Suddenly Dating Long Distance? Thanks, Coronavirus
Tips from a SARP expert, and from couples, for how to make this “new normal” work
The longest period BU couple Annie Heyman and Piers Klein had been physically separated since they began dating three years ago was two and a half months—her family lives in California, his in the Boston area, so they were apart most summers. But since the coronavirus shuttered campus last month and sent students home to quarantine with their families, Heyman (CAS’20, MED’23) and Klein (CAS’22) have had to deal with the ups and downs of a long-distance relationship. And this when they don’t know when they’ll next be together again.
While they are no strangers to communicating remotely, this time feels different, Heyman says. They always had an “end date” before: the beginning of each semester. Now that benchmark isn’t clear.
The two try to speak every day over phone or FaceTime, although they’re in different time zones. “I think it can be frustrating to find time to do it and balance additional commitments now that we’re living with our parents,” Klein says. “The time zone thing has actually worked out better for us, because one of us is an early riser and the other a night owl, so we check in before bed.”
“We try to be respectful when the other person has class or when it’s early in the morning or late at night on the other coast,” Heyman says. “We use a shared calendar that shows classes and whatnot, which helps set expectations. When you’re in the same city, you expect communication. But now, it’s: ‘I’ll see you when I see you.’”
Heyman and Klein aren’t alone. Many other couples at BU—and millions more across the globe—are facing the same uncertainty. Now is a difficult time for any relationship, not just romantic ones. Friends and families are also dealing with this new normal of not being able to physically see one another.
Ashley Slay (SSW’16), BU Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP) prevention program administrator, surveyed her colleagues for some tips on how to help couples manage this challenging moment in their relationship.
For starters, they should reflect and look inward. “College students have varying types of relationships; they might have started things by hooking up or dating casually, and now they might feel pressure to put a label on the relationship. That might not have to be something you have to do,” Slay says. “Ask yourself how you would feel about this relationship if we weren’t in a pandemic. Ask yourself, would I still want to be working on this relationship? Reflect on yourself as an individual.”
Slay says that college relationships sometimes begin with a physical connection rather than an emotional one. Now that the physical connection has been taken away, feelings and long conversations come into play more. “You might be feeling more emotionally vulnerable,” she says. “Check in with yourself about if you want to do that. What are your boundaries and expectations, and what do you want and not want to share?”
It’s important to set up those expectations and boundaries. What will you use to communicate? How often? Will you have a standing time each day to chat? It’s OK to want to limit how often you talk or text, so let your partner know. “There is a new expectation that we are always available, but people’s lives have shifted,” Slay says. “Some people are spending their time in a house or apartment with their family or roommates, so you have to be considerate.” While some might find it romantic for their partner to message them right after class, others may view that as invasive, so communicate that. (If your significant other isn’t respecting boundaries, or you don’t feel safe communicating that, you can connect with SARP remotely to talk with counselors. And yes, they are there to be a sounding board for relationships that are going well, too.)
Aimee Mein (COM’22) is currently staying in Mexico with her family, away from her boyfriend of five months. This is her first long-distance relationship. In addition to FaceTime, she and her boyfriend are watching You together on Netflix. (See more date ideas in our sidebar.) She recommends that couples communicate with each other if they’re confused or unhappy, acknowledging that this new normal is an adjustment for everyone. “It’s OK if it doesn’t feel as exciting as when you were together,” Mein says. “The biggest thing that helps is finding ways to make your boyfriend or girlfriend happy from afar. It’s frustrating, but everyone is in the same boat.”
And if things aren’t working out, relationship experts say, don’t be afraid to end it. No one could predict that a pandemic would leave them in a long-distance relationship, and adding the stressors of health, family, school, finances, and more, it’s a challenging time. Maybe it’s not the right time to be dating. But if you do want to weather your relationship, just be honest about what you want.