Even though they’d been dating from across the country for years, one couple wasn’t ready for the separation from the COVID-19 crisis.
We were used to it. I had lived in California, Emily in New York. It had been five years. People didn’t really understand how we did it: They didn’t understand how we could keep a long-distance relationship alive for so long. The truth is, we faltered. We broke up for an indeterminate amount of time. When we muddled back together, we had bad fights and sent ugly texts. But, we somehow steered the ship through the storm. Earlier this year, we began looking for apartments in California, anticipating her move.
Then, the virus hit.
Then, I got sick.
She had visited California at the end of February before the coronavirus pandemic took control of the nation. Emily cut her trip short, thinking she might not be able to get back for work or to see her family. I wish she had stayed but she didn’t. Sometimes I think she chose them over me, but I try to push those thoughts away.
I’m not sure how I got sick—I’m not even sure what I had, but the COVID-19 symptoms were there: a sore throat that turned into a dry cough that gave way to night sweats, chills and fatigue. I was ill for well over a month.
At first, I figured I contracted it at my coffee shop. It’s a sustainable kind of place, where they use ceramic cups instead of the disposable variety. I’m not sure those hippies have a dishwasher. Then, I thought that I might’ve gotten the virus at a bar or concert in California. But as the numbers started to explode in New York City, I began to think: It was her. She had come from the epicenter of the virus. I came to the conclusion that she had been infected but asymptomatic. And she had infected me.
When I brought that theory up—she safely back in New York by then and feeling fine—things didn’t go very well. She accused me of blaming her for my prolonged illness. She accused me of blaming her for my mother’s subsequent illness. This was all being done via text messages, mind you.
Emily: In my mind apologizing is for something you say when you did something wrong that you should not have done
Me: Yeah you’re real rigid with your sorrys
Emily: I’m not rigid I just think it’s when you do something wrong you shouldn’t have done
Me: Well you know I apologize a lot
Emily: So you think you should apologize for something that was either out of your control or you didn’t mean to do purposely
Me: Humans are fuck ups. Admit wrong move on
Emily: But why would it make you feel better if I said oh sorry I probably did give you coronavirus. Like how does that help you
The thing is: I was blaming her. But, I think, more than anything I was just looking for an acknowledgment, an apology. Emily doesn’t do apologies.
We made up. But the relationship is still fraught, tenuous. We don’t know when we will see each other again. That, I’d say, is the most difficult part of all of this. It’s certainly the biggest mind-fuck, and one that long-distance couples are going through across the globe. Will we be back together this month? August? November? And will our relationship even make it till then? If it does, what will it look like?
One thing that our tandem depended on was planning: Planning for the next trip to see each other. Planning for the next trip to New York or Chicago or San Francisco. There is no planning now, not much of anything to anticipate or excite. (I’ve usually dated “nice girls,” not having the foresight of anticipating a global pandemic and a resulting frustrating lack of nudes landing in my inbox.)
We don’t know when she can move. Basically, like many people right now, we just don’t know much.
A lot of people are suffering far worse problems than ours: death, sickness, job loss, empty cupboards. In one way or another, this virus has impacted nearly every person in the world. I get it.
Emily and I, all things considered, are fine.
(It bears mentioning that she has more admirable qualities than I do—her humor, charm and dedication to her family chief among them—but this here is a rant. And rants tend to live in the negative.)
Modern love is rife with complications that are exacerbated by the existence of social media. Yet, long-distance relationships depend on technology: Lovers separated by distance in 2020 needn’t write letters like Civil War soldiers and their wives. I’m not a big fan of FaceTime or Zoom; a writer by trade, I’d rather text and email. But, that doesn’t work so well for Emily.
She also isn’t as sentimental as I am. She’s getting better about the “I love yous,” but I find myself constantly questioning how much she actually does. If this sounds like a laundry list of complaints, that’s where my mind wanders when I actually cannot see and be with the person about whom I have a myriad of feelings. It’s easy to overanalyze and be negative.
It’s no wonder why long-distance relationships often don’t work out.
It’s probable that it’ll be five months of absence from one another, barring a COVID-19 resurgence—a distinct possibility. Both of my grandfathers, who fought in World War II, probably wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy for my complaining. And that’s perfectly understandable. But it’s also true that this virus has amplified feelings of distance, remoteness and desolation. I can only hope that, in the future, it’ll be a blip recounted with a sense of removed wonder during family gatherings and on barstools.
We can all hope for that day to come, sooner than later.