Opinion

Long-Distance Love During Covid-19 Doesn’t Work

This pandemic forced me to finally prioritize myself

Photo: Tomas Rodriguez/Getty Images

When the Covid-19 crisis started, I knew my long-distance relationship would be impacted. It meant a canceled trip and reaching the one-year mark since we’d last seen each other. I found myself most concerned about my partner’s reaction to the unexpected circumstance. I knew I would be fine. Being alone is my preferred state.

Long-distance relationships have always appealed to me. My first one was in university with a friend who had always wanted to be more than friends. I figured agreeing to the relationship would make little difference. At worst, we’d keep talking online; at best, we’d have a cool love story. I enjoyed the distance and freedom to choose if and when I engaged. That is probably what I latched onto when I committed to a long-distance relationship in 2017 with a woman in Guyana while living in the Bahamas.

The relationship felt good. We spent many hours in honest, unfiltered conversation before it started. We wanted to develop clear understandings of each other, and we did, but we didn’t think about what our differences would mean in the long run or, more specifically, in the midst of a crisis.

The first year was a breeze, and the second year was more challenging due to the distance and my schedule, but the third year quickly became a clusterfuck. Despite that, I was still, honestly, quite comfortable. I was always fully engaged in my work and focused on improving my relationship with myself at the points when my partner would question me about our relationship. She would become quiet, and I could feel the tension building before the explosion came in the form of a question.

“What are we doing?”

I never had the answers to her questions. Not only did I not know precisely what she meant, but I was quite certain that, even with a full explanation, I would not have an acceptable answer. It felt like any honest answer would be self-condemnation. The truth was we were coasting. Maybe I was coasting. If we were in a kayak, I stopped rowing quite often. I was busy doing other things along the way while she kept us going.

“How are you doing, how are you feeling?” she’d often ask. I kept my answers as brief as possible, conscious that many of our conversations were about my work. It didn’t always go well because she wanted more from me, but I never knew what to say outside of my experience. Work, meals, responding to crises, and taking care of my plants were often all there was to my days.

Personal relationships are not a priority right now. Honestly, I don’t know if they have ever been.

The pandemic has significantly increased my workload, reduced my ability to gain income, and affected my overall well-being. I have found myself desperate for time alone, trying to free myself of certain familial obligations, struggling to own my home space — which I am, unfortunately, temporarily sharing — and wanting little more to be asked of me. I am a women’s human rights defender running a grassroots organization in the middle of a crisis that is disproportionately affecting women, girls, and LGBT+ people, and there is no way I can take time off from pressuring the government for feminist policy, helping women to escape domestic violence after curfew, and educating people about the harm of emergency orders that don’t consider the most vulnerable people. That means personal relationships are not a priority right now.

Honestly, I don’t know if they have ever been.

I am tired of notifications on my phone. I rarely see a name pop up that makes me feel joy or relief. They are attached to tasks and performances I wish I didn’t have to complete. That includes long conversations about the future of us. I don’t find it relaxing to talk about when we might see each other again, where we’ll be in two years, or the pros and cons of cohabitation. I honestly don’t care much about any of it, and this is a major problem when my partner deeply craves human connection and plans that concretize the future. She wants to actively dream, plan, and do everything together. She doesn’t do anything without thinking of me. While I was prepared to commit to being together, I never considered abandoning my own, admittedly insular, way of being.

The balance of the relationship self and the individual self is difficult. I am one person, but it feels like I am supposed to be split between these two states of being. That balance has always been incredibly complicated, but increasing signs of impossibility came as the days of March bled into April. I watched as people clung to one another for support, got excited about spending more time together, and talked about the value of relationships. People who were separated from their partners tried to figure out how to get flights booked before borders closed. I was bracing myself for the complaints about the canceled trip and pressure to make long-term decisions. I didn’t want to talk about feelings, but everyone around me did. I realized that most people were looking for ways to connect while I was trying to disconnect. Do I even want to be in a relationship right now?

“I feel like you’re always in a busy period. Grad school, consultancies, hurricane relief, Covid-19. Is there ever gonna be a time when you’re not busy?”

Covid-19 has forced me to come home to myself. To let go of expectations.

She needed me to agree that I was working too much and to do something about it. Yet, I see potential in times of crisis, when injustices are made more visible. While I take time to rest and recover, there will always be more to do.

I thought Covid-19 might be a buffer, buying me some time to figure it out, but it has expedited everything. Distance isn’t a hiding place for me anymore. My partner and I have different needs. Especially in times of crisis, she needs more connection, and I need time to myself to process, execute, and reflect. My exhaustion drives me to my bedroom, my sanctuary, to decompress and be alone without the pressure of conversation to explain what is going on to anyone else.

“Can we just talk?” she asks, and I wish we could.

I often say, “I just need to be quiet for a while.” As an introvert and energy-sensitive person, I need to recharge. What fuels her depletes my energy. So what now?

We can’t hold each other through a crisis. We can’t even meet in the middle. There is no compromise in coping.

Covid-19 has forced me to come home to myself. To let go of expectations. To find my own comfort. To embrace the quiet I find when I am in my sanctuary. To reject judgment from the outside world. To accept the truth about myself. To indulge in what I truly need — time to myself, outside of a relationship.

Women’s human rights defender, research consultant, gender expert, public educator, movement builder, writer. #Caribbean #Bahamas #Equality242 @_AliciaAudrey

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