We’re all adjusting to new routines during this Covid-19 outbreak, but social distancing definitely raises the question of how couples who aren’t living together have been handling the quarantine. Enter the not-that-long-distance relationship. For those of you who are shifting from an in-person to an online relationship, I have good news: You’re not alone. My girlfriend and I have been in a long-distance relationship for nearly four years, so we came up with some tips for those of you who are new to the distance game. Spoiler: It’s about to get pretty awkward.
1. Talk about talking
Good communication is always important, but now it’s essential. A lot of us are having to define the newly quarantined relationship, so just try to be upfront and honest from the jump. At the most basic, you’re going to need to strike a good communication balance. You don’t want to over or under-do it. So talk about it: Are you a frequent texter? A spontaneous FaceTimer? Don’t be afraid to connect with them on other platforms—if sending memes is your love language, by all means keep it up. Clarify what you like and dislike so you both can get past this new virtual romance and into the important stuff, like the new season of Westworld.
Pro Tip: Give them the benefit of the doubt and remember that things like tone and sarcasm are tricky to read over text.
2. Set up boundaries
Are you already at the talking-on-the-toilet stage or are you still using filters to hide the bags under your eyes? Either way, communicate what aspects of this person’s life you’re open to witnessing (brushing teeth) and which ones you’d rather remain a mystery (farting).
Pro Tip: If you’re getting to know each other better, this could be an opportunity to open yourself up because—trust me—there will be unflattering angles. Have fun with it! I like to take screenshots of ugly expressions (mine and hers) and send them to our friends so we can all laugh at a triple chin.
3. Make time for yourself
Remember: Just because many of us are social distancing does not mean that we need to be communicating constantly. That might be your initial move, but it can be exhausting and challenging to handle that kind of pressure. We’re all able to be interconnected, but maybe your S.O. would rather listen to a podcast or do an activity solo, so be mindful they will need their mental space (even if they’ve already got physical space).
Pro Tip: Don’t take it personally.
4. Be patient
You’re both about to surrender your conversations to the whims of WiFi. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to hang up, call back, hang up, call back, get a missed call, call again, deal with a poor connection—I mean, that is practically 30-percent of my relationship. There will be frustrating lags and other disrupting connectivity challenges. Take deep breaths. We’re all establishing new routines, and this is the time to be flexible and understanding.
Pro Tip: Sure, there are plenty of potential interruptions. But your phone dying in the middle of a call? Easily avoidable if you keep charging your devices throughout the day.
5. Sex is important!
No one is asking you to be celibate, just creative. The main thing: Figure out how you want to do it. If you’re still at the no-farting stage, Skype sex could be a step further than you’re comfortable going—and that is 100-percent alright. Chat about the boundaries you want to set or things you’d really like to try. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to video-call sex—the angles, the lighting, the sound—all of which will likely make us feel more self-conscious, especially since we’re actually seeing ourselves, too. Don’t hesitate to suggest a different medium if you’re still feeling shy; sexting or a good ole phone call can still do the trick.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to incorporate new things. If you’re bored of hitting manual, try ordering some fun toys—for yourself, or even your partner if that’s what they’re into.
6. Pay attention
When you’re on the phone, avoid multitasking. It’s going to be really easy to have one tab open with a video call and another for scrolling through Twitter. Being on your phone in the middle of a date doesn’t feel as rude when it’s virtual, but your S.O. can tell when they’re only half-heard, and your eyes won’t lie.
Pro-Tip: Speak up if you need to pause and respond to something pressing. It’s nicer than letting someone talk for five minutes only to ask, “Sorry, what?”
7. Still keep up with date night
Sitting down to dinner adds a sense of normalcy, even if it’s through a screen. If you want to celebrate a birthday or other milestone, you can dress for the occasion (up or down ?) and set up some candles or a glass of champagne. For surprises, write a physical letter or send them an unprompted gift—receiving mail can be a sweet gesture.
Pro Tip: You can still take them out. On a recent rough night, my girlfriend ordered Sakuramen delivery to my door (food is our love language) and I was thrilled. You could even try ordering from the same restaurant.
8. Make time for fun
Do solo activities together. Put your phone in a good spot in the kitchen and cook the same recipe. You could try playing games or trivia. Maybe start a two-person (or more?) book club. It’s all about making time to do things you both enjoy and innovate new ways to do them together.
Pro Tip: My girlfriend and I watch TV together on FaceTime. We watch on different devices, adjusting the timing to match and then hitting mute. I recently learned about Netflix Party so we may investigate that, too.
9. Don’t let absence define your relationship
We may be hunkering down for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean your bond is any less strong or important. Try your best to focus on whom you’re communicating with rather than how you communicate.
Pro Tip: For a dose of optimism, you can make a list of places to travel, restaurants to try, and things to look forward to doing post-quarantine.