Shruthi* and Smitha* had gotten into a routine in Chennai. They would meet almost every day, and even if they had an argument, they wouldn’t stay apart for more than 3-4 days. But around the third week of March – about the same time that the coronavirus situation in India was becoming tense – the couple had an argument. And Shruthi left for her home in Madurai without meeting Smitha.
“I’ve apologised to her so many times about it; I still regret it. I shouldn’t have fought with her like that, I shouldn’t have left without meeting her,” 30-year-old Shruthi says. She has been with her girlfriend for two years.
Until that point, they had never even been apart for over a week. Now, they are in an unplanned long-distance relationship.
Like Shruthi and Smitha, many couples have found themselves faced with unexpected challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Youngsters between 18 to around 30 are especially complex situations. Long distance relationships are already hard, further impacted when the couple has not planned for a change in the relationship. The outbreak of a viral disease would definitely count as one.
Dating is also culturally unacceptable in many Indian households, so many young people who live with families manage by sneaking around or meeting at other friend's places. However, these options have vanished. And being confined with families all the time now has made it harder for young couples, like 24-year-old Faiz* and his girlfriend of four years, Seema* (25), to stay in touch. They lived in separate paying guest accommodations in Hyderabad before the lockdown in March, and left for their respective homes in different cities around March 18. But they had no idea that the situation would spiral and prolong this way.
“We have only spoken at length 3-4 times since we have come home, when her parents have gone to a relative’s house nearby or something. Sometimes, her mother picks up the call and puts on a speaker, so we cannot talk openly. Generally, our calls are just under 10 minutes, and it’s a lot more formal – like about some news or some technical issue on her laptop,” Faiz says.
“I miss her, I miss our routine – like picking her up and dropping her off at the gym, and staying over at my cousin’s place sometimes. But we have to be careful. If her parents get to know about us, I fear we’ll never meet again,” he says.
Had the pandemic not happened, 32-year-old Vinay* and his girlfriend would have been living together in Australia by now. The couple has been together for over four years, and were hoping that this would finally be their chance to be together on their terms, as Vinay’s girlfriend’s parents don’t approve of the relationship. She went to Australia earlier this year, and Vinay has been waiting for his visa. But now, there is no certainty of when he will get it.
“She says that Australia wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Vinay says. “It’s all the more difficult because of the uncertainty of when we’ll be able to meet. She is extremely lonely there, and breaks down often. I have to put up a strong face for her, support her, but it breaks my heart too.”
Image for representation. Edward Jenner/Pexels
For some, the heartbreak of ending a relationship has been intensified by the situation. Bengaluru-based Vignesh* broke up with his girlfriend a little before the lockdown. It was a mutual decision, and they had been talking about it since February because her family would never have agreed to their inter-faith relationship, the 28-year-old says.
“She wasn’t in a good space, so I was giving her space and not asking her to meet. But March came, and her folks took her to her hometown. They had started searching for a match for her, and now things will hasten since she is at home,” Vignesh says.
“I wish I could have met her just once more. If her match is fixed, there is no way she will meet me again. Then, I will always regret not meeting her one last time,” he says.
Some couples, like Shruthi and Smitha have been slightly luckier – they managed a chance meeting despite the circumstances when Smitha got an e-pass around two weeks ago and surprised Shruthi by coming to Madurai. But they had to be extra careful. “My folks only know her as a friend. Since she came from Chennai, everyone was a bit conscious. Even she didn’t sit close to anyone. We had masks on the entire time,” Shruthi shares.
“Spending time together was enough, but it’s really, really hard being unable to give her a hug or a good night kiss. It’s horrible.”
Contrary to most couples TNM spoke to, Mumbai-based Ravi* and his Hyderabad-based girlfriend Ria* started dating just two months ago, and have never met. Distance has not been much of a bother, Ravi says as they keep in touch virtually, on social media, and have even met each other’s friends virtually.
“The only difference is, we’d probably have flown to each other and met by now had the pandemic not happened. But it’s been great so far,” the 22-year-old says.
While the couple have engaged in virtual sexual intimacy, Ravi, who is polyamorous, says that instant gratification is not really something he can take for granted in the months to come. “Ria and I are both poly, and while we are each other’s primary partners, at this point, even if we find someone else in our respective cities whom we want to date, we’ll have to give the connection a couple of months. We’ll have to ensure that the other person is taking precautions [pertaining to COVID-19], and has been safe, before getting intimate with them,” Ravi says.
And emotional compatibility may not always translate to physical one too. Sakshi, a 22-year-old advertising professional is all too aware of this. She has been speaking to a guy for around six months now. While she is in Mumbai, he is in Delhi. “I am not the sort of person who has feelings for someone quickly. So now that I have connected with this person, I don’t want to let go. But no matter how long you remain in touch virtually, you won’t really know how you click till you meet in person,” she says.
Sakshi says she’s ready to “wait for years” if she has to, to see him, but the pandemic is testing her romantic streak as well. “If we don’t click physically, sexually, it will be a deal breaker. Even if I book a flight to Delhi on impulse, it’s not like we can be intimate. And I am already so emotionally invested. We’ll just have to wait it out,” she says.
Image for representation. Gutavo Fring/Pexels
But waiting for things to come back to normal can be hard. Artist and curator Vineetha* had met up with a guy around four times when it was allowed in Bengaluru, but there was no way to build memories over food, movies or other activities as everything was shut. “Maybe you can sustain an existing relationship like this, but for me, it was hard to build something up just over texts and bare dates,” the 29-year-old says.
Still, there are happier takeaways as well. Shruthi says that she and Smitha no longer fight over silly things. “The pandemic made us cherish our moments together more. More laughter, more conversations, more understanding. We’re not together, but we’re stronger.”