Does distance still make the heart grow fonder? I talked to long-distance couples around the world to see how their relationships are affected by the pandemic.
“We’re accepting that we’re just victims of circumstance. It gives us some sort of peace. We are doing the absolute best for each other, and no matter how minuscule it may seem, it speaks greater volumes with the relationship.”
Ozz, 24, eloquently described this wise realization he and his longtime, long-distance love, Nur, came to recently. “It’s been a little harder. There’s little to no freedom to make plans to see each other,” Ozz continues. Ozz lives in Kelowna, Canada, and Nur lives in Vancouver. Though they’re only four hours away from each other, the precariousness of travel during the COVID-19 health pandemic makes them feel worlds apart.
“It's like the ultimate test. How genuine is this love? Is it really just lust? Or true companionship?”
I sat back and thought about Ozz’s final contemplation. How genuine is this love? Is it just lust or true companionship? Like Ozz, I’m in a long-distance relationship. I live 7,540 miles away from my boyfriend. Our lives are filled with carefully coordinated Facetime calls (usually when he’s going to bed or when I’m eating lunch), Netflix party dates, and thoughtful voice notes to say good morning, good night, or “I love you”.
Our relationship is unique, but for all of its hardships, there are surprising benefits — the biggest being, in my experience, the strong communication and transparency distance can foster. We don’t have the luxury of relying on physical closeness as a means of conflict resolution. We only have our words, expressed through iPhone and laptop screens, to resolve any issues or grievances we have. It can be difficult, but pushing ourselves to be honest and open helps us grow as a couple and as individuals.
The COVID-19 health pandemic, however, has complicated our relationship’s harmony. Life as we now know it is filled with unknowns. We’re not sure what the world will look like a month from now, six months from now, or even a year from now. We’re not sure how we’re going to get through this — financially, socially, or mentally. We’re not sure when we’ll see our friends, families, and loved ones again.
All of these unknowns and more add pressure and tension to relationships, especially long-distance ones.
“In the beginning, there was a huge wave of anxiety. I thought, if something happens, I won’t be able to get to him because our borders were completely closed.” Sarah, 26, tells me. Sarah lives in Saudi Arabia and her boyfriend Mikey lives in Ireland. “I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for almost 4 years. Now that my anxiety has mostly passed, things are back to normal.”
I identify with Sarah’s experience. When the realities of COVID-19 first hit, my anxiety pulled me down a rabbit hole. I thought about my boyfriend and my family, all of whom are halfway across the world. I thought about what would happen if my boyfriend and I couldn’t reunite in the fall. I thought about how our relationship would survive without seeing each other for a year. For a while, I didn’t know how to block out my fears. I felt buried under them and it was difficult being present and happy in my relationship.
“Long-distance is so brutal,” Marlene, 23, shares with me. “It’s been so hard and lonely. “If this wasn’t happening, we'd be going on dates and seeing each other a lot, but I’ve only seen him 3 times since he’s been here.” Merlene lives in Nairobi, Kenya and her boyfriend, Mat, lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Mat’s family lives in Nairobi, and he traveled back to be with them just before the pandemic hit. They’re finally in the same city, but they can barely see each other.
“We’ve luckily been able to cope relatively well,” Kara, 24, tells me via WhatsApp message. She lives in Sydney, Austalia and her boyfriend, Jason, lives in Toronto. “It’s been harder because Jason was planning to move to Sydney for 2 years at the end of March. Then BAM, the Australian border closed and now I’m alone in our apartment waiting until he’s allowed to come.”
It’s hard. Really hard.
But, like with all things, there is a silver lining. Sarah articulated it perfectly when she explained that “people used to question the legitimacy of [our] relationship. Now all those people that did question it are forced to be away from each other. They finally see that long-distance relationships are valid, and require a lot of work.”
Long-distance relationships require so much work, patience, understanding, and commitment. They also get a lot of flak — people question the role we play in each other’s love and whether that love can stand the test of time apart. But now that we’re all forced to maintain relationships, both platonic and romantic while apart, everyone is starting to understand the validity and strength of long-distance love.
As COVID-19 continues to complicate life as we know it, we’re doing what we can to keep hope and love alive. “We have a date night once a week! Paint night, movie night, baking adventures, walks together etc...I think people admire how creative we are, but I think long-distance couples tend to do their own thing based on what works for them,” Kara proudly shares with me.
I couldn't agree with Kara more, and I’ll definitely be ripping a page from her book! Creative long distance dates are a paramount reminder that a connection can survive, even thrive through, prolonged distance.
To all my fellow long-distance lovers out there, I see you, we got this, and we are going to make it through.