NOTE: This article includes some lamenting feelings towards the restrictions put on couples during the pandemic. None of that denies, negates, or belittles the fact that COVID-19 has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans. Masks and social distancing procedures are vital elements in our battle with COVID, and I believe in them wholeheartedly; I recognize that my complaints on how they affect my social life come from a place of immense privilege.
Imposter syndrome. When I talk about how long my partner and I have been together, it slams into me like a car without brakes. I feel the strongest urge to use air quotes when I answer, “almost a year.” On paper, it’s true — he asked me to be his girlfriend last April, so the chronology adds up. That isn’t the issue; the issue is that no one thinks the virtual portion counts. The world wants to deny it, but we exist: the virtual couples of the global pandemic.
My partner and I met on the World Wide Web in April of 2020. What started out of sheer boredom turned into a real connection almost instantly — the mundane “I’m good, how about you?” messages quickly spiraled into long, late-night conversations about our lives, passions and thoughts about the world. I had recently been ghosted by someone I really cared about, and that failed relationship — aided by my fruitless attempts on dating apps — left me feeling cheated and cynical. I understood why people would so easily brush off online relationships.
Then there was Steve: awkward but earnest, struggling but sincere. I had swiped right because he had a nice smile and openly promoted his love for Spider-Man, but I found so much more in him. It felt completely ridiculous to fall in love over the phone, so much so that I denied it for a month or two. He understood my skepticism because he couldn’t believe it either, and that only made me fall further. I felt more loved by him from 100 miles away than I had been by any ex close enough to touch.
Moving back to Orlando for the fall semester extended the giggling, goofy stage of our early relationship. We watched countless movies, took stupid selfies and ate pizza rolls at midnight. He and I were so thrilled by what we did have that we hadn’t thought about the things we didn’t: movie theaters, dinner dates, PDA. Our indoor game days packed less of a punch come September; ordering delivery on Halloween felt tedious. We had been together six months and had barely even been on a real date, save the occasional venture to Chili’s.
Trust me, Steve and I have been through plenty of ups and downs entirely unrelated to COVID-19. Losses and exes and all of the other typical, sucky factors played a part in our assorted arguments, but the weight of the pandemic has always been our greatest strain. Limited date options can lead to cabin fever, and limited access to the rest of the world can pull us towards what (and who) else might be out there. It’s a dangerous cycle. People illegitimize what we have and — in truly dark moments — we can start to believe them.
But Steve is also the guy who will call in the middle of the night to apologize for his part of our latest argument because he can’t sleep until I know he’s sorry. He’s the guy who makes me burst out laughing after I’ve lost a game of UNO or had a supremely awful day. Even our silent Scrabble matches bring a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart because, as cheesy as it sounds, he can just do that. Yeah, it’s hard, but we’re both ready to work hard. That’s what you do when you’re in love: when the world is crumbling, you know you could find both solace and a helping hand as long as they’re by your side.
I’ve seen countless Instagram posts featuring other couples of the pandemic, and they’re really what inspired me to write this. While every relationship requires some elbow grease, there is really remarkable effort behind the scenes of every COVID couple’s cute IG posts. We’ve had to work for this and we still can’t stop, because what we have is real. It’s worth it. Steve and I fight for each other every day, and doing so has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.