When love isn’t essential: long-distance relationships during coronavirus

When borders close down, what happens when the person you love is on the other side

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Here new Young Adventuress contributor Sydney shares her story of long-distance relationships during coronavirus across a border when love isn’t considered essential.

If you had told me a couple of years ago that a massive global pandemic would soon shutter borders and keep us all at home indefinitely (oh wait, Bill Gates tried to, yet no one listened. Awkward), I would’ve told you to lay off the sci-fi novels. Yeah right. Not going to happen.

Even if I had believed that, if you had told me I’d be itching to run to Canada once borders opened, I’d have rolled my eyes hard.

Growing up in Seattle, only a couple hours from the northern border between the U.S. and Canada, I spent plenty of time traveling between the two countries. British Columbia (B.C.) didn’t seem all that different from Washington State.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

Why would I be rushing somewhere so close to where I’m from after months of severe travel restrictions? Wouldn’t I be hopping on the first plane to Australia to see my Aunt and enjoy the sunshine down under? Or somewhere new I’d been itching to visit for years like Argentina or Egypt? Indeed something more adventurous than the friendly Great White North of Canada.

Well, shit….time to eat my own (hypothetical) words because that is precisely where I’m desperate to get to after months of border closures.

You see, two years ago I fell in love with a Canadian, Michael. He even moved from Montréal to Vancouver to make our relationship work so we could be close. 

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

Then on March 18th, 2020, the U.S. and Canada announced a border closure to non-essential travel for 30 days. I get it. Relationships aren’t considered “essential” by either government. Thanks to COVID 19, my partner and I were suddenly stuck on opposite sides of the border.

“They can do that?!?!” I said out loud to myself as I texted my boyfriend the headline. Oh wait, it only applies to third-country nationals, not Americans or Canadians, I followed up. Phew, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then in a cruel twist of fate, a few days later, the official announcement came out, and it turns out there weren’t exemptions for Americans or Canadians. We were only allowed to enter our country of citizenship.

Lfjlhslfhalkfdosgjshgojaflajlajfdslgj WTF???!!! – rough memory of what I texted Michael after the announcement. The closure has now been extended twice, first in mid-April until May 21st, 2020, and AGAIN last week until June 21st, 2020. When will we see each other again?

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

It feels like a lifetime since we were last together. These past few months, since we’ve been apart, have got me thinking about passport privilege.

I’ve always taken my American citizenship and the ease of travel it allows, for granted, especially with regards to the U.S. – Canada relationship. Americans and Canadians enjoy unique benefits in each other’s countries.

We have separate customs lines at airports from “everyone else” (third-country nationals). We also can spend six months visa-free in the other country. These privileges have made cross-border relationships such as my own relatively easy, especially when compared to couples of different nationalities.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

I’d never given much thought to what it would be like to be a third-country national until last year when we met Anita* and Danush,*an Iranian couple separated by the very same border that stands between Michael and me now. They’d immigrated to the U.S. a few years ago from Iran, so Danush* could pursue his Ph.D.

Then Trump issued a travel ban while Anita* happened to be visiting family in Tehran. Unable to renew her U.S. visa, she ended up in the B.C. Bordertown of White Rock.

Meanwhile, Danush*, stuck Stateside, spent a month in Blaine, a border town in Washington. The two chose the cities due to their proximity to Peace Arch Historical State Park, (or Peace Arch Provincial Park in Canada), a dual State/Provincial Park that straddles Washington State and B.C.

The park is open to visitors from both countries, no passports are required, and “friendly” border patrol officers patrol to ensure no one tries to cross illegally. Due to these unique circumstances, it’s the location of choice for couples and families like Anita* and Danush* who are unable to secure visas for the same country.

You’ll find many Iranian families picnicking in the Peace Arch park throughout the year.

From what I can tell, Peace Arch Park is truly one-of-a-kind, and no other similar space between the U.S. and Canada exists. The name is the perfect symbol for the historically close relationship along the longest non-militarized border in the world.

Unfortunately, as both Washington and B.C. went into lockdown in March, all parks, including the Peace Arch, closed, leaving my boyfriend and me with no option to see each other. As an American, I never dreamed of a day Canada would bar me from entering. We’re all now learning, in a miserable way, what it’s like to experience the travel bans our President has been throwing around since he took office.

And that historically close U.S. – Canada relationship? Many are questioning it due to the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic and lack of cross-border support. Please wake up, America.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

I understand Canada’s preference to keep travel to a minimum. The U.S. has the highest number of cases and deaths in the world. If I were Canadian, I wouldn’t want that border open until the U.S. showed a steady decline in cases.

Then again, I’m American, and occasionally my asshole American side comes out. There are days where all I want to do is whine and rationalize that it’s just Canada. I’m not trying to backpack Southeast Asia for a year; I just want to drive a couple of hours north! B.C. and Washington are arguably way more similar than B.C. and Manitoba or Washington and Florida and have been coordinating since the beginning of the pandemic.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

The reality is, though, we’re two different countries separated by a historically friendly border, but we aren’t the same. And it’s taken a pandemic for a lot of North Americans like my boyfriend and me to wake up.

I mean, the deadliest shooting in Canadian history happened a few weeks ago in Nova Scotia, and Trudeau almost immediately banned assault rifles.

“What do you mean, ban assault rifles? Weren’t they already banned in Canada?” I asked Michael. “Yeah, you’d think they were [since you know we rarely have mass shootings] but nope.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has a mass shooting almost weekly and has done little about it.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

Cultural differences like political attitudes towards gun rights and a more collective effort toward tackling the pandemic are why Canada is handling this pandemic much better than my home country. It hasn’t been politicized as it has here at home, and thanks to that, Canada is doing quite well.

Just more reason to keep the border closed.

When I’m not raging at the unfairness at it all (seriously, no matter how much I miss Michael, I don’t want the border opened until HEALTH, not political, officials say it’s okay), I cycle through a bizarre mix of emotions. I feel sad over the situation, hopeless that it will never end, guilt because my circumstances aren’t that bad and tentative optimism where I tell myself to get my shit together.

I’m sure I’m not the only one in long-distance relationships during coronavirus.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

I mean, my “at home” situation is pretty good. I’m staying with my parents and brother in our family home in a suburb north of Seattle. We have a backyard, lake to jog around, and a dog who is always up for cuddles when you’re feeling down.

I’m lucky enough to (for the moment anyway) still be employed and allowed to work from home. No one close to me has died or become seriously ill, I recognize how big of a privilege that alone is. In the big scheme of things, these long-distance relationships during coronavirus aren’t so bad.

I often wonder, do I even have a right to be upset?

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

We received a small silver lining of hope this week. The State and Provincial parks in B.C. and Washington opened again, including Peace Arch.

Almost a year after meeting Anita* and Danush,* our American and Canadian passports are just as useless as their Iranian ones with regards to crossing the border. In a bizarre twist, the Peace Arch is now a common weekly meeting place for American and Canadian families separated by the border.

If you’d told me a year ago that we’d be living our Iranians friends’ reality, my American cockiness would’ve rolled my eyes and said, “this is North America, of course, we’re [Americans and Canadians] always going to be allowed to cross the border.” Umm…oops.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

I’ve been told time and time again that our relationship is “like a movie,” my boyfriend jokes we’re in some sort of reverse-Casablanca (where we met) long-distance romcom falling in love abroad.

Lately, though, it’s felt more like dark comedy.

Forget the sci-fi novels mentioned earlier. Right now, our reality with long-distance relationships during coronavirus is more unbelievable than fiction. I mean, my “new normal” is that I only get to see my boyfriend once a week in a dual-government monitored park. Does it get any more dystopian than that?

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

I wonder how this pandemic will change a lot of things.

Short-term, it already has. Carbon emissions have dropped. No one can travel anywhere. We’re all learning how to cope with endless days at home. In the long-term, though, none of this matters. Unless we use this time of pause to truly reflect and learn lessons, the universe is trying to teach us. The drop in emissions won’t do anything to help the environment unless it’s maintained.

We’ll all travel again. But the previous “ease” may likely change unless we demand internal political and systemic reforms.

This is all on our minds. Michael and I are thinking both short and long-term about what makes sense for our situation. Short-term, as soon as that border is open, I’m racing north for at least a month (I’m working from home indefinitely anyways). Dreams of a Canadian Summer together are what get me through my weeks.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

Long-term, we’re rethinking everything about our relationship. The “ease” of cross-border love is something I fear will never return (at least in its previous form). We’re making plans, as much as we can with all the uncertainty, while keeping in mind flexibility will be key.

At this point, all I want is to be able to be in the same place and fight over stupid stuff like how to cut bread and how many pillows the bed needs.

So to anyone in long-distance relationships during coronavirus, whether it’s your norm or you’ve been forced into for the duration of the pandemic, please know you’re not alone. I hope this piece made you feel heard for a moment (before we all move on to the crying portion of our day). To anyone feeling guilty because they don’t have it “as bad” as others, it’s okay.

We’re all living strange lives right now, separated from loved ones, and uncertain for the future. The tiny upside is we can make our days slightly less depressing. We can be kind to others and recognize no one’s lockdown situation is great. I may not know when I’ll be allowed in Canada again, but I can give others a break. Between you know, my crying spells.

Do you know anyone in long-distance relationships during coronavirus? What are your thoughts? How would you cope? Share.

long-distance relationships during coronavirus

*Name changed for privacy

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6 Comments on “When love isn’t essential: long-distance relationships during coronavirus

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  1. This hit really hard! You’re definitely not alone! My boyfriend and I met while on working holiday in New Zealand last year and became long distance very suddenly when NZ locked down and shut its borders. He had a repatriation flight while flights to my country were all cancelled. The first few weeks were incredibly tough but I think we’ve accepted the new normal. Blowing kisses through the screen, hugging each other’s sweater to sleep and watching movies on Netflix Party. Surprisingly, we’re still going strong despite having been apart longer than we’ve been together! I guess that’s one of the positives of this whole saga. I realised that our relationship was stronger than I’d thought! For now, it’s just taking things one day at a time. We’re holding out hope for borders to open next year. In the meantime, we’ll be working as hard as we can to save up so we can meet when that happens!

  2. My partner is in New Zealand and I’m in the US. I have no clue when I’ll see her again. We were due for a visit in March but then my flight got canceled. I haven’t seen her since November. 😭

    1. I’m so sorry! This is such a difficult time for all us long-distance couples…here’s to hoping borders open soon. 🙂

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