About a month ago, I began drafting an article titled, “How to Survive a Long-Distance Relationship during Quarantine”. My goal was to process the reality of spending a crisis separated from my partner and give some advice to others who may also be hundreds of miles away from a significant other. I considered myself a “professional” at enduring distance and time apart in a romantic relationship, based on the last three years of my long-distance relationship (LDR).
Truthfully, I underestimated the havoc this quarantine would wreak on me emotionally; I think a lot of us did. It only took a few days into the COVID-19 stay-at-home order for me to realize the severity and trauma of self-isolation without my partner.
The purpose of this article is not to share long-distance relationship survival advice with anyone. It’s been about 50 days of lockdown, and by now, we’ve read every available article about dealing with not seeing our significant other/ friends and family. In fact, we’ve learned from first-hand experience how to adjust to this new normal, and cope with the effects of loneliness on our mental health.
But we are still in uncharted territory.
It’s scary how quickly everything changed.
Over a month ago, we were barely starting to dip our feet into a situation we’d never been in before — stores, schools, restaurants, etc. were closing their doors. Some of us lost partial income or our jobs entirely. We could no longer visit friends and family.
I was incredibly anxious when my partner and I were ordered to stay at home in separate states. I didn’t know when I would see him again.
So we agreed to stay in touch in a way that you’d expect. Nightly video calls, virtual happy hours, even mailing out physical letters.
And after only a couple of days of quarantine, I realized no amount of screen time would fill the loneliness of quarantine without my partner.
The emptiness I felt while everyone around me was locked down with their boyfriends/girlfriends/children was indescribable. I couldn’t find a word, but I could hear it in my home; the emptiness echoed there. It echoed on the porch where he and I would sit outside and read our books. It echoed in the bedroom where we woke each other up with kisses and drawn out good-mornings. It echoed in my voice when I’d talk to him on the phone, wishing he was here and not there.
The lack of human contact took a toll. The longing for someone to look at me, talk to me, touch me without a screen in between was slowly taking over.
Feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and misplaced frustration called for heightened tension in our relationship.
I held a grudge against my partner for things that were out of his control. I criticized myself for things that were absolutely out of my reach. I was lonely. I was in shock. I worried about my finances. I became easily irritated. I questioned our relationship.
On some nights, I chose not to call him before bed because not talking to him was easier than hearing his voice. Never could I have imagined a situation where I would miss him so much, that hearing his voice made me sadder, so I chose silence instead.
I questioned everything.
And I looked back at my unpublished draft of an article titled, “How to Survive a Long-Distance Relationship in Quarantine” and I asked myself, “Do any of us really know to actively participate in a relationship that is already under more pressure than your average relationship, in a time like this?”
For those of us in LDR’S, when we normally spend time apart from our significant others, we use our time apart keeping ourselves busy. We socialize at work, at coffee shops and libraries, at dinner with friends, and happy hours.
But now, during state-wide business shutdowns, there was no one and nothing to fill that missing space.
Without human interaction, we fall apart. I know I was. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t my partner, I just wanted human contact. And no amount of video calls or virtual happy hours would save us.
Studies have proven that social interaction is a key component for individuals to maintain their health, both physically and mentally.
In the article Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy, published in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior by the American Sociological Association, authors Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez discuss just how crucial social interaction is for our mental and physical health.
The most relevant part of this study to our current situation of COVID-19 discusses self-isolation, which is what we are all experiencing as our countries try to reduce the spread of the virus. Umberson and Montez state that “captors use social isolation to torture prisoners of war — to drastic effect. And social isolation of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals eventually results in psychological and physical disintegration…”
“The most socially isolated Americans are those at greatest risk of poor health and early mortality (Brummett et al. 2001).”
Reading these facts is disheartening, without a doubt. But for those of us in long-distance relationships, where there is more sacrifice, more loneliness, and more questioning of whether the time apart is worth the moments you get to share with them, it could be eye-opening — it was for me.
During a crisis, when you want to be with one person more than anyone else, how do you justify these choices to yourself? Imagine, you’re in survival mode, and your person is nowhere to be found. It’s the biggest elephant in the room — if you care to address it.
Long-distance relationships have never been for the faint of heart, even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Long-distance couples endure hardships and tests that regular couples never experience. Being in a romantic relationship with someone you can’t see every day or even every month is its own special kind of heaviness that weighs upon the heart.
However, this time we’re living in is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. In addition to the time apart from our SO’s/friends/family, there are additional external factors like financial stress, health concerns, changes in access to our normal diet and exercise routine, social isolation, i.e. the disappearance of normalcy.
Relationships take work. Long-distance relationships take even more work. Long-distance relationships in the middle of a pandemic are as difficult as they come. But I’ve realized, as challenging as this quarantine has been, I choose him, and he chooses me. Every single day.
The truth is, I don’t know how to survive a long-distance relationship in a pandemic because I don’t think what my partner and I are doing is “surviving”. In our relationships or in our daily lives, I think we all consistently make educated decisions, no matter how hard they may be, and try to find love, happiness, and meaning in what and who we choose.
And if you find someone who inspires you to write love songs and poetry with just one look, with that kind of stare that lifts your spirit, the kind of stare that tells you, “I know every inch of your heart, and I love who you are,” then I think it’s a choice you make, knowing your heart is absolutely in the right hands.
Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.
Image courtesy of Anthony Tran.