Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 20, 2021

Navigating a long-distance relationship during a pandemic

By LEELA GEBO | February 13, 2021

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COURTESY OF LEELA GEBO

Gebo explores how COVID-19 has affected her relationship with her boyfriend.

In the early weeks of March 2020, when the first whisperings of a potential campus closure made their way around Hopkins, I was 1) shocked (what is the coronavirus?) and 2) excited.

“This is going to be so fun,” I texted my boyfriend Justin, who was in school in Philadelphia at the time but would soon also return home to New York City. Before University President Ronald J. Daniels even sent the fateful email, Justin and I had many plans for our final weeks of freshman year: doing homework together in cafes, taking classes from each other’s couches, maybe even heading back to Baltimore to attend the Orioles-Yankees game we had tickets to in April (we could stay in a hotel if campus hadn’t reopened yet, obviously). 

This, of course, is not how the spring panned out. New York quickly became the epicenter of the pandemic, and the two-subway commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan was deemed unsafe, and thus, nonessential. Suddenly, we were living in the same city, seeing each other less than when we’d gone to school in two different states.

In April, what should be a fun memory of a socially distanced picnic along the East River is forever marred by the fact that it was bookended by my first-ever solo drive, a terrifying skid up FDR Drive in which I realized the DMV assessors likely made the wrong call on me (I like to think I have become a better driver since then; please don’t burst my bubble). 

Despite the continued Unprecedentedness of Times, I couldn’t help but feel, in a small way, that all of this was very familiar, at least for us: FaceTiming, wishing we were in the same place, cherishing non-distanced memories and appreciating even the slivers of time we were able to spend together.

Of course, it is crucial to note that missing my boyfriend is not the worst thing I could have experienced during these months. The health and safety of my friends and family is something that I have been forced to think about many times over the past year; I am eternally grateful for it and will never take it for granted again. When my parents agreed during the summer that Justin could come over, our social-distancing guard slipping at the sight of slowing COVID-19 infection rates, I knew that this was not something to take lightly, either. 

Despite the inherent risk in widening your social circle, it was extremely comforting to fall back into some of our old routines. As time went on, though, what I found myself appreciating even more were some of the things we were inspired to do because of the pandemic. In lieu of going out to eat, we learned to cook seared-tuna tacos, scallion pancakes, sushi and Nutella brownies. I learned to love the bike ride over the Manhattan Bridge. We took long walks through the city, pointing out the prettiest buildings and trying to guess their prices on Zillow. We played Connect Four, Jenga and chess with our siblings, took my dog to many off-leash mornings in Prospect Park and watched lots of New Girl with my parents. 

Hopefully, sometime before the spring of 2023, some semblance of a post-COVID-19 normal will reappear. For Justin and me, this normal still includes FaceTiming and weeks without seeing each other. In a way, though, being in a long-distance relationship feels easier post-quarantine. Maybe it is just that I, like the rest of the world, have grown more accustomed to being apart from the people I love. Maybe (and I hate to think this) virtual interactions are just becoming my new standard of Normal. 

I’d like to believe, though, that this is because I’ve seen how our relationship can grow under new conditions, and I have a plethora of new, equally wonderful, memories to miss while we are not together. To me, the unknown of the coming weeks, months and years is not as daunting when I think about how that unknown will spark even more memories, memories that I will one day come to value just as much.

Leela Gebo is a guest columnist and a News & Features Editor for The News-Letter. She is a sophomore from Brooklyn, N.Y. She is studying Sociology and Writing Seminars.

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