Living through a pandemic for the best part of the last two years has ruined so many plans.
Stringent and unpredictable travel restrictions have made holidays pretty much impossible, and get people from seeing their families for years.
But what of the long-distance lovers? Those torn apart by global events beyond their control, or those who live in different cities – or countries – and haven’t had any physical contact in more than a year.
It’s the star-crossed romantic stuff of Shakespeare, but in real life, being kept apart from your partner is stressful, painful and often just feels deeply unfair.
So, can a relationship survive the added pressure that comes with a pandemic and long-term, enforced separation?
The odds probably aren’t as dire as you might think. A 2018 survey found that 60% of long-distance relationships last. And, thanks in part to great advancements in technology, couples are just as likely to break up during the distance phase as they are after distance ends.
Journalist and music producer Christian Jones, met his girlfriend Lynn by chance at Marylebone Station, London, after botht their trains were delayed.
‘We ended up talking and then found each other on Facebook,’ Christian tells Metro.co.uk.
Lynn is German, she was on a gap-year in the UK when she met Christian. When the year ended, while Lynn wanted to stay in England, she also wanted to complete a degree, and it was much cheaper for her to do that in Germany – so she chose to go back.
‘This was a few months before Covid-19 began,’ says Christian. ‘It was a year and a half before we were able to see each other again.
‘Everyone prefers seeing your wife, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend in real life as opposed to on a video call. We made it work by video calling regularly, however it is still a huge strain on any relationship.’
The 26-year-old says the hardest thing about being long-distance while still being in the pandemic is that he has to always be on social media in order to talk to Lynn.
‘This in turn exposes you to friends who post pictures of themselves with their partners, which can make you feel a little helpless. Everyone around you has what you want, but what you have is 500 miles away,’ he says.
‘The biggest obstacles I’ve found are having enough time for yourself. It might sound strange but although I’m living alone, I still feel like I need to make time for me.
‘Social media is great in the way of being able to communicate with each other, but you do also feel sometimes like you’re on call when you’re always checking your phone.’
Christian says structure and routine are vital for him and Lynn to keep their connection strong.
‘We video call for 30 minutes each evening, and message a bit during the day,’ he says. ‘The regular routine is really important for knowing you both make some time for each other during the day.
‘Another thing that really helps is to keep busy. It’s too easy to let yourself “chill” too often, which normally results in sitting looking at social media or feeling sorry for yourself.’
Beyond the pandemic, there is a growing trend of couples voluntarily conducting their relationship at arm’s length. The number of married Americans who reported that they live apart from their spouse rose from around 2.7 million in 2000, to 3.9 million in 2017. So, there must be some benefits to loving someone from a distance.
Miriam Kue is 23 and et her boyfriend during a year abroad. They met at the beginning of 2020, but have barely been in the same country since because of the pandemic.
‘I missed being able to hug him and cuddle. I missed the way his hair felt in my hands and the way he smelled,’ Miriam tells Metro.co.uk.
When the pair did meet, it was often for short time periods, and complicated by the need for one of them to quarantine. It through up a whole range of challenges very early into their relationship.
‘In the beginning we felt pressure to make our limited time together perfect,’ she explains.
‘We thought we’d had to go on dates and do special things to make up for lost time, but quickly we realised that wasn’t necessary – and that took the pressure off. We managed to just relax and enjoy our time together.’
Ultimately, Miriam says this time apart and navigating these challenges together has brought the closer.
‘We got a lot stronger as it showed us we could go through anything together, after we had made it without knowing when we would get to see each other next. It was all worth it because despite all the challenges, we are closer than I’ve ever been with anyone – and we have plans to move in together in the future.’
Ness Cooper, 32, has a career as a sex and relationship coach, yet even she had trouble getting used to a long-distance relationship.
‘We met through twitter, by interacting through a mutual friends tweets,’ Ness tells Metro.co.uk. ‘We started long-distance just as the pandemic really kicked off, it wasn’t until September last year that we actually met.
‘It felt very odd for a while as I adjusted to differences that weren’t present in previous relationships, due to the distance and unpredictability to the pandemic. Planning anything felt riskier as we weren’t sure if we’d have access to public transport, or if we’d be in lockdown.
‘Also there was the possibility of meeting, not getting along in real-life, and then a sudden lockdown happening where we’d be uncomfortably stuck together.’
Thankfully that didn’t happen. But Ness finds it is getting harder to cope with the distance, not easier.
‘With how things are with the increased infection rate, we have held off meeting anytime soon, which is really hard. It seems to get harder each time we see each other and the gap between seeing each other again feels longer, even when we have arranged shorter gaps,’ she says.
‘Not being able to see body language when communicating at first was hard, as sometimes it can be difficult to fully understand what is going on and how someone is trying to communicate just through words.
‘Even with Skype and Zoom, it is so much different to in-person body language, and yes sometimes I still even wave bye to my partner at the end of video calls as it’s become a new normal when using these platforms.
‘The spontaneity of sexual interactions is still hard to form via long-distance. I’m a sex and relationship expert and I really didn’t anticipate how hard it would be. Sexual spontaneity can make you feel wanted and needed and it’s great, but with schedules and needing to book in video calls, it just doesn’t feel the same as in-person.
‘We’re only just slowly learning to plan our interactions less structured and just chat or connect online when the moment feels right.’
Understandably, Ness has found that the lack of human touch can be difficult, even just a hug.
‘He recently sent me a T-shirt smelling of him and it’s helped a lot,’ she adds. ‘Even though I’m all big for communication and talking through things, I have found it’s far to easy to walk away when something has upset me when we’re long-distance, and I’m trying to push myself to do it less and confront the problems or worries I have – no matter how small they may seem.’
In terms of advice, Ness says it’s more important than ever to carefully consider how you’re communicating with each other when you’re long-distance.
‘I recommend avoiding off-loading large chunks of information or feelings via text, particularly when it’s a relationship worry, as the other person will often read that all at once – and it can feel overwhelming.
‘Arranging a time and giving them a moment to respond is important.’
How to cope with long-distance in the pandemic
‘Thanks to technology, it has never been easier to be in a long-distance relationship,’ says Natasha Briefel, marketing director at Badoo UK. ‘Even with travel being limited due to the pandemic, we’re fortunate to live in a world where we can make connections with just a click.’
That said, long-distance relationships take work, no matter whether you’ve just met, or have been together for years.
Natasha says that while long-distance relationships are certainly possible, there are things we should do and be mindful of to keep the spark alive. Here are her top tips:
Schedule time for each other
‘One of the most important things you can do in a long-distance relationship is to make time for each other,’ says Natasha.
‘Everyone is busy, so when you can’t meet up physically, it’s important to schedule time to have a proper conversation, as you would if you were organising dates IRL.
‘It’s easier to stay in touch if you start a pattern of communication, and after a while you’ll have built a consistent rhythm. You’ll find you stick to it without realising, and it’ll become like any routine you’d have when physically together.’
Be honest with each other
When you’re talking to each other, Natasha says it’s important to remember to always be honest, which means expressing yourself even when you’re finding things difficult.
‘It’s good to remember that you may have different needs and ideals of what your long-distance relationship should look like, so talk openly together about how you’re feeling – being long-distance isn’t always easy, but it does make it easier to be honest about it,’ she says.
‘If you’re just starting out and you’re unsure whether you can cope with the long-distance element of your relationship, or if you feel funny about not having met IRL, say so.
‘Chances are your date is feeling the same, but if you both truly want to make it work, it is possible to get over the hurdle of not being physically together.’
Don’t put pressure on yourself or on them
‘In a long-distance relationship, one person might be finding it harder than the other, so always remember to be conscious of how the other person might be feeling, and try not to expect too much from them – as they may be in need of some additional reassurance at times,’ says Natasha.
She says it’s equally important not to put any pressure on yourself.
‘Long-distance relationships are difficult, and they take work, but the last thing you want is to pressure yourself into making the relationship a certain way, or ensuring the other person always feels OK,’ she adds. ‘The best way is to work together so you can get through it as a team.’
Communicate properly – and have fun
Natasha says you should take time to remind your date or partner of how you feel about them.
‘Tell them how and why they make you happy, instead of simply how your days were and how work is going,’ she suggests. ‘Relationships rely on being valued and understood, so don’t forget to communicate with each other. This will reaffirm your connection.
‘Lastly, have fun! We believe dating should be about having a good time together, so if you can’t go on dates or trips physically, try to inject some fun into your daily conversations and video calls.
‘Keep things exciting by surprising each other – whether it’s a delivery that you can open on a call, or a game you’ve planned to take your mind off missing each other.
‘Plan things for the future when you can physically be together, to have something to look forward to. While it’s important to reveal when you’re finding things tough, it’s just as important to keep the fun stuff going.’
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