The initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 demanded my partner and I enter a long distance relationship that—unbeknownst to us at the time—would stretch on for over a year. Physically, we were only separated by a few cities, but given the circumstances, it felt like a far-removed idea that we would be able to meet face-to-face for some time. For the better part of this chapter of my life, I felt bitterness toward the world that divided us, that sentenced us to an unfounded punishment. Recently, however, I have entertained the idea that long distance has strengthened our trust in each other and in our relationship—despite, and as a consequence of, being a laborious struggle.
Though undertaking a long distance relationship risks causing an emotional rift that only worsens with time spent apart, I have found that it is still possible to foster affection. There is even research to show that long distance couples are equivalently, or more, content in their relationships than those living in closer proximity. I have found that the physical blockade between us imposed more accommodations on both ends, ultimately cultivating greater patience and will to compromise. We have discovered during long distance that we have distinct ways of dealing with hardships, and appreciate that eventually, we will be able to talk through our personal and mutual stressors instead of swerving around them. Some conversations, in particular, made for emotionally draining slews of texts and calls. But in the end, it was imperative that we tackle issues that the pandemic brought forth not as arguments against each other, but as opportunities to create a solution in tandem.
Over the duration of quarantine, many couples we knew had split apart, their relationships too deeply fractured by the absence of physical intimacy in social isolation. Though feeding attachment with a touch and embrace is of pivotal importance for some in the early stages of a relationship, a seedling of emotional intimacy should also be synchronously nurtured. Studies show that fulfillment in a relationship leans on the depth of friendship between those engaged in it—a sense of familiarity and sharing common interests, among other things. Whether it was having lengthy video calls discussing the infinitesimal fingerprint humans leave in the universe or building our three-story mansion in our Minecraft world, we would spend time with each other to whittle away at the boundlessness of social distancing. We made an abundance of pleasant memories together over the last few years, even when we only saw one another as a laggy, two-dimensional image on a small phone screen.
Although my partner and I came out of the long-distance stage of our relationship relatively unscathed, we still had to surmount many rough patches to reach where we are now. Being unable to see each other in person meant that it took progressively more effort to quench insecurities about one another and the relationship. At times, a small bud of doubt might surface, making us question whether we had committed to long distance due to a sunk cost fallacy, succumbing to the amount of time and effort we had dedicated prior. Yet at the end of the day, living away from my partner reminded me of all the reasons I missed him and all the cracks in my life he filled—the reasons why I was initially devoted to the relationship.
One aspect that unites long distance couples is focussing on the light at the end of the road: An endpoint, to which the physical gap can be cinched. That was not a benefit we could relish in, as the end date of social isolation kept darting out of our reach just as we neared it. It was increasingly difficult to seek a positive outlook with my bleak state of mind, but with my partner’s support, I felt more secure in tackling my turbulent thoughts. Aside from reinforcing our bonds as a couple, long distance also provided us a chance to grow as individuals and strengthen our own emotional foundations in times of heartache.
May 2, 2021—the day my partner and I took the train back into this city—was the first time we knew we could be together for longer than half a day. On that night, we sat in the dark, sobbing to the bygone pain of being separated and to the newfound relief and joy of reunion; holding each other tightly to shield against an unease of being divided by distance once more.