Romance, Interrupted

I wake up every day and there’s a moment of confusion, of internal panic, as I scramble in my mind to remember what day of the week it is. I don’t know why it’s such a panic. It hardly matters.

But there is one constant every day. One thing that seemingly keeps me tethered to my old life, when I went outside and did things. I went to stores, restaurants, parties. The one thing, the one relic of that old life, is when my girlfriend, Emily, texts me, “good morning”.

Of course, sometimes I don’t get that text until the afternoon. But, hey, there’s no real reason to wake up anymore. And sometimes I need to send her one first. But this short message is one of the highlights of my day, because it reminds me that I once had a girlfriend. To be clear, I still have one, although I haven’t seen her in person for almost two months at this point.

We’ve been separated since the coronavirus shut down Stony Brook University, where I’m studying journalism and she studies coastal environmental science. We’re both back in our childhood rooms in Brightwaters and Holbrook, respectively. We’re only about 11 miles apart, yet we can’t see each other, and that seems to be a pretty common dilemma for couples our age. Older couples are more likely to live together, but for two 21-year-old college juniors, it’s not exactly in the cards for us to live together when we’ve only been dating for four – now five – months.

The evidence of separated couples like us litters social media, with plenty of “I miss you” Instagram posts that possess a level of cheesiness I’d normally mock. But now, I empathize with all these people. This really sucks.

I miss my girlfriend. I used to see her every day. Now I never see her except on the screen of my phone. My lovely girlfriend says it best: “We went from being at school together and hanging out all the time to not seeing each other in person at all. At least for a normal long-distance relationship you agree to it ahead of time, and can prepare for the change.”

That’s another problem. The separation was sudden. It felt like we were tricked. I went home one weekend to see my family, thinking that we’d have an extended spring break but figuring we could still meet and hang out if we avoided large groups. But I got home and stayed home. She did the same. 

We only live about 20 minutes apart. If we wanted to, we could easily go see each other. We both have cars. With no traffic, hell, it would probably only take 15 or even 10 minutes. I know some other couples are doing it.

But we can’t. There’s a guilt that lies heavily over us, like his-and-hers weighted blankets. We want to see each other, but we know it’s the wrong thing to do. We can’t risk it, the possibility of getting each other – or each other’s families – sick. If that happened, the guilt would crush us, strangle us. It’d be hard to deal with. Harder even than this is now.

We talk mostly via FaceTime. “We try to make it quality time, where we’re both equally focused on each other,” says my beautiful girlfriend. Sometimes we’ll sync up TV shows and watch them together. So far, we’ve gotten through “Nathan For You” and “Community.” But a lot of the time it turns into a sort of staring contest. 

There’s not much to talk about these days, seeing as both world events and our personal lives seem to have been put on pause. She had a fancy summer internship lined up with the Audubon Society. That’s not happening anymore. I had, uh, applied for several internships. Maybe one of them would have come through, but not now. We don’t know how long this will last, but everything else we were looking forward to has disappeared.

The time with her is what I look forward to, every day. I’m getting tired of being stuck at home with my family, as much as I love them. Talking with someone else, someone I care quite a lot about, can be therapeutic. We talk about our anxieties, which already existed but have been amplified by the, uh, global fucking pandemic. We complain to each other about the people we live with. She focuses the camera on her cat, who then immediately jumps off her bed and leaves the room. Interactions that feel almost normal. 

We aren’t really together, but we can be something that’s almost like being together. We don’t know when we’ll see each other next. We try not to talk about that. A wrong step conversationally can make our time together a bit weepier than we’d like. My parents would probably let me see her now, because they’re Baby Boomers who aren’t taking this virus nearly as seriously as they ought to. Her parents are far stricter, and seem to be planning on holding her inside until the last cell of COVID-19 is eradicated.

We like to think our relationship will come out of this stronger. In my mind, the fact that we haven’t broken up under this stress is a good sign. My intelligent girlfriend feels the same. “I already appreciate my boyfriend, but I think I’ll appreciate him even more having been apart for this time,” she says. “This also makes me more confident in the resilience of our relationship. Even if we need to be apart again for some time.”

I miss my girlfriend a lot. It’s a boring thing to say, but it’s true. I miss her so much that I have a near-constant stomach ache. I miss her. My lovely girlfriend agrees. “I miss all of my friends a lot, but the way I miss my boyfriend is different. It makes my chest hurt, and my eyes water.” 

But we know that, for now, we have to be apart. While the world hopes and prays for a vaccine, we hope and pray for our reunion (a vaccine would be good, too, I guess). “I can’t wait to run and jump into his arms dramatically,” says my amazing girlfriend. 

And I’ll catch her, and not let go.

* * *

Finally, the day comes. I drive to Emily’s house — it only takes 15minutes — in my dirty Honda Civic, which hasn’t been used much in the last few months. She runs out of her house, slowing down to feign not recognizing me before jumping not my car and embracing me. I ask what she wants to do. She doesn’t know. There’s still not much going on these days. We end up taking a walk in the park. I’m not usually into public displays of affection. But I need to make up for lost time. I hold her hand tightly.

By Matthew Rainis

Matt Rainis is a journalism student at Stony Brook University.

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