By Molly Schwartz and Hailey O’Donnell
Long Distance Relationship… Unintentionally
On her way to the Eugene Airport, Isabella Ramos asked her boyfriend if he still wanted to date her. She told him she was going home to Denver, Colorado, for two or three weeks before coming back to Eugene. He told her that he wanted to stay in the relationship and that he could wait a couple of weeks to see her again.
When Ramos got on the plane, she did not know that her visit was not going to be just three weeks. She later says that was, “wishful thinking.” She ended up being gone for six weeks and three days.
Ramos is a third-year student at the University of Oregon studying advertising. She met her boyfriend while working on a show for DuckTV, a student-run television program. They started officially dating in January, and they worked on a show together the previous year.
When Ramos found out that she was going to be in Denver for more than three weeks, she was upset. She had left her home and her boyfriend back in Eugene.
In order to stay in touch they give each other the occasional Skype call. Their virtual dates include talking about cinema and a little drinking. When she told him the news on one of their Skype calls, he told her he was surprised. Neither of them were expecting that they would be in a long distance relationship.
Ramos says their relationship has changed during the quarantine. Usually, Ramos says she is the more extroverted one in the relationship, but that has been different since quarantine. She says she has not voiced all of her concerns and finds it hard to figure out where her partner stands on their relationship. Normally, she has no problem bringing up any problems. But the distance has made it harder.
She says what she misses most is intimacy. Ramos considers herself to be a sexual person and has been struggling with the lack of physical affection. It becomes especially difficult during their Skype calls, she says.
Ramos says she saw something online that said if you keep the camera at eye level that makes you feel more connected to the person. She recalls one of their Skype calls when her partner sat in his bed and kept his camera at eye level.
“It just hurt me. He looks so comfortable and literally the day I left, he spent the night and he drove me to the airport that morning. And I remember that morning we were cuddling. It was just so great,” Ramos says. “It's just been hard. It's been hard for us.”
Despite her mother and stepfather’s wishes for her to stay home, Ramos decided to buy a ticket back to Eugene for April 29th.
“I feel kind of selfish about this decision,” Ramos says. “But that made us both feel better.”
When Ramos arrived at the airport, it wasn’t the reunion she had imagined with her partner. He revealed to her that because of his asthma, they would not be able to be in each other’s homes. She sat in the backseat of his car, only able to see his eyes because they were both wearing masks. She had gotten a haircut and he had looked different than she remembered. She said that they barely recognized each other.
A few days later, they went to Hendricks Park and took a walk. They kept their distance but she still had a good time. However, Ramos says it felt more friendly than flirty. Ramos is unsure where they stand as she tries to navigate a relationship without physical intimacy.
Jenna Burns has been single for the last two years and has explored the world of online dating. When quarantine started, she had been casually dating two different men she met on Bumble. But those relationships did not last through the pandemic. She says that this time has allowed her to take a step back and notice the patterns in the partners she chooses.
Burns is a third-year student at the University of Oregon. She has been single during quarantine after “ghosting” the two men she was seeing. She says that the quarantine helped her end two situations that would have been dragged out for way too long. She says that they both equally ghosted each other at that point.
“Is he ghosting me or is he dead?” Burns says.
During this time she was also let go from her job at the UO Craft Center and picked up a job at a small grocery store. She says that the boredom might have changed the usual dynamic between co-workers. She finds herself flirting with her co-workers and questions how sincere these interactions are. Without the boredom or lack of social interaction, she contemplates whether or not they would be flirting in the first place.
She also recognizes that these are the people she feels most safe around since she interacts with them everyday.
“If I had a life right now, would I think you’re cute? I don’t know.” Burns says.
Burns has expanded her romantic endeavors, using other dating apps besides Bumble. However, she says she finds herself less likely to put in the effort to text a guy first when they are not going to meet up. But she does feel this alleviates the pressure of meeting in person. This is because there is no chance of them meeting up because of the current situation. She hopes that this will make people more genuine about themselves and what they are looking for.
She says that Tinder has become more fun and less disappointing during this time, although no conversations have escalated past the app. This is because there is no pressure of meeting up with the person or having an awkward in-person interaction.
“It’s like people-watching from my couch,” Burns says.
Without having any roommates, Burns has spent her time at home alone. Although at times it can be hard to be alone, she is starting to work more on herself and approach dating from a place of self-awareness. This includes discovering what she wants out of her future relationships.
She says she misses physical touch but she has not thought about having sex. Now that she is no longer partaking in casual sex, it has helped her realize that she wants more emotional relationships.
“The thought of having sex with somebody doesn’t really excite me right now...I don’t know if it’s “quarantine goggles” or if it reveals something about my inner desires,” says Burns.
Saving the Date
Maybe a month. Realistically, three. Or who knows, maybe a year until she sees him again. Mariah Botkin, 20, is familiar with longing. Her partner of about a year and a half, Tom Pothalingam, 21, lives in London. The two met last year while he studied at the UO on exchange. Since then, they’ve fallen into a steady pattern of hellos and goodbyes. She’s used to the heaviness of parting and the scheduled FaceTime calls. She counts the weeks until the reward of reunion, and works hard to afford airfare and time off. They have a plan in place.
Botkin understands the typical yearning of going long-distance. Yet long-distance in a global pandemic demands a whole new approach––an unfamiliar one tangled in uncertainty.
“Normally I can kind of curb the missing by knowing that I’m going to see him in the future. I guess without that tangible end, it makes me feel a lot more isolated and lonely and kind of pessimistic,” Botkin says.
She already bought her plane ticket to London in July. But this time around, the countdown has been put on hold. While the couple does all they can to stay close with daily calls and sharing songs and TV shows, Botkin says that it can be draining in more ways than one.
“It takes a lot of energy to keep talking to a person every single day when you can barely ever see them,” she says. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was worth it.”
Botkin says it is difficult to envision the world in which their paths can converge again. Even when travel returns to “normal,” what it may entail remains uncertain. She wonders what new challenges she could face when she visits next, whenever that may be.
“There are so many walls up right now,” Botkin says. She has no clue what’s waiting on the other side.
For now, virtual check-ins will have to do. Yet having a screen mediate communication offers its own obstacles.
“It doesn’t really feel like I have a boyfriend almost,” Botkin says. She feels as if she hardly knows him anymore, since he “just exists in a phone.”
With her job at a daycare suspended and her roommates moving back to Eugene, Botkin is coping with loneliness. Pothalingam was meant to visit her in March, but he cancelled the trip due to the rising global concern. Since they began seeing each other, they’ve tried to reunite every three months.
While coping with their separation can challenge her, Botkin tries her best not to define their relationship by distance.
“I try to not make our relationship about longing for each other… but there’s definitely this undertone of, ‘Oh God, when are we going to see each other next?’” she says.
They try to talk every day, even if it’s only ten minutes or less. These check-ins are a currency of care––a way for Botkin to show that she is still there, and that it’s still worth it. She says she is sure it’ll work out in the end. Until then, she’ll just have to picture the ending.
“I’m constantly looking forward to seeing him again,” she says. “Constantly.”
Winding Down, Building Up
Jordan Hogan and Ella Stuart met last September, became official in January and have been together ever since. While both Hogan, 19, and Stuart, 21, say they have come to understand each other quite well, social distancing in the age of COVID-19 has given new meaning to getting to know each other.
While Hogan and Stuart aren’t living together, they’ve limited their social interaction to each other and their roommates. Most of the time they’re at Hogan’s place, but they spend time at Stuart’s as well. Hogan says that her relationship with Stuart was one of the main reasons she decided not to move back in with her family in California.
In many ways, the evolving global situation has been a test of the couple’s structural support.
“In terms of relationships right now, I feel like it could go one of two ways. It can build your relationship, make it stronger, make you closer and make your communication better. Or it can point out glaring incompatibilities,” Hogan says.
So far, Hogan and Stuart have experienced the former of the two. For them, social distancing has been a powerful reminder that relationships thrive in balance, support and clear communication. Stuart says she’s learning to “shut up” when Hogan needs her attention. She says she knows that there are moments for connection and moments for space, and that each can be an act of love.
“Having something like this happen in the world around us has made us build a really solid foundational support system,” Stuart says.
Part of building this support is continuing to bond. Both artists, Hogan and Stuart frequently spend time creating together. They consider quality time to be a main love language in their relationship, and value engaging in activities like cooking meals or making coffee for one another. Yet they know personal time is just as important, and they honor each others’ wishes for space.
“I think we’ve gotten very good at knowing when we need to spend time away from each other. In a lot of relationships, especially at this age, you can kind of burn out because you’re spending a bunch of time together, and I think it's easy to do that if you’re quarantining with a partner. But I think at this point we’ve gotten very good at seeing those early signs,” Stuart says.
This commitment to balance guides their romantic philosophy as well. They believe in a romance that’s realistic, on-going and intentional. Stuart says that while society often equates a thriving romantic life to “fiery passion” and extravagance, she doesn’t necessarily believe that this is true.
“I think keeping the romance alive for me just entails small ways I can show my partner that I care about her,” she says.
It’s through these small things, she says, that they have created a space where both of them feel safe. A space where, in Stuart’s words, each partner “feels loved.” They don’t worry about a romantic “spark” dwindling. Instead, they sustain a warm glow.