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Apart, together: The challenge of love in a time of social distance

By April 12, 2020April 28th, 2020No Comments

What happens when the one person you most want to spend physical time with is outside your two kilometre radius? Fionnuala Jones is in that predicament, and speaks to two other couples about how they’re coping with Covid…

There’s a photo amongst my thousands of crude iPhone pictures and screenshots that may take some explaining. It’s a picture of me on FaceTime to my boyfriend. I’m locked in a small rectangle in the corner of the screen, looking less than amused. My boyfriend Cian’s face – grinning, wearing large headphones – takes up the rest of the screen. He’s looking into a press, at me, having just put the phone in before closing the door on me. The height of comedy.


In 2017, Cian moved to Canada from Ireland for a year, minimum. We were eight months into an ‘official’ relationship (nearly a year into whatever the hell we were doing beforehand, but I won’t dwell on that because it will cause an off-screen argument). Against the advice of some, we said we’d try long distance on the basis that if we didn’t, we’d never know if it would have worked out.

If we broke up, we would also not have that thing of awkwardly bumping into them while buying chocolate, wine and Kleenex. And so he left, and I stayed. We wrangled with feelings of loss and an eight-hour time difference. Occasionally, we fought over missed calls and busy schedules. I booked two weeks off work to visit six months in, which ultimately made the whole experience more bearable.

The flight home was one of the worst experiences of my entire life – I’m still not sure why I thought watching Call Me by Your Name was a good idea, as we faced down the road of another six months apart. I think back on it now and it seems like a lifetime ago, though I know Past Fionnuala would beg to differ.

The night before his return, I went to see Britney with my sister at the 3Arena (with Pitbull on support, no less). I texted him as proceedings kicked off where, half a world away, he was boarding a flight. I got one tick back – it wouldn’t deliver until he landed – and thought ‘I’ll never have to do this again’.

“It must be really hard not seeing Cian, with everything going on?”

It’s a question that’s been put to me a few times since the lockdown-that’s-not-a-lockdown began as a result of Covid-19. The Irish government’s asked people to stay within two kilometres of their home – as luck would have it, Cian lives five kilometres away from me. What was once a 15-minute drive now might as well be the land of maple syrup once again, without the inconvenience of subtracting hours from the clock.

And yet, I feel fine about the whole situation. Would I rather have the option of seeing him? Obviously. But, without going too Oprah on it, long distance made us resilient and opened up a multitude of new paths that allowed us to connect in ways beyond the physical.


That said, there are only so many FaceTimes one can participate in before frustration about the situation rises to the surface. While some couples are able to quarantine together, many are not, having moved home to save for mortgages – like content marketer Claire Kane and her partner, Dave.

“We met 10 years ago,” Claire tells rogue. “Our 10-year anniversary will actually be on the 25th of April. Seems like it will be a quaranteen-aversery.” Claire admits the ever-changing situation of Covid-19 has her feeling “up and down”.

“Personally, I don’t mind staying indoors or putting life on hold for a while however, the whole situation causes me a lot of anxiety and stress.” As far as their relationship goes, it’s the potential long-term impact of the pandemic that’s making them fearful. “It hasn’t impacted our relationship really,” she says.

“Obviously we miss each other but as a couple we’re finding it tough because it’s hard not to think about how this will impact things in the longer term. We’re worried about our finances, our savings, how long it will take us to get back on track. We’re worried about how long it will be until we can spend some proper time together, although it doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Claire and Dave have been texting constantly (“The memes are in overdrive”), and sending each other small gifts in the post, to bridge the gap. Post-pandemic, Claire reckons the experience will stand to them. “I think it will make us stronger and more determined to get what we want. It’s really put things in perspective. We’re going to have to work even harder than before to get there.”


In my DMs, farmer and musician Colm Conlan tells me that the stricter regulation of movement coincided with him having already not seen his boyfriend Brian for two weeks. “We were planning on doing ‘long-distance’ anyway as he’s moved home before he can move in to the flat he bought in Dublin but Corona is making a mockery out of us,” he says.

Admitting that they are both “extremely online”, Colm says he and Brian were aware of each other for quite some time before meeting in person at Body & Soul festival last year. “We met the Friday night and kissed during Pillow Queens’ set and then Brian lost his wallet, and it was terrible,” he laughs. “I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.” Unbeknownst to them though, they had both signed up for a blind date experience at the festival the following day. Lo and behold…

“He turned out to be my date. We obviously hit it off straight away. We have very similar value systems, very similar life experiences … It was all go from there.” Two days after the festival, Colm – dying with hayfever – drove from his home in Kildare to Dublin for their first date. “He had to put eye drops in my eyes because I can’t do it, I’m too scared. I was sneezing all over his face. It was very romantic.”

Colm is currently living at home, where he runs the family farm with his dad. He admits his day-to-day hasn’t changed in the face of Covid-19, but says his social interaction is completely nullified. Brian is also living at home in Wexford, having recently gone there while waiting to move into his new apartment in Dublin. However, construction has since stopped on the property. Colm counts himself luckier than most. While his live gigs have all but dried up, life continues as normal on the farm.

“I have a rake of animals, three dogs to keep me occupied and entertained. I have access to open space where I’ll never come into contact with anyone. At times, that’s lonely and other times, that’s exactly what you need. I’m trying to keep busy by doing shopping for those who live on my road who can’t leave their houses. I’m also taking to social media with my music to try and keep me occupied and to keep me learning and practising.”

As a couple, however, it’s been a tougher adjustment for them. Despite preparing for what he describes as a difficult time with Brian moving back to Arklow, having the control taken out of their hands and the process sped up left him emotional. “We’re together the guts of a year now, but we were very much used to that phase of me driving up to him in Dublin one or two nights a week. It broke up my week because I do live on my job. It was nice to have that time to escape and for it just to be us. We managed to see each other just before the restrictions came in because we knew they were coming, and I was so delighted to be able to spend some time with him and to say a bit of a goodbye. It was extremely emotional. I was literally crying going home, but I knew it was for the best and to protect our families.”

They’re not a fan of the ol’ FaceTime and prefer to text each other “all day like 14-year-olds”, but they have started watching movies together virtually, discussing as they watch. Because Brian misses Colm’s dog Nina so much, he’s started sending him POV videos of himself throwing the ball for her, so he can pretend he’s doing it too. Candidly, Colm admits to missing the ride (fair), among other things.

“At the moment, the sun is shining, I have baby calves running around the place, it’s beautiful – it’s my favourite time of year on the farm,” he says. “I want to share these moments with him because that’s what he enjoys. “I miss going to see him on a night where I’m stressed after a tough day, driving up, getting a pizza, watching a movie, having a glass of wine… Just the very simple things. I miss him. I miss the physical contact. I miss the spontaneity.

“I don’t care what anyone says, if you’re on Zoom for 20 minutes and you’re having a glass of wine with them, it’s good but it still feels really grim because when that call hangs up, you’re still alone. This new normal is so strange.” He believes the pair will come out of the experience stronger – acknowledging that this is the biggest obstacle they’ve faced as a couple – and is quite optimistic about whatever comes next.

“Touch wood, nothing like this will ever happen again,” he says. “And if it does, we won’t be as disconnected.”

Cian is talking about meeting me halfway, in a shirt and tie, so we can look at each other from separate cars. I told him I’d wear makeup but would be hard pushed being separated from my uniform of pyjamas now. I spend my days reminding myself how lucky I am – I have somewhere to live, money in the bank and I’m healthy. ‘There’s always someone worse off’ is the default Irish mindset, and it’s never been more apt than right now. It would be great to hold his hand though.


Four things you can do with your partner to reconnect

Paint By The Pints: If you’ve exhausted your quiz master knowledge, Paint By The Pints on Instagram are hosting virtual paint nights.

Scribblio: Scribblio is, essentially, online Pictionary – perfect for those with a competitive streak.

Netflix Party: Netflix Party is a free Google Chrome extension that lets you and your partner watch whatever you’re watching in perfect sync.

Book club: A classic, for a reason – pick a book (or a documentary, film or podcast), give yourself and your other half a week or so to get through it, then video call each other to share your thoughts.

Main photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash


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