By Ellie Wong
Pandemic life does crazy things to our psyches, as I’m sure we’re all aware. It makes us obsessively bake sourdough bread. It makes some people TikTok-famous. It makes other people fly 2,000 miles for a boy they met on a dating app neither of them planned to use.
Well, maybe not “other people.” Just me, as you’ve probably deduced.
Reunited with my family in suburban Georgia months before I expected, I consoled myself over the loss of a “normal” Stanford experience with eating home-cooked food and stubbornly holding on to a West Coast sleep schedule. I missed the spontaneity of bike rack conversations, greetings in the hallway turning into three-hour discussions and the ease of making friends in a hypersocial campus environment. A dating app, then, was my attempt to bring novelty back into my life.
It’s strange to meet someone online. Strange to see the butterfly effect (and the Hinge algorithm) produce my gentle, witty boy with a honey-sweet voice. After all, it was the pandemic that caused both of us to live at home (and have an abundance of free time), our shared starvation for meeting new people and my questionable logic for setting my location settings to California — it was easier than explaining to my parents why I might be meeting a total stranger in my hometown. Like a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon across the world, all of these moments built up to a relationship neither of us could have anticipated.
From the very first meme about “Hamilton” jokes in French (aren’t niche memes the language of romance these days?) that he sent over Instagram to the comprehensive list of book recommendations I still haven’t finished, I was delighted with his intentional and open communication. It didn’t hurt when he said he had to “up his vocabulary” around me after learning I was an English major. (It was a nice change from being asked what career I’d end up with using that degree.)
These past six months, I’ve since learned that there’s plenty you can do for and with someone without being together. We have done Buzzfeed quizzes over FaceTime, reawakened our dormant high school French skills by reading “Le Petit Prince” aloud to each other and sent countless voice recordings back and forth. Thanks to him, I have a playlist curator even more accurate than the programmers working at Spotify. Most of the time though, we just gaze contentedly at each other’s pixelated rectangles — trying, but never quite managing, to make eye contact.
Early on, we figured out that a main love language for both of us was physical touch. I yearned to know how his fingers would feel running through my hair or if his body would curve and mold to fit snugly against mine, but I learned to appreciate the wait. Although we talked every day, I still had my own friends and routines. I could still spend ample time alone or with my family. Staying connected was a choice we made, absent of all convenience, and our commitment day after day reaffirmed to us that this relationship was one worth exploring.
With physical touch out of the picture, we poured our energies into the other love languages until they were overflowing. Handwritten letters, spontaneous Doordash orders, anything tangible that we had touched, created or were somehow responsible for felt like a promise for what was to come. After all, nothing builds up to a first kiss like three months of anticipation.
It’s strange to meet someone online, but stranger still to meet them as more than a face on a screen. I wonder what happens after those viral videos of couples jumping into each other’s arms at the airport, whether they pick up exactly where their last text message left off or if they see a partner’s face and a stranger’s physical mannerisms in the same body.
Three months into talking, I booked an Airbnb near his apartment and flew to see him in the sunny suburbs of southern California. We were all smiles and hugs at the airport, the type you bring out for friends you haven’t seen in a few years. We shared a deep connection, yet the parts of him I hadn’t met — the way he walked, the hand gestures he made when he spoke, his height and physical presence — felt like the stories that fill a person’s life when you’re not around to hear them. My extra-sarcastic quips and his perfunctory expressions searched for the person we knew was underneath — and it took my blunt question, “Do you have a word bank when you talk?” to open a conversation about our fronts.
But afterward — what fun we had! He had a whole list of date ideas, so I happily let him plan our days and scribbled every detail I could remember in my journal at night. We enjoyed picnics and hammocks, chocolate cake box mix and stand-up comedy. Late-night croissants, sunsets at the beach and everything else that delights two self-proclaimed hopeless romantics. I mean, don’t you have to be one to try your hand at a long-distance relationship?
Death is often said to be the great equalizer of people, but I think love is the great equalizer of time. The nights he spent singing and playing guitar for me are just as special as our quiet drives around town. Waiting in line at CVS hand-in-hand brings a smile to my face just as much as our morning strolls to the bustling farmer’s market. It is much less important where I am or what I am doing, but simply being with him makes the moment feel infinite and far too quick.
My friends have asked, “Are you guys, like, together? How far is this gonna go? How will it work?”
I shy away from sharing things I don’t know, and I wish I could say with certainty that we’ll stay together. But the truth is, we don’t know. This relationship is one beautiful, long question without an answer. Our long-distance relationship takes work — to claim otherwise would be a lie. Working for something I believe in and someone I love, however, is the type of work I will always choose to do.
I’m grateful that we’ve built a strong foundation of communication and trust. These past seven months have been littered with questions about labels, practicality, future plans and more. One day, one of us might decide that this isn’t worth the uncertainty and the difficulty. If that happens, I hope we’ll walk away with love and respect and the gratitude that our lives crossed at least once. I, for one, am all the better for knowing him and loving him.
This article is part of a series on sex, love and relationships in the digital age and during the pandemic.
Contact The Daily’s The Grind section at thegrind ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.