Saundra LeClair did not go to Australia expecting to find her mate.
The bird researcher from Tracadie Cross, P.E.I., originally made the trip last year to do some volunteer work, but being in a new place can be isolating, and in an effort to meet people, she did what many young people do: jumped on Tinder.
She met Nick Egan, an accountant living in the state of Victoria in southeast Australia. After talking for a month, LeClair was hesitant to meet up.
She was from Canada and only here for a short time, but after some coaxing from her friends, they set up the date.
The two hit it off and were soon in a relationship.
“We had been dating for … about four or five months at that point when my visa was expiring, so I came back to Canada, expecting to just work for a month or two, save up money for another flight back,” said LeClair.
“When I got back two weeks later, COVID struck. I’m stuck here and he’s stuck there.”
The pair’s original plan was for Egan to come to Canada for a month and for them to return to Australia together.
“Right now, unfortunately, Australia is under their second quarantine …. it’s been really rough, especially now with the second quarantine, it’s a lot more strict. So it’s definitely been hard on both of us for sure,” she said.
In August, the state of Victoria went back under lockdown, with rules that are objectively more strict than Canada’s. Authorities declared a state of disaster and imposed a nightly curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time for six weeks in the city.
“It is very difficult to plan anything just because we don’t know what the government’s plans are, right? And we don’t know, you know, both of us live in different governments. So I don’t know what Australia’s thinking, he doesn’t know what Canada is thinking.”
From the beginning of their separation, LeClair said the couple promised to keep in touch as much as possible.
“We’re still very sure that, you know, he wants to come here for a month once the countries are starting to allow international travel. And I want to go back with him,” she said.
“It’s just, you know, a case of when that is actually going to be happening.”
I feel like relationships are a lot just about making plans with each other and for your future, and we just honestly can’t do that, like, we’re in limbo.— Saundra LeClair
Communication is also complicated by the time difference — Victoria is currently 13 hours ahead of P.E.I. And since it’s in another hemisphere and operates on a different daylight savings time schedule, the time difference changes frequently.
“Throughout my day, he’s asleep, which can be quite frustrating at times … other long distance couples, you know, even just in Canada, you know, have the same day. So it’s easy for them to text all day long. But for us, we really only have a limited time,” LeClair said.
“We make sure we call each other at least twice a day, so in the morning and evening, and even if it’s just for 10, 15 minutes.”
Dating online … again
The couple use a variety of forms of communication: Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and Snapchat included. LeClair said she’s grateful for the tools available in 2020, and that this relationship may have been more challenging in decades past.
“My aunt … when her and her husband had to do long distance from Alberta to Prince Edward Island, they would send cassette tapes to each other, like recording their voices so that they could still somewhat talk to each other. But it would be like two months,” she said.
“At some point we’ll both be lying in bed, you know, staring at each other, even though we’re holding a phone, and it lets you feel a little bit closer, just being able to kind of look at each other.”
LeClair said there have been some positives to come from the forced separation as well.
“When you’re physically together, it’s very easy to just sit together and be in each other’s presence and you’re not constantly talking, and for us, every time that we do get the chance to talk to each other, we’re almost like a game of 21 questions,” she said.
“I feel like we have learned a lot more about each other in a shorter amount of time than if we were physically together.”
Despite the communication tools and mutual efforts to make frequent contact, LeClair said the physical distance between them is still the most challenging part.
“I see other people progressing in their relationships or, you know, a friend of mine just got engaged and other friends are having babies and all this stuff,” she said.
“We can talk about getting married and talk about that kind of stuff, but we don’t know when we’re even going to be able to hold each other, let alone get married.”
Although it’s been difficult, LeClair and Egan are staying positive and focusing on supporting each other.
“We could be looking at potentially a year more of this or more, right? So it’s just hard to make plans. I feel like relationships are a lot just about making plans with each other and for your future, and we just honestly can’t do that, like, we’re in limbo,” she said.
“It’s been hard, but I feel like it’s worth it and he feels like it’s worth it and we’re just going to keep going.”