Going long-distance is, of course, a challenge for just about any couple—even ones who have been an “us” for a long time. But Johnson has found that the most successful long-distance relationships are between people who have been together for enough time that they have shared memories—or even images or artifacts (say, a partner’s sweater)—to spend time with or revisit when they miss each other. Couples who have just recently started dating “may not know each other well enough to have those,” Johnson said, “and that may be one reason [new relationships] are dying more quickly.” Other key ingredients in successful long-distance relationships, she added, include a consistent visiting schedule and, ideally, a concrete end date for when the two parties can be permanently in the same place again—luxuries that new couples separated because of the pandemic don’t have.
The alternative, though, is no less intimidating. If couples don’t want to be long-distance but do want to keep dating, they can either take the plunge and move in together, or sacrifice the company of other friends to create an exclusive quarantine partnership between their two households. Both indicate a pretty serious dedication to a relatively new, perhaps even still vaguely defined, relationship—and the person who suggests such drastic measures runs the risk of alarming or overwhelming their new partner. Coronavirus protocols “are forcing people to talk about that commitment question earlier than they might otherwise,” Johnson said. For some, it may be too much too soon.
Certainly, not all dating relationships that began just before the pandemic have been casualties of it. Steven, 31 (who asked to be identified only by his first name to avoid being recognized by people who know him professionally), started seeing someone who lived in the neighborhood adjacent to his in Brooklyn right before stay-at-home orders went into effect. Both parties have been careful about minimizing their exposure to the virus, he told me, limiting their interactions to FaceTime and attending virtual events together (such as a sake-tasting webinar, in which samples were delivered to attendees ahead of time). Earlier this month, they made their relationship official, and last week, Steven and his now-girlfriend hung out together in person for the first time since March, at a six-foot distance, in her neighborhood.
Laura, 18 (who also asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her privacy), was initially worried when we spoke in March that the guy she’d just started seeing on her college campus would forget about her or begin flirting with someone else after classes were canceled and students were sent home. Two weeks ago, she made the three-hour drive from her home in Pennsylvania to meet his whole family. (Because he lives in a small town where few places are crowded, Laura said, they forwent any social-distancing measures at his home—but spent a large chunk of their time together outdoors.)