My Relationship Became Long Distance Due to Coronavirus

One day, we were sitting next to each other. The next, we didn't know when we'd see each other again.

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Collin and I met on a New York City rooftop in late August of last year, a time when we were all taking the outdoors for granted. It was his birthday party and I was crashing. The air was thick and balmy, the type of humidity that makes thousands of New Yorkers flock to beach towns on Long Island and in New Jersey on the weekends.

"I'm about to finish a book by Octavia Spencer," Collin said, after I told him that I loved to read.

"You mean Butler?"

"Oh yeah, I meant Octavia Butler. Octavia Spencer is an actress." He was embarrassed by the mistake. A wine-infused blush developed underneath his scruff, a small ripple in his overall confident demeanor.

For months after, we circled each other, never qualifying what we were doing as "dating." We were, after all, both new to New York and adulthood, each fresh out of relationships that made us vow never to be in one again. Yet we had begun to spend all our time together.

We soon found ourselves at a ramen place near Collin's apartment. It was our first real "date." We sat there talking long after our plates were cleared, realizing what was happening between us, but completely unaware that it'd also be our last date for months. We bought concert tickets for shows in March and April and season passes to our favorite movie theater. We planned a summer together, not knowing that the coronavirus would soon interrupt the euphoria of our new relationship.

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In mid-March, at my job's recommendation, I began to work from home in my cramped Brooklyn apartment. Even though we were sequestered in our respective spaces, Collin and I were committed to seeing each other. This was before we could truly see the looming cloud above. There were mixed signals everywhere—no one knew what the right precautions were. One day, we were taking the subway to a record store and exploring rows of albums for hours and the next, we were locked in a room, watching the turntable spin and spin.

After days of troubling news alerts, I called my mom. I grew up in a suburb outside of New York and, scared about what was to come, we arranged for her to pick me up later that day. I left the city thinking I'd only be away for a weekend to re-calibrate. Collin and I didn't even carve out a plan for long-distance because we didn't think the situation demanded it.

Later that night, nestled in my childhood bed, I called him. He told me he was contemplating going home to Texas to wait out the escalating situation in New York. "I really want to get out of here," he said. "I mean, you're not here anymore and the flight is so cheap for tomorrow. I'd feel safer there." In the morning, he flew halfway across the country. Just a day before, we had been sitting next to each other on the couch, taking our physical proximity for granted, and now we didn't know when we'd see each other again.

Collin and I are both wary of long-distance relationships. I was in one that ended disastrously when I went abroad to Scotland while still dating my college boyfriend. Our FaceTimes became a lifeline for me in a foreign city, so much so that I began to miss out because I was tied to someone in the States. Collin, meanwhile, dated his high school girlfriend for a few years during college and felt like he hadn't been entirely present.

Still, we told ourselves, this was different. This situation was not one we could control and we had to adapt.

I was unsure if we should lay out ground rules. Should we FaceTime every day? Call? What about texting? Wouldn't that get in the way of us doing our work and trying to focus? But when things grew dire, instead of wanting to talk to anyone, I found myself binge-watching Tiger King all weekend in the comfort of my childhood bedroom and staring at the ceiling. Collin was also going through something similar. When we did speak, we mostly lamented our inability to do anything worthwhile, both anxious about the current situation in New York.

As days passed, I began to wonder: How can you give to someone else when taking care of yourself is so difficult?

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But, I soon learned that the answer to that question is communication and reassurance. Collin and I have decided that it's OK to take it one day at a time given the current crisis. If we don't FaceTime or call one day, that's OK too. If one of us needs time to ourselves, we say it, and if one of us needs to talk, even if just to hear an "I love you," we jump on the phone.

We've also slowly formed other rituals and habits the longer we've been apart. At night, we'll start a movie at the same time and text throughout. It almost feels like we're sitting next to each other and whispering back and forth. Of course, having a screen between us feels different than being together, but our foundation was always our shared introversion and love for art in its many forms. The only thing missing is physical touch—which is definitely my love language—but since our relationship was built on our common interests, we can still recommend books, music, and movies to each other with the same fervor we did when we were together.

Before I fall asleep each night, I think about what it will be like to reunite with Collin. I have no date or season in mind. It could be weeks or months. Yet at the very least, we can plan what movie to watch together the next day. And for now, that's enough.

And for more on how to handle your relationship in quarantine, check out 9 Relationship Tips for Couples in Quarantine, According to an Expert.

Bel Banta lives in Brooklyn and works in book publishing.

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