This isn’t an easy time for anyone. But for couples with different passports, things are a little bit trickier. The newly coined term “isolationship” should give you a hint about what couples from different countries are up against.

My partner and I have been together for almost six years, the first chapter of which was long-distance, New York to Melbourne. Now, we’re full-time digital nomads and have been traveling around Asia for about two years. We’ve spent the past three months exploring and are now quarantining in Vietnam.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started closing the borders of every country in our vicinity, we knew that separating was not the best option for us. We contemplated going back to my parents in the United States, but with no health insurance and rapidly rising infection numbers, we figured that wouldn’t be the right choice. 

Young couple embracing and saying emotional farewell at airport
Logistical issues like time differences and via regulations can make it hard to stay connected during time apart © wundervisuals/ Getty Images

Then, we looked up flights from Vietnam to Australia, but no sooner than that, the borders for every non-citizen shut. So, we made the decision to stay together and hole up in Vietnam. But for other couples in similar situations, the decision wasn’t so simple.

Peter Maynard lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and his partner of one year lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “I was just in Thailand to visit her for a month but had to return to the US because of the travel restrictions. She also has a small child (four years old), so it’s difficult for her to travel to the US,” says Maynard. “It's tough because you can't really help, other than emotionally and financially, but strangely, it's not the same as when you're not there.”

Sarah Perera moved from Cardiff, Wales to Auckland, New Zealand, at the beginning of March. Her boyfriend Fraser was meant to be moving with her a few weeks later. But the company he works for stopped approving overseas visas due to the virus, and now the borders are shut to non-citizens for an extended and unknown period of time. “We worry about each other and can’t physically help the other out in this difficult time. There was a lot of stress for me at the beginning of my move to Auckland, things about starting a new job, choosing an apartment, furnishing it, etc. all while worrying about COVID-19,” says Perera.

lesbian couple in bedroom with suitcase
For couples who met while traveling and don't live in the same country, COVID-19 has complicated already tough long-distance relationships ©  Emma Innocenti / Getty Images

One of the many struggles of long-distance relationships is the time difference. As you’re waking up, they’re going to sleep and vice versa. “All the standard things that help in long-distance (regular contact, virtual dates, etc.) are difficult because we're at such different times of the day,” says Perera.

Couples who were already in long-distance relationships before the virus spread are forced to cancel much-needed reunions that make long-distance bearable. Mellie, a student from Adelaide, Australia, and her boyfriend from Durban, South Africa, made plans to see each other again in July after six months of separation. 

“When South Africa announced travel restrictions – no-one in, no-one out – I was devastated," says Mellie. "I cried. I ruminated. I wondered what it would mean for our relationship. I asked a lot of questions. What defines a relationship? Are we kidding ourselves? How can you say you're 'seeing someone' without physically seeing them? One of my main love languages is physical touch, and I wondered how long I could go without it from my partner.” 

Soon after South Africa announced their restrictions, so did Australia. “If there's nothing we can do about it, we just have to accept it. That's it. Other people are going through the same thing. We have to laugh. We have to use humor to get through it. It'll be a good story one day for the kids,” says Mellie.

So how are couples coping and working to stay together? “We use fantasy as a coping strategy; we get excited about the future. We've started planning our next adventure, we talk about all the things we'll do when we are together,” says Mellie. 

Planning future trips or reminiscing about past rendezvous can help long-distance couples cope with the uncertainty of separation during the pandemic © Jeff Hunter/Getty Images

But when things get particularly hard, Mellie finds herself shutting down. “Another coping strategy I've noticed myself using, and I have found similarities with friends also doing LDR (long-distance relationship), is emotional distancing. It's so heartbreaking loving someone so much all the time and having nowhere to really put that love – cycling through being wildly excited, and sorely disappointed over and over again. There's only so much of that the human spirit will handle,” she divulges.

Some couples find the world’s unpredictability easier to handle. “It hasn’t affected our relationship in any way; it just makes me miss him. Like the old days. We met in Vietnam and were seeing each other long-distance off and on for a year and a half until we moved to New Zealand to be together and travel,” says Stephanie Kloppenburg. 

Mature couple making video call
The days of waiting weeks for letters have thankfully been replaced by emails and video chats for long-distance couples separated during social distancing © Ridofranz via Getty Images

She is spending isolation in British Columbia, Canada, with her parents, while her boyfriend Dave is with family in England. “Thankfully, with technology, we can talk and even see each other online, so no worries,” she says.

For Suhail in Singapore, he says this of his long-distance partner living in Lebanon, “Her wishes, her strength and her magic help me stay positive and optimistic. I keep myself busy at work and pray that all of this ends soon, and we meet again as soon as possible.”

With countries closed until further notice, these couples can only guess when they’ll be able to hug each other again. In fact, there’s only one thing they know to be true; distance really does make the heart grow fonder.

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