interest,” she adds. 


Carole is a member of a dating site, and has spoken to a few men during the lockdown.  “One told me he only wanted casual sex,” she confides, “and I was a bit shocked.  My question was: how would you do that in lockdown?  I mean, I couldn’t sneak someone in without the neighbours seeing.”


Carole thinks dating is different now, in our new Covid-world.  “I’ve lived through getting the pill, which allowed you to have more sex without worrying. I’ve lived through AIDS, which encouraged more people to use condoms.  Now we’ve got this virus,” she adds with a sigh.  “You don’t know who anyone is or who they’ve been in contact with.  I think this is probably the worst, really.”


Maia, meanwhile, is simply looking for a cuddle.  Forty-one, and a self-confessed touchy-feely person, she believes human beings need to touch.  “In some ways, the option to bubble has made things even more difficult because I’m still not getting touched!” she tells me.


Against her expectations though, Maia has met someone new online.  They had their first socially-distanced date two Saturdays ago, and now... Well, they’re negotiating their bubble.  She says she’s excited – and frustrated.  “I’m sitting here waiting, going:  When do I get a hug?”  And adds: “That’s all I want to know right now!”

bottom of page