“Hey Lucy, I saw the stats about the pandemic in Brazil. Really hope Henrique and his family are okay. How is Australia doing?” This might sound like standard chat with a close friend during the pandemic but Lucy is a total stranger. We have never met and she is 10,000 miles away but, like me, she is in a long-distance relationship and somehow coronavirus has brought us together.
I met my boyfriend Luciano during a chance encounter in my hometown, London, back in 2017 and last May we finally made it official. March 2020 began for me in San Francisco, where he lives, one of several trips to and fro over the last 12 months.
On these trips we hung out with family and friends and spent some time in Point Reyes, where we stood on a beach surrounded by sleeping sea lions and looked out at the Grand Princess cruise ship that was anchored offshore. It was not allowed to dock with its passengers, who were sick with coronavirus, and it had made worldwide news that morning. We felt uneasy and our hearts went out to the people on board but it also seemed very far away from us. We didn’t consider that it would hinder our plans for 2020, which included me making a business visa application to move to the US permanently.
Three days later I flew back to London and everything changed. COVID-19 was spreading rapidly around the world and Luciano and I watched helplessly as we were cut off from one another, unable to leave our homes – let alone travel abroad – for who knows how long. I started using my blog and Instagram account to talk about my anxiety over the travel ban and tried to come to terms with the fact that I might not see my boyfriend for many more months than I’d planned.
One day, not long after an article I had written about our situation was published online, something strange happened. I checked my DMs on Instagram and found a message there from a girl called Whitney: “Hi Rosanna, your article hits home for me, so I wanted to write to you.” She was in Arkansas and going through the same thing with her boyfriend David, who lives in Dublin. She told me how helpful it was to read my words and to know that they were not experiencing this alone. We spoke for a bit and promised to keep in touch and follow each other’s progress. I signed off our little exchange with a warm heart and called Luciano to tell him about the new pen pal I had made.
As the weeks went by, more and more couples found me. Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, France, America… They reached out to tell me their stories and to thank me for voicing their own feelings. It began to feel like all four corners of the world were filled with couples desperate to know how and when they would be able to see their loved ones again – and they were all writing to me.
Whitney and David had big plans for 2020 as well. David was planning to apply for a K1 (fiancé) visa this autumn but all applications have been paused in light of the epidemic and so they are stuck, like Luciano and me, on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
Lucy, who is from Sydney, and her partner Henrique were about to log their visa paperwork in Santa Catarina in the south of Brazil, where they live, when Lucy flew back to Australia for her brother’s wedding. She is now trapped there. “I have to be in the country to apply for a spousal visa, so I just have to wait for the borders in Brazil to open. I know I am lucky to be in a country like Australia, but we all know I would much rather be locked up with him.”
Emma and her boyfriend were meant to be together in New Jersey right now but her flight got cancelled. “All those anxieties you wrote about is exactly how I feel. I feel really helpless. It’s the unknown that I’m finding hard, not knowing how long this will go on for. All our plans for the year are cancelled or on hold.”
All of us have felt the same sense of powerlessness over the past few months and while our friends and families are sympathetic, we are often met with: “Oh, but you’re used to being apart! This can’t be any different to normal.” Yes, we are uniquely equipped to deal with being isolated from our partners but right now there is even less control than usual, and so much more uncertainty. We are all dependent on not one but two countries’ new travel regulations and handling of the crisis and it feels like our entire futures are at stake.
Whitney said to me: “What I hate most about all of this is feeling so powerless. It’s suddenly not up to us as individuals, but our governments.” Chats with partners now include updates from our countries’ daily news briefings. I never thought I’d find myself reading hospital admissions statistics over the phone to my lover but now we pore over them and what they might mean for our future.
When these stories started coming in, I was baffled that I had become a sort of spokesperson for a long-distance love club. Soon, however, I was invested in everyone’s stories and I’m keeping up to date with them all, sometimes daily. Eight weeks on and as the situation around the world has developed, so have some of our plans. Whitney is now moving to Ireland instead and Emma has pushed back her trip to December, when we all hope this will be behind us. Lucy is anxiously waiting for the borders to open so she can fly back to Brazil and finally get married.
As for me, I am staying positive and looking forward to a three-month trip to California in July which I booked back in February when this situation seemed like a bad dream. Whether or not I’ll be able to go is uncertain but I have people to talk to now who know how I am feeling, and that is a great comfort. We are all rooting for each other and unanimously agree that our relationships will be stronger post-pandemic. I am so glad that social media means we can follow each other’s reunions; I cannot wait to see everyone’s airport selfies (complete with face masks) and to take my own.
In Whitney’s most recent message to me she summed up exactly how it feels to be in a long-distance relationship during the pandemic. “We’re all just kind of waiting for that day with no more return tickets, but it’ll happen. We just go day to day knowing that one day things will be different and we can see our partners again. It’s a big change but I know we’re all just looking to a brighter future.”