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Love in the time of COVID-19

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In this time of separation during quarantine, it might be difficult to feel connected to your closest friends, family or significant others — especially without them around you. We decided to ask different people about their experiences with long-distance relationships, maintaining friendships over a long period of time without seeing each other and other connections. How do people keep love alive in the time of COVID-19?

We sat down (via Zoom, of course) with some students who were willing to speak about their relationships. We asked them a few questions:

  • Can you tell me a bit about your special person? What kind of relationship did you have?
  • How have you communicated during the time of long distance? What worked well (and what didn’t)?
  • What advice would you give to someone in your position?

So, I’d like to take this time to share some of their stories with you. I hope you enjoy them!

Can you tell me a bit about your special person? What kind of relationship do you have?

Emily Schmidt ’20: “The main person that I’d like to talk about today is my boyfriend. We’re currently in a long-distance relationship during this pandemic. We have been together for a little over a year now. We originally met on Tinder in November of my junior year. He’s about five years older than me. He works as a lawyer in the Bay Area. I wasn’t looking for anything super serious at the time, but we ended up connecting. He was also an English major in school. We bonded over our love of Victorian literature, ‘Lord of the Rings,’ things like that. We pretty much hit it off.”

Chloe Chow ’23: “My friends Sreya and Julia! They’re so welcoming, there’s a sort of communal love that I appreciate a lot during this time.”

Christine Wey ‘20: “My people are the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship committee. We’re a group of Christian students on campus. Having this family has been really special during this time because we make an effort to reach out to each other. It’s been really nice to maintain community and friendship.”

Brenna McCulloch ’20, Matt Bernstein ’20, Austin Zambito-Valente ’20, Gabe Wieder ’20 (Toontown Group): “We’re all seniors, and we have been friends since our freshman year at Stanford! It seems like senior spring is such a mythical moment that everybody talks about. It’s just really jarring to have a community that you’ve built up for three years get ripped away from you without knowing.”

Hope Yoon ’23: “There are people who I feel that I didn’t get to know quite well enough to seek out a lot during sophomore year, but people that I might have still been around, had there been more of freshman year. There are also people who I’ve gotten really close to; I know I’ll keep seeing them.”

Michael Alisky ’23: “I was dating this girl from my dorm for about five or six weeks. We had been friends for a few months before that. She’s an amazing person, but she lives in a different country. Once the outbreak started, I had to go home, and she had to go home. The seven-hour time difference kind of made communication pretty difficult.”

Emma Kerr GSE ’23: “My partner’s name is Jake. We’ve been together since high school. We went to separate colleges. Now we’re going to separate graduate schools. Six years long-distance, seven years total.”

Neetish Sharma ’23: “My friends from back in my old neighborhood that I grew up in! We grew up playing basketball together, doing homework together and hanging out together.”

Kevin Martin ’22: “I’ve been in a relationship with this person for about two months. It was two months before we left Stanford.”

Ishan Gandhi ’23: “We’ve been dating for about five or six months.”

Saray Bedoya ’23 & Michael Massey ’23: “We met through LEDA, a program for first-generation, low-income students during the summer after our junior year.”

Annabelle Wang ’23: “My friend group at Stanford!”

How have you communicated during the time of long distance? What worked well (and what didn’t)?

Emily Schmidt: “While I was at Oxford, there was an eight hour time difference, which was really challenging. We primarily texted for a few hours and scheduled Facetime calls. When he was driving to work, we had about 30 minutes of FaceTime calls a few times a week. 

It was a lot of me talking about my adventures in Oxford, which is very different than now because I’m not doing anything at home. We’ve been running into issues about what to talk about that isn’t the virus, politics or what he’s working on. We definitely run into more lulls in conversation. We actually found some conversation starter lists on the internet so we’re not using the same three topics.”

Chloe Chow: “We could spend two hours just on FaceTime, talking about our lives: our plans for the future, her boyfriend, my non-existent love life/being played by people. We play games: Papa’s Freezeria, Papa’s Pizzeria, Papa’s Sushiria, Poptropica … lots of gaming! It’s nice to do that because it takes you out of the mental space of life. You can just invest in a virtual world with a friend that you appreciate.”

Christine Wey: “Over Zoom, we’ll study together, talk about news or do anything. People will jump on the call and we’ll just talk. Although we can’t see each other in person, the aspect of spontaneity with the online stuff is cool.

We’ve also found ways to entertain ourselves using Protobowl, which is something that Quizbowl kids use. Kind of nerdy, but it’s really fun. Netflix parties and Words with Friends are fun too. We also pray together since it’s a stressful time for everyone.”

Toontown Group: “We like to play this game called Toontown together! It’s a very multiplayer-based game; you get to go around and fight everybody together. You can teleport to your friends and do things together. That’s why I think it’s a really good game for us to be playing all together. We’re always Zooming at the same time as we play.

The commitment and investment that we have in these worlds that we make is why, when we play together, we’re taking it very seriously. Thinking back to one night when we were playing for three hours, our conversation wasn’t about anything in the real world. It was all about the game. It’s nice to take a break from all the news, maintain a sense of normalcy and look out for your mental health.”

Hope Yoon: “Right now what I’m trying to do is send emails to people. I asked some people what their emails are, and I think it would be nice to write them once in a while. I’ve only written a couple so far, but Snapchat streaks and trying to text all the time gets really old really fast, in my opinion.”

Michael Alisky: “We would do messenger groups, messenger video chats and text. We had to structure our days around these calls. The time difference was very hectic. We were worried that it could put a pretty big strain on the relationship. For us, it would be easier to conceptualize it more along the lines of a friendship, just for the time being. No pressure, no obligation. When we come back, we’ll just see where we’re at.”

Emma Kerr: “One thing that we’ve had going for a long time are these Google documents that we have; we’re up to maybe 30 or 40 in total, and each one’s about 100 pages. What we do is write letters to each other on the Google Doc, and then just keep replying back and forth in different colors. That’s nice, because it kind of removes the time pressure for communication. A tradition we do is a question of the day, where we pick a topic and just discuss it. It’s kind of like a joint diary, actually, because it’s not always questions to each other. Sometimes it’s just documenting what happened throughout the day, and it makes a really cool record because you can go back and see how our opinions and experiences have changed throughout the years. We also used to send letters!

I think calls are always nice. They’re a nice treat. We probably video call once every two weeks or so. The New York Times had a fun article, ‘The 36 Questions that Lead to Love.’ We do that every two years!”

Neetish Sharma: “I find that FaceTime works a lot better than a call or a text. The most efficient way we communicate is definitely through FaceTime group call. We sort of keep adding people, and we all talk together as if we were just sitting around and hanging out.”

Kevin Martin: “We’re taking things day by day. We’ve been talking and calling a decent amount.”

Ishan Gandhi: “FaceTime, Skype. They obviously have their own shortcomings when compared to a face-to-face conversation. Everything feels a bit stilted in comparison to in-person conversation.”

Saray Bedoya & Michael Massey: “During high school, we were still kind of exploring the relationship and getting to know each other. It was difficult through FaceTime because we wanted to see each other, and we wanted to spend time together. We would always look forward to the future and talk about that!”

Annabelle Wang: “For the next couple of months, it might be hard to keep up, but I’m sure we will make an effort to keep FaceTiming and updating each other. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

What advice would you give to someone in your position?

Emily Schmidt: “My first piece of advice is probably to not bombard one another. Obviously, there’s not a whole lot going on right now, so constant communication seems to be the way to keep each other busy and whatnot. You have another life; you have friends. That shouldn’t shift now that you’re in a long-distance, virtual relationship. It’s important to carve out time for yourself and talk to other people. You will grow tired of the person after a while, and you want to make sure that you don’t run out of things to talk about.

My second major piece of advice is to avoid being passive aggressive over virtual communication. Some couples might have really big time-zone differences. Knowing that your significant other might be busy, can’t be on the phone or maybe doesn’t want to be face-to-face all the time is super important. Passive aggression is the seed of many other types of conflict and can definitely put a damper on an already hard situation.”

Chloe Chow: “I used to plan my week out by the hour. Now, I just wake up and decide what I’m going to do that day. And I think that’s how you should live your life at Stanford. Otherwise, you’re going to overcommit yourself to a bunch of activities, you’re gonna lose friendships that could have had a lot of potential and you’re not going to have the opportunities to bond with a community. Even though the stuff that you do at Stanford matters, it’s ultimately the people that you meet that matter the most. In short, don’t neglect the people that matter to you and clearly care about you.”

Christine Wey: “Take time to feel things. It’s okay to be sad, frustrated or confused. 

Be the change that you want to see in the world; have hope that you’ll see your friends again. Also, be thankful for technology! You really need to be intentional about reaching out to people and about keeping those connections intact.”

Toontown Group: “Keep in contact as much as possible. Even if you can’t Zoom all the time, text your friends and check up on them, especially now. I think we’ve definitely moved very quickly into interacting in a very different way.

Even a spontaneous call makes you feel closer to them. Just making that gesture, even if it is only five minutes, can mean a lot! Having that feeling of being with someone is so important.

I’ve really enjoyed playing Toontown with these lovely people. We’re accepting our current situation. It’s harder to connect with each other, but we’re still finding ways to play with each other.”

Hope Yoon: “We’ll carry fresh energy into next year. Because, you know, we didn’t get to finish it. So we’ll continue to maybe be a little bit impractical and a little bit romantic.”

Michael Alisky: “Being really structured about communication is helpful. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be able to find the time. Making a really clear schedule can help with the distance.”

Emma Kerr: “I mean, that’s the thing about distance. It can be a fun challenge, right? Especially in a more globalized world, we’re going to have a lot more long-distance relationships because of the spread of people across the planet. You have to learn to love the distance. Learn to be more emotionally close when you’re physically distant. That’s just the way we’re going to have to learn to operate. And then it can be really fulfilling. It’s nice to know that there’s somebody who isn’t near you that you could still trust and tell anything.”

Neetish Sharma: “Understand if the other person is busy! Don’t confuse the strength of the friendship with the frequency of communication. Another thing is just always to remember why you became friends in the first place, if things get rough.”

Kevin Martin: “Know yourself and have reasonable expectations. Live your lives independently, but know that you’ll see each other again!”

Ishan Gandhi: “Maybe not having physical cues can be seen as a good thing. You can learn how to express yourself in a simpler context. Definitely some learning that can be taken away.”

Saray Bedoya & Michael Massey: “Take a step back and enjoy the present. Be able to focus on that and not just always look to the future because you’re going to get there. Maintain communication! Try to make it work as best as you can. Make sure they’re taking time to themselves, stuff like that, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed.”

Annabelle Wang: “Value the people that you have. You can be independent but still have friends. People who care about my well-being really mean a lot to me.”

I hope you enjoyed reading these! Personally, after talking to these people who were so kind to share their stories, I was taken aback at the depth and range of their experiences. I found that after listening to other people’s accounts of their relationships, I was also able to apply some of their favorite activities and habits to my own life. If you have a perspective that you would like to share, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d love to listen to your story and talk with you!

Contact Amy Zhou at amy7 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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