The coronavirus travel ban has put an end to reunions for couples in long distance relationships that are currently facing indefinite separation.
Prior to COVID-19, many couples in long distance relationships were used to scheduling regular in-person visits with their partners, but the closure of both state and national borders have left flights grounded and couples feeling stranded.
Relationship expert and dating coach Debbie Rivers said long distance (LD) couples had faced major changes to their relationships since the pandemic began at the start of the year.
“COVID has been happening since March… and we won’t be travelling any time soon,” Ms Rivers said.
Ms Rivers said there was no way to know when couples in long distance relationships would see each other in person again.
“As much as you can talk, it’s not the same as physically being with someone, and there’s been something called skin hunger that’s come up during COVID where people crave that connection,” she said.
Coronavirus travel restrictions have impacted LD couples all over the world.
Emily Joy and Ace Chen have been in a long distance relationship since January.
Ms Joy lives in London and Mr Chen is based in Europe for work.
The couple, aged 23 and 24 respectively, met when Mr Chen visited London for a holiday.
“We got along straight away [and] spent the rest of Ace’s holiday together, and it was magical,” Ms Joy said.
“We’re now making slow plans towards our next adventure to see each other, but taking it one step at a time due to COVID,” she said.
Mr Chen said he had planned to take Ms Joy to Taiwan in July to meet his parents for the first time.
“It’d been over 16 months since I’d seen my parents and we were due to fly to Taiwan this July so Emily could meet them,” said Mr Chen.
“We were then going to fly to Vietnam to spend a romantic fortnight exploring, but all these plans were cancelled due to COVID,” he said.
Despite the disruption to their relationship, the couple agreed to work through it.
“I don’t care where we are, I just want to be with her,” Mr Chen said.
National executive officer of Relationships Australia, Nick Tebbey, said LD couples who saw each other regularly before coronavirus would struggle to remain apart.
“Long distance relationships that require ongoing physical contact certainly would be suffering if they’re impacted by restrictions taking place right now,” Mr Tebbey said.
“But, if any group is used to maintaining distance, it’s people in long distance relationships,” he said.
Ms Rivers said having regular virtual dates could help separated couples feel more connected, and said LD couples should consider organising ‘date nights’ over video chat.
“You could have your computer on and cook together or listen to your favourite music,” Ms Rivers said.
“It can be like you’re physically together, so absolutely be creative,” she said.
According to a study by Relationships Australia, there is an increasing trend towards people encountering a partner online before physically meeting them.
Twenty-one-year-old Paula Huzarska lives in Poland while her boyfriend lives in South Korea.
Ms Huzarska found her 26-year-old partner on socialisation app MEEFF and hasn’t yet met him in person.
“I really can’t wait [to meet him], but coronavirus has made things so bad that we can’t meet,” Ms Huzarska said.
“Our hearts hurt so badly… but we try to stay positive,” she said.
“When we finally meet it will be so lovely because it’ll show us we survived this hard time.”
Mr Tebbey said LD couples in online relationships wouldn’t be meeting any time soon.
“There are many couples that build their relationship in the online space before they physically meet, but what we have to accept right now with COVID is that it may be very difficult to meet for the foreseeable future,” Mr Tebbey said.
“Even when meeting is possible, there’s this great uncertainty around the need to maintain health and safety in response to the virus,” he said.
Hannah Varnham, 28, hasn’t seen her partner Juan José, 41, since March 15.
Mr José lives in Panama while Ms Varnham lives in London.
The couple met on a cruise ship and have been together for a year and a half.
Ms Varnham is navigating a six-hour time difference between her and Mr José’s locations.
“We’ve kept in such good communication, which has helped, and that’s been hard with the time difference but [communication] really is key,” Ms Varnham said.
“We still have the same chemistry and laugh and talk [over FaceTime], but we also have our down days,” she said.
“It’s hard when the other person is having a bad day and you can’t be there to support them or hug them and tell them it’ll be okay.”
“It makes me feel like an awful girlfriend at times because I can’t make things better as I’m not there in person,” Ms Varnham said.
“I have days where I’ll cry myself to sleep because I miss him so much and there’s no date in sight that we’ll be back together again,” she said.
Mr Tebbey said being apart from a loved one during COVID-19 could exacerbate mental health issues.
“Separation impacts mental health in many ways, but the big one is feelings of social isolation, and there’s also anxiety for the health and wellbeing of your loved ones,” Mr Tebbey said.
“Then there’re people who are anxious for themselves because of COVID, who don’t have support immediately available to them from their loved ones,” he said.
Ms Rivers said long distance couples could manage the indefinite separation during the pandemic with commitment and communication.
“Strong communication about what you want and need is important to get to know each other deeper and stronger,” Ms Rivers said.
“You have the chance to build a really firm foundation.”