During the new normal of the Coronavirus, life looks a little different for everyone. For some, it means being stuck in a house with family for weeks on end; for others, it means endless Zoom conferences replacing in-person hangouts. For couples who are dating, the new “normal” looks even more abnormal.
“We were only two months into our relationship when we were pushed into quarantine,” said ShaeLynn Rickert, a student from St. Bonifacius, Minn. “So, we had a lot to figure out.”
During spring break, Rickert was in Colorado Springs, Colo., with her family, waiting for her school’s guidance. Coronavirus cases were slowly rising in Minnesota. She guessed that spring break would be extended but was surprised to hear that the campus closed and classes switched to an online format.
The change in plans meant leaving behind her classrooms, her roommates, and her boyfriend, Ian Erickson, who lives in Blaine, Minn.
“I think the most rattling thing,” Rickert said, “was realizing we were going to have at least five months of long-distance, as opposed to the three we had anticipated over summer break.”
Erickson and Rickert called each other as soon as they got the news, trying to navigate their uncertain situation. Sooner or later, they would have had to maintain their relationship over long-distance, but the pandemic left no room for them to prepare for it.
“We knew we’d have to [have a long-distance relationship] at the end of the semester,” Erickson said, “but COVID came so unexpectedly, and suddenly we were faced with having to make the transition early.”
They promised to maintain contact, calling a few times a week and sending each other encouraging texts.
“Sometimes we watch movies and play games online,” Erickson said. “We also do Bible study every week.”
Transitioning into a long-distance relationship was easier for the two of them since they both had lots of experience maintaining distanced friendships online.
Rickert grew up overseas with her family as missionaries and moved around a lot after returning to the US. To keep up with friends, she became well acquainted with online tools to create a long distance community.
“I’ve been managing long-distance friendships for over 10 years now,” Rickert said. “It is more complicated to navigate a romantic relationship long distance.”
“It’s not without its challenges,” Erickson said. “But we make it work because we both want to be with each other, and I’m very grateful for what we have.”
One of the biggest challenges they face is finding time to talk to each other. Since they both have jobs and are in different time zones, they have to work a little harder to get some quality time.
“You have to be intentional with your time,” Erickson said, “and that often comes to picking not only how you spend your time but also who you spend it with.”
With the added component of balancing life at home, and maintaining other friendships, Rickert and Erickson have their hands full. But they’re happy to go through it together, and they’re looking forward to where their journey will take them.
“I hope that we continue to grow in our understanding of each other,” Erickson said. “I hope we continue to talk often and support one another. It’s still painful being far apart, so I hope we keep finding ways to include each other in our daily lives.”
While Erickson and Rickert will be physically close only a few times this summer, they’ll be keeping their distance until the college campus opens up again.
For other couples, the distance problem isn’t a factor, but other challenges have revealed themselves.
Luke Johnson, a carpenter in Madison, Wisc., has been navigating his own dating life amidst the new normal.
For about 10 months, Johnson has been dating Gloria Bartel, an assistant manager at Dairy Queen from Janesville, Wisc. As somewhat private people, their lifestyle in recent months has remained relatively consistent.
“Mostly, we just go on walks,” Johnson said, “and that hasn’t changed.”
Before the pandemic took the world by storm, they would often go to church together, hang out with friends, or go to parties.
These days, though, they stay around home, playing board games, doing puzzles, or going on walks. They’re careful to keep a tight group of friends to reduce the risk of getting sick and spreading the virus.
Staying at home has led to experimenting with cooking, as Johnson stocks up on food to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store.
“When we go shopping,” Bartel said, “Luke buys enough for the next month, so he doesn’t have to go shopping. But then he invites me over to his house, and I eat a lot of food.”
It’s important to them to maintain boundaries with other people, so they don’t spread the coronavirus, especially because Bartel lives with an extremely high-risk person.
“I’m not too concerned about if I get it,” Johnson said. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m just more concerned about spreading it, and if I get it, I’ll probably spread it to Gloria, and if Gloria gets it, she’ll probably spread it to her roommate.”
With this in mind, Johnson is conscientious about taking precautions at work. He notices when some clients he’s working for are taking health guidelines seriously or not, and tries to compensate when he can.
“I’m careful,” Johnson said. “I wear masks everywhere, I use hand sanitizer, I wipe down my van.”
Bartel is similarly careful and only goes out for grocery shopping, work, and visiting Johnson. At work, she feels safe because of the precautions her workplace is taking.
Bartel and Johnson are looking forward to not worrying about safety every day. When the virus fades away, you can probably find them reconnecting with their church community and hosting board game parties.
The toll of these recent months has looked different for everyone. For dating couples, things are tricky, but these days can be used as a way to grow and love each other in ways unimaginable just a few months ago.