Over a million people in the UK are living with long Covid, according to the latest statistics.
Doctors and those living with the condition are still learning so much about the condition, its symptoms, and how long they can last.
It’s not just the medical side of things, either. People with long Covid are learning how to deal with their new social lives too, like dating.
“It’s a very lonely process,” Ximena Banegas tells HuffPost UK. She first had symptoms of Covid in August 2021.
“You can be so touch-deprived and I’m not just talking about sexual touch but touch in general like hugging or holding hands.”
“It would be great to meet someone I can just hang out with”
– Ximena Banegas
Ximena, 29, lives in London and works for an environmental organisation.
She thought she would get better after having a mild infection of Covid-19 because that was the general “expectation” but ended up in hospital a month later because she couldn’t breathe.
“My symptoms just got a bit worse. Most of the time I feel really exhausted. Normally when you feel tired after a long day, you can relax. But this exhaustion is in your bones, inside of your body, you can barely sit down or get out of bed.”
Ximena says dating was “difficult” before the pandemic but is even harder now with the unpredictability of her health.
“I still have a lot of relapses.
“On the days that I’m better, I think I could try to date someone but a lot of people don’t know what long Covid is, what it looks like, or cannot imagine that someone so young has it. Some people have never heard of it.”
“For me, the importance about talking about this is that more people know about long Covid and its limitations. It would be great to meet someone I could watch a movie with or just hang out even if I couldn’t go to a big party or dinner with them.”
– Ximena Banegas
She’s tried getting to know people on dating apps but feels not everyone understands why she can’t just get up and go on a date.
“They ask if I want to go for a drink but I can’t really eat, I definitely don’t drink alcohol, and spaces with a lot of noise and a lot of people really overwhelm all of my senses.”
She’s also had some more comical responses with one match telling her “don’t worry, I will cure you”.
At times she’s resorted to sending out the NHS information page on long Covid to save herself from repeating what it is over and over again.
Ximena has decided to put a pause on dating but believes it’s important to talk about it because even in the Covid support groups she’s a part of it’s not really a topic that’s mentioned.
Shereen Smith, 39, lives in Glasgow and has had long Covid since the beginning of the pandemic.
“When you’re in a partnership, it’s give and take. I have no give. I literally don’t have the energy. So what person would want to be in a relationship like that?”
She says when she first got Covid in March 2020 it was “brutal”.
“I’m a healthy person and I have counselling now to deal with how bad that experience was initially having Covid. It was really tough to experience breathing issues and not be able to eat. I lost weight, I lost hair, my periods stopped. It was very, very awful.”
Shereen says she’s experiencing many different health complications now she has long Covid, including nerve damage, tremors, ringing in her ears and dizziness.
“It would be a dream to have company that’s so forgiving to all my issues and to bear with me through my painful moments.”
– Shereen Smith
“My life is completely different. I’m a singer, who knows if I’ll ever sing again like I used to. I would train and work out. Everything’s changed.”
The thought of dating is the last thing on her mind.
“I won’t be able to talk to you everyday or see you all the time and I’ll be knackered. A relationship is a lot to take on and you want to be fair to the person that you’re dating but mostly for yourself.”
Even though she’s still in the process of learning about the new version of herself, she says it would be a “dream” to meet somebody one day.
“If I was to meet anybody, it would have to be the most compassionate person, the most giving person ever. If there’s a person out there like that, I would love to meet them. Not right now, but at some point.
“That would be a dream to have company that’s so forgiving to all my issues and to bear with me through my painful moments.”
31-year-old Sarah is a British university professor working in Denmark.
She got Covid in October 2020 and ended up moving back to the UK to be with family for a few months when her long Covid symptoms got worse.
She was seeing somebody when she first got Covid but decided to end things because she couldn’t “deal with the expectations of dating”.
″When I had to end things with the woman I was dating, it felt very frustrating. I’d been in denial about how sick I was and tried to keep everything going as normal as possible.
“It was too depressing to feel like long Covid was putting my life on pause. I pushed myself beyond my limits when I was trying to date.”
When Sarah wanted to start dating again, she went on 4 dates in 5 days to take advantage of how good she was feeling. But she found it hard bringing up her long Covid in conversation because she didn’t want people to be “put off”.
“It would normally come up when we were arranging where to meet – I’d choose somewhere close to my house so I didn’t have to walk far.
“It was strange because I’d be talking about my life before long Covid, which felt a bit false. I can’t do the same hobbies, like ballet or yoga, as I could before, and I don’t know when I will be able to again.
“It’s awkward when someone asks how your day was and you can only say ‘I watched tv and did some knitting and rested’.”
Sarah is now in a relationship with someone who has experience with chronic illness and thinks her long Covid helped her find the right partner.
“I’ve unfortunately had a few relapses since we met, so my illness has been a bit part of our relationship.
“She has helped me so much to take care of myself and to not push through pain and tiredness.
“I feel very grateful to have found someone I trust enough to help me out. We’ve definitely gotten way closer than I would normally have done in the few months we’ve been together.”
For more information about long Covid, visit the NHS website.