When I started acting, I half-knew long distance relationships would become part of my life. Since then, I’ve learned some things about managing challenges that come with months spent apart from your special someone. But now, like many others, I’m facing new challenges with love during the lockdown.
My boyfriend and I met while working on a cruise ship. He’s from the US, so we knew long-distance was looming. We just didn’t know it would happen so fast, and in this way. Abruptly, our contracts were paused and we were sent home – thrust from our idyllic routine, thousands of miles away and five hours apart. Today, couples in a similar position may never have dreamed they wouldn’t be physically together. Many of us are staying with parents, relatives or friends. You may even live close to your partner, but the COVID-19 restrictions are keeping you apart – so you might as well be on separate continents.
In light of this, here are some thoughts to help you both get through this weird time, and come out stronger than ever.
New conversations and new silences
Ordinarily, you have a job to do, hobbies to entertain you, friends to socialise with. Lockdown strips you of all those things – stealing your sense of purpose, security, and whatever else you gleaned from normal life. More crippling for your relationship …there’s nothing to talk about! My boyfriend and I find this really hard. We’re feeling inadequate and uninteresting, like we have nothing to offer. It doesn’t feel good when someone asks ‘how’s your day?’ and your answer lasts ten seconds. I find I get more and more nervous, wracking my brains for some news to tell, and come up with zero.
That’s okay. Forgive yourself for not having an exciting life right now. Forgive them too. Don’t fear those conversation gaps – embrace them. They could be a gateway for new discussions or a different kind of connection. If your relationship is healthy, it can be enough that they’re willing to spend time with you, in whatever capacity they can – and vice versa. Use it as an opportunity to find new things to do together. Watch movies or a TV series, read Dad jokes, reminisce your happy memories, brainstorm plans for when this is over. It’s cheesy, but sometimes it’s enough for me just to have my man on the phone while I’m falling asleep. Let’s not underestimate the power of a simple good morning/goodnight text, or bouncing GIFs back and forth – just to make each other smile.
Remember, you probably wouldn’t feel the same pressure to be fun and interesting all the time if you were physically together. So why feel it now?
Dealing with uncertainty
For me, it’s important to have the next visit planned pretty much as soon as the last visit ends. Dated, in the diary and booked. Through the long months of missing your person, it’s comforting to know when you’ll have them in your arms again. But that kind of planning just got thrown out the window, and that’s stressful. Will it be weeks? Months? Longer? It’s precious knowledge that I took for granted before all of this. Like running a race without knowing how many laps are required to win – not impossible, but more difficult.
So how do you deal with that? I ask myself that question daily. What helps me, , is just to admit that it’s pretty sad. Allow it to yourselves. You have permission to feel sad about it. I’d even say it’s necessary. Naming and acknowledging it helps you know it, and hopefully shrink it. Find the balance between not dwelling on the negatives, and talking each other through it. Say ‘I miss you’, and ‘this is hard’ as many times as necessary. Be caring with how you communicate these feelings. Make sure they know you’re not saying ‘this isn’t good enough for me’ and vice versa. Everyone’s understandably sensitive and vulnerable right now. We must be gentle with each other. Be honest, be clear, be there, and I hope the weight you’re bearing lightens.
Relying on yourself
This crisis presents us with a huge void of time on our hands, and plenty of options like despair, anxiety, grief, frustration, fear, and good old boredom to fill it with. I think humans feel the need to fill that void, and you may unintentionally be filling it with destructive behaviours in your relationship.
One or both of you could be expecting the other to fill it. This can cause disappointment if you fail to heal each other’s uncomfortable lockdown feelings. You may feel ‘needier’ than before or feel more hurt when they don’t text back immediately, or not quite ready to hang up the phone, even though it’s 3am and you’ve talked for hours. You might look forward to your FaceTime all day, and be sad if you don’t feel better when it’s over. You may even blame your person for those feelings, or argue a little …a lot… more than usual.
I think the trick is to find things to do that make you feel grounded, and rely on yourself to do them. This gives you power to make yourself feel okay. Of course you and your person can lean on each other for support, but maybe you don’t have to rely solely on them. Whether it’s painting, clearing the attic, talking to friends, try to do three of them a day. I think you’ll feel in better control, and be able to lift much of the responsibility off your person. This works both ways! You’re not responsible for constantly making them feel better either.
Issues in your relationship
If you’re arguing often, ask yourself why? Both parties should look in the mirror and ask honestly if it’s them or their circumstances talking. Are you picking fights out of boredom? Frustration? Are you subconsciously testing them to see if they’ll decide it’s not worth it? Or is there genuinely something about the relationship you’d like to adjust. If so, discuss it calmly. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe lockdown is giving you a clearer insight into issues you didn’t know you had.
The COVID-19 restrictions, for all its negatives, could be helping you identify how to work on those issues. Whether that spells the making or breaking of your relationship, discovering those things can only be good.