“I have never been more in love with anyone than I am right now, and it is absolutely soul–crushing to know that my partner is 2,000 miles away from me and I won’t see him for at least another four months,” reads a recent anonymous post on the popular Facebook page "Penn Crushes."
For couples, social distancing is, indeed, a soul–crushing phenomenon. Relationships are nurtured through connection and communication, and being abruptly separated from a significant other is understandably devastating. The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and government mandates doesn’t help either.
“It’s different [now] because in summer [long distance] is finite. [We] planned when we’re gonna be back together. Now we don’t know when this is gonna end,” says junior Daniel Shenwick (C ‘21), explaining how his current long distance relationship with Lizzie Youshaei (CW ‘21) isn’t like the long distance they’ve overcome during the summer. Couple Maria Perilla (C’ 21) and Evan McClelland (C ’21) agree that not having a “date of being back together” differentiates this physical separation from others in the past.
So, how are Penn couples coping with this unexpected and disheartening new reality of being apart? Deika Albert (C ‘22) and Pryce Davies (C ‘22) facetime every day—often first thing in the morning and right before bed. Maria and Evan have had virtual “dates,” enjoying a drink over the phone and watching Netflix together. Olivia Klubek (C ‘22) and her boyfriend have played Cup Pong and sent each other cutepackages. Lizzie shared her Google calendar with Daniel so he’d be in the loop and updated about her busy schedule.
Each couple I spoke to has been doing the best they can, finding ways to keep the spark alive and stay connected despite the circumstances. But there are certainly factors that can complicate matters. Time differences can hinder easy communication; a rigorous course load to manage can limit schedule availability; noisy and crowded home environments can make privacy a rarity; sitting around all day with nothing exciting to talk about can make conversation seem stale and boring.
That’s why, as the aforementioned couples agree, communication is paramount during this time.
Some days it might just be enough to sit on FaceTime as you both study; Olivia and her boyfriend report that doing so certainly makes studying less lonesome. Sending each other memes, Reddit posts or cute pictures of dogs as a form of communication works too.
But Daniel advises couples to “be open with each other about what’s been working and what hasn’t.” Lizzie adds to just “[be] open about how you’re feeling in general”.
“Just say, ‘I’m not in a good mood,’” says Olivia.
Maria and Evan also emphasize the importance of empathy and being understanding of the situation. Recognize that one person might not feel animated all the time, so don’t expect to always have the “perfect, most engaging call.” “It’s normal to not have something to talk about 24/7,” agree Deika and Pryce.
For those who fear how not being on campus surrounded by a whirlwind of activity will affect their relationship, perhaps approach the lack of excitement as an opportunity to actually get to know the other person better, free of superficial distractions.
“Long distance can prove to be worthwhile—you get to know how you truly feel,” says Daniel.
But not all couples have been forced long distance by COVID-19. In fact, some have been forced together.
One first–year couple, a Philadelphian native and her European boyfriend, have moved into her house since he is unable to travel home under the circumstances.
Living together, especially when spontaneous and unplanned, introduces its own set of potential problems; there’s the lack of privacy and personal space, and the dreadful possibility of growing annoyed or tired of the other’s company, which is heightened by the pandemic’s suffocating isolation and seemingly lack of transience.
But Will Castner (W ‘21) and boyfriend Max Grove (W ‘20), who are currently quarantining in Omaha, Nebraska, say that though living together has definitely been a “curveball” it’s “been going well, for the most part.” In fact, Will says it's like he's living with his best friend.
“We both know each other incredibly well,” he says. And they’ve been busy.
The couple tries to go on some sort of adventure every day, be it a scenic hike or long bike-ride, and recommend for others to plan fun activities and get out, too. But not everything needs to be a climactic experience for you to enjoy each other’s company. “Try to make doing chores, like cooking lunch, a fun thing to do together,” says Will.
And just like with long distance, communication is key when it comes to living with someone, too.
“If something annoys you, you need to say something about it,” says Will.
Living with someone, especially someone you love, can undoubtedly have its ups and downs, but there is a tremendous intimacy to the experience and the way it allows you to see your partner even in the more mundane—but nonetheless tender—moments.
So, whether you and your significant other have currently been forced apart or forced together, perhaps there is a silver lining to the circumstances: you might emerge closer than you were before.