When the pandemic first shut down New York City in March of 2020, Brooklyn-based photographers (and spouses of nearly 15 years) Jordan Rathkopf, 41, and Anna Rathkopf, 42, saw all of their work disappear overnight.
As portrait and lifestyle photographers, they had a lot of in-person events, galas, and campaigns lined up to shoot that got canceled.
They struggled to explain to their son, Jesse, what it meant to go to kindergarten online. Worst of all, Anna, a breast cancer survivor, came down with the virus herself, which required a trip to the hospital during those earliest, scariest days.
“There were so many moments when we were just freaking out,” Anna says.
The intense stress was hard on them both individually and as a couple. Jordan had long struggled with depression and anxiety, and now both were rearing their ugly heads for him. Plus, there was the specter of Anna’s cancer.
Though she had thankfully recovered and been cancer-free for 4 years, the life threatening experience had been destabilizing in ways they never had time to process as individuals or as a couple.
There was also just the fact that they were quarantining as a family in a small apartment, trapped like we all were in those early days.
Suddenly, the cracks in their relationship could no longer be ignored. The situation compounded troubles, like ineffective communication, that led to heated arguments. They were fighting constantly, and it was affecting their son.
“The pandemic pushed everything to the surface. There was no way to not deal with our issues anymore,” Jordan says.
If the going narrative about the pandemic’s negative effect on relationships were true, this is where we’d tell you that Anna and Jordan broke up.
After all, it seemed like there were constantly stories about pandemic divorces and splits throughout 2020, about couples who broke up and still had to live together (and in some cases, made entertainment about the experience).
But instead, the Rathkopfs are still happily married today — and in fact, their relationship is stronger than ever.
“We both went through stuff, but we didn’t share that with each other. The quarantine forced us to finally talk about it.” — Anna Rathkopf
They were able to get to a good place by taking the time during quarantine to begin both individual therapy and couples counseling, which helped them learn some coping skills.
The work also helped them realize that the uncertainty and fear caused by the onset of the pandemic, as well as Anna’s own bout with the illness early on, brought up a lot of the same feelings as her cancer diagnosis.
As a couple, they were able to finally process it. “We both went through stuff, but we didn’t share that with each other,” Anna says. “The quarantine forced us to finally talk about it.”
“The pandemic was the first time I faced myself,” Jordan says. “I had to deal with my own issues and not blame her. That was really an opportunity. I feel we’re stronger now than [in] our entire life together.”
Two years ago, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic threw a curveball into all of our lives. It changed everything from our hobbies to how we work. It also changed our romantic relationships — largely, it turns out, for the better.
According to a Monmouth University poll that came out in 2020, almost 60 percent of Americans who are partnered up report that they’re extremely satisfied with their relationship (a similar but even higher number than in past national polls).
In fact, of those surveyed who did report a pandemic-related change in their relationship, more reported a positive versus a negative effect. Compared to 5 percent who said that their relationship got worse, 17 percent said their relationship got better.
While the uncertainty and sheer danger of the past 2 years have been extremely trying for many reasons, the pandemic has been a bit of a boon for relationships, says Racine Henry, PhD, a marriage and family counselor in New York City.
“There are several reasons. First, is that a lot of couples before the pandemic had to schedule time together,” she explains. “The pandemic allowed all of us to spend more time together.”
Of course, some learned from more time together that their relationship wasn’t meant to be. But the couples who survived found new ways to connect.
“For a lot of couples, the pandemic was the first time they really talked. People get caught up in the routine and are not having real conversations,” Henry says.
“With the pandemic, you only have that to do. You’re sort of forced to discuss things that maybe you always wanted to talk about. You find out or rediscover who you’re really with.”
In Anna and Jordan’s case, they already spent quite a bit of time together since they run their photography business as a team. But when their paid work dried up, they took the chance to start a “just-for-fun” project photographing frontline workers and volunteers across Brooklyn.
Since it was a passion project, they weren’t worried about pleasing a client or presenting a product with one vision.
And because of physical distancing rules, they’d venture out to shoot photos separately, but come together later to discuss their visions, as opposed to working together every single step of the way like they usually did.
“For a lot of couples, the pandemic was the first time they really talked.” — Racine Henry, PhD
“It was a new way of working for us,” Jordan says. It may have meant less time physically together, but in the end, it led to more connection. It also helped them find gratitude in their everyday life, which has stuck with them as the pandemic has marched on.
“Life is not a guarantee. The pandemic confirmed that,” Jordan says. “For us, at least, the future is going to be about staying in the present.”
For other couples, the pandemic didn’t “save” their relationship — it created it.
Renee Rhodes, 28, and Mark Speedy, 25, met at a video game convention 3 years ago and became fast friends. They saw each other at conventions often and had mutual friends, but lived on opposite coasts — Speedy in Troy, New York, and Rhodes in Seattle, Washington.
Rhodes was visiting New York City the weekend the world shut down. Unsure where else to go, she took a train to Troy to stay with Speedy — and she hasn’t really left since.
“At the time, we were solidly just friends, but we talked on the phone 15 hours a week,” Speedy, who uses both “he” and “they” pronouns, explains.
It took a few months of living together in quarantine before Rhodes and Speedy were able to come to the same conclusion that everyone else in their lives had already come to: They were obviously dating.
“I had gotten so used to the idea that I didn’t date anyone,” says Rhodes, who came out as asexual in college. “I was fine on my own. I didn’t want to lose my independence.”
But after spending so much time together, Rhodes came to see herself and what a relationship could be like, in a new light. “Once I realized how comfortable I could be with another person — with them, particularly — it was like, OK, let’s give this a shot,” she says.
“We really went through the dating process backwards. We jumped to moving in, and then didn’t get to go on a real date for 6 months or so.” — Mark Speedy
The past 2 years haven’t been without bumps for either of them. Rhodes, who lost her job in Seattle, experienced depression and night terrors and felt like she wasn’t contributing enough to their home because of her unemployment. Speedy had just moved to Troy, so hadn’t had a chance to form many social connections before the shutdown.
But ultimately, they both realized they were lucky to have each other. During her unemployment, Rhodes stocked the fridge and cooked meals, while Speedy worked. They went on walks together and explored local hiking trails.
As things have opened (and closed, and opened again), Rhodes has found work as a marketing coordinator, and together, they were able to plug into local activism and connect with the wider community. They also adopted two cats, Rayla and Kiri.
None of this would’ve happened without the pandemic, Speedy said. “We really went through the dating process backwards. We jumped to moving in and then didn’t get to go on a real date for 6 months or so.”
Speedy and Rhodes’ relationship is representative of wider dating trends brought about by the pandemic.
While meeting new people certainly hasn’t been the easiest these past 2 years, a majority of singles (53 percent) are turning to “intentional dating,” according to Match’s 2021 Singles in America study.
“Intentional dating” basically means dating to find a long-term partner versus dating casually.
In Match’s survey, 53 percent of respondents said that they were dating with more intention, and some 69 percent of respondents said that they were being more honest with partners.
If you ask Henry, all could be part of a broader trend in what she hopes will be a long-term shift in people reorganizing their priorities as we continue to work through the ongoing trauma of the pandemic.
“My hope is, after everything, we will refocus on what’s most important,” she says.
There’s something called trauma bonding, Henry explains, which is an unhealthy way to bond when you’re reenacting traumatic experiences. But it seems that what’s happening here is that people are coming together despite trauma.
“With a couple that has survived the pandemic together and been able to look within, I think that it’s been a really powerful way to bond.”