Since March 2020, millions of couples across the globe have been further separated by coronavirus-related travel restrictions. By and large, partners who aren’t married have been barred from visiting each other’s home countries.
The couples have banded together online, pushing their governments to allow exceptions using hashtags such as #LoveIsEssential and #LoveIsNotTourism. A Facebook group called Love Is Not Tourism has more than 43,000 members who opine the social distancing rules they feel unfairly target them.
“We are not tourists,” the “About” section of the Facebook group reads. “We do not wish to travel and sightsee. We have one destination: the arms of our loved ones. We are willing to go into quarantine for however long it takes. We are willing to get tested as many times as it takes.”
Some countries have begun to allow cross-border lovers to meet again. In Germany, long-distance couples need to show an invitation by the partner who lives in the country and sign a statement confirming that they’re in a relationship. Countries such as Austria, Norway and Denmark now allow non-European Union partners to enter on “sweetheart visas.”
Couples in different states in the U.S. struggle, too, balancing safety considerations with their desire to see each other during a difficult time.
HuffPost spoke to some of the couples around the world and within the U.S. who have coped with separation during the pandemic.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Nana, 28, and Imola, 24
Nana Kwaku Owusu Sekyere: I live in Queenstown, South Africa, and Imola lives in Zwolle, a city in the Netherlands. Our relationship began in April 2019. We were together in December 2019 when the pandemic started to spread and chaos ensued. I managed to make it back to South Africa a day before the nationwide lockdown was implemented, but I was stuck eight hours away from home because interprovincial/interstate travel was prohibited. I was only able to make it back home after a month of being stuck in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The goal for us is to settle down, get married and start a family. But that’s quite difficult to get started with the uncertainty around the pandemic and governments intentionally neglecting to make it easier for long-distance couples to reunite. So we have to wait for the dust to settle before we can finalize our plans, because these ineffective lockdown measures are constantly changing.
Imola Meekma: For me, the hardest part is saying goodbye and not knowing when we will see each other again. We tried to arrange for Nana to come to Holland in December just before Christmas. Two days before, they canceled all flights. Somehow a miracle happened and the flight was able to arrive. So we were together for Christmas and New Year’s. Normally after a visit, we plan another flight and trip so we can be excited to see each other again. When we can’t plan anything, it’s mentally and emotionally very difficult.
We’ve worked on a lot of projects together to bridge the distance. We wrote an e-book for long-distance couples. We have an Instagram about our experiences. We read together, we exercise together, we cook and eat together. We’ve even slept together with the iPads on. We already have a strong connection, but by being in a long-distance relationship you develop even a deeper level of connection.
Chrys, 26, and Alex, 27
Chrys Chandra: I’m an international student living in Australia, and Alex lives in Las Vegas. We met each other in August 2019 when I went to Los Angeles for a holiday. Alex was a friend of a friend, and I think we just clicked. We kept talking online after I went back to Australia, but both of us didn’t want to get into a long-distance relationship. But in the beginning of January 2020, he visited me in Indonesia ― my home country ― and we had a vacation in Bali together. That’s when we decided to try long-distance, and planned to visit each other as much as we could. I planned on going to the U.S. in May, and he planned on visiting Australia later in the year, which obviously didn’t happen because of the pandemic.
The positive was that because of lockdowns and social distancing, neither of us went out and we’ve kept each other company in the comfort of our own homes. We communicate with each other really well. You have to have open communication in an LDR so we got into the habit of talking about our feelings, sharing what’s bothering us and not resorting to passive aggressiveness.
The good news? I decided to move to the states to be with Alex less than a month ago! Now, I get to wake up next to him every day.
Alex, 32, and Meg, 34
Alex Holt: My partner, Meg Rodrigues, and I met after university. Meg lives in London and I live in a village in the Midlands in England. Until this last year, we’d each been commuting regularly to see one another. We have been looking to live together for a long time. We want to do so when it’s financially responsible.
During the pandemic, everything has been curtailed. We’ve met up outdoors for socially distanced walks in the countryside when it was considered safe to do so, but our time together has been far more limited in both frequency and length of stay. With medically vulnerable family members, we have been very stringent with following the rules around social distancing. We’ve been responsible to protect our loved ones and others, too, so it feels like us not seeing one another has been us acting responsibly to take one for the team. To see other people not respecting the safety rules that are in place feels especially galling as it means not only are they endangering others, but also makes it feel like the sacrifices we have made have been for nothing.
One upside is that we’ve actually had more of a chance to bring our friend groups together more. While there had been occasional meetings before, it was very sporadic. But since the first lockdown, we’ve run quizzes and games over Zoom and Discord and it’s been lovely to get to mix the two groups a bit because we both have some really awesome friends!
Cassy and Jovan
Cassy Isabella: I live in Canada and he lives in London. I’m a travel curator and Jov loves to travel as well, and we both tend to live on the wild side. Luckily enough, when I heard the lockdown was coming, I flew to London and spent the first two months of lockdown with him. Best decision ever.
I’m back home now. Because we got to spend large chunks of time together, it’s allowed us to really get to know each other on a deeper level. I think one of the pros of an LDR is that you spend more time in conversation so you’re able to really get to know the person for who they are. Being apart also makes you miss them more ― as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and we experience that firsthand. Not knowing when we will see each other again makes it so that when we are together, we do our best to savor every moment even more so.
Kris, 24, and Jordan, 27
Kris Haas: We were long-distance starting in May 2019, when we graduated college and moved back with our families. I was in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, and she was in the Erie, Pennsylvania, area, which are a five-hour drive apart. We saw each other in August 2019 and the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2019, but then we didn’t see each other again in person until the end of October 2020, when we moved in together and got married. So we’re newly not long-distance now.
The hardest parts were not knowing when we were going to see each other again because of the pandemic and feeling guilty about missing her so much, since we were long-distance even before the pandemic. It was very much a feeling of, well, we’re used to it and other people aren’t, so they have it worse and I’m not allowed to feel bad. I felt like we didn’t have it that bad comparatively.
Sanya, 24, and Manmeet, 28
Sanya Jaffer: We have been together for almost two years now, and half of that time we have been long-distance. We lived together for eight months before Manmeet had to unexpectedly move to Tucson, Arizona, while I remained in Chicago. It was super difficult going from living with each other and spending so much physical time with one another to never getting it at all. Also, I am in grad school and my entire internship and school are remote. I get so fatigued from staring at screens all day that sometimes I do not have the energy to video chat with him when the day is over. The good thing is that he is always understanding of this and never gets upset with me for being too tired to speak on the phone.
As much as I despise being in an LDR, there are a few positives that have come from it. I have never lived alone prior to this, so this forced me to sit with being alone and get comfortable with that. I feel like since I’m now more secure in living alone, I can be more secure in living with my significant other. I think it has proven to me just how strong our relationship is and how much we mean to one another. I can’t help but think to myself, if we can make it through this, we can make it through anything.
Manmeet Singh Dhillon: My school relocated me to Tucson for what was supposed to be six months, but due to the pandemic my stay got extended for another five to six months. LDR has brought us closer because it’s allowed us to step back and take some free time for ourselves and focus on things that affect our mental health. It’s allowed us to practice self-love and practice finding peace and strength in our alone time. We’ve found other hobbies and interests that we can do by ourselves. It’s allowed us to be more independent, and that helped us be a less codependent couple.
Simone, 44, and Sean, 56
Simone Thies: I live in Cologne, Germany, and my boyfriend, Sean Gordon, lives in Los Angeles. We have known each other since 1994 and have been in a long-distance relationship since 2016! The last time we saw each other was in February 2020. Before the pandemic, we had the opportunity to see each other every three months. Either he came to Germany or I came to him. We want to get married and live together, but since everything has shut down at the moment, we don’t know when we will have the opportunity to apply for a visa and get married. But being apart made us even stronger as a couple. We made it through the worst year together! LDR during a pandemic is a nightmare. We just hope that the U.S. will make some exception like the “sweetheart visa” some European Union countries have.
Amos, 19, and Sophia, 19
Amos Whitney: We were long-distance before the pandemic ― it’s going on four years now. I live in Humboldt County, California. Sophia lives in Colorado. While the pandemic was in its early stages, there weren’t too many cases in our areas so we got the chance to see each other, but now it is simply too dangerous. We most definitely want to live together. After all, we are engaged. The current plan is I’m going to save up a couple grand to fit everything I can into my car.
Sophia Digirolamo: I would have to say the hardest part is the loneliness of it all. It’s strange because yes, he’s there. I can hear his voice and see his face, but he’s also not there. It’s almost like a form of heartbreak, but it’s constant. It’s like a strange, constant ache in my chest.
I think one of the best parts about being long-distance is the fact that we really fell in love with each other’s personalities before our physical features. There wasn’t love just because of physical attraction. It all started because we fell in love with who we really are as people. Then as we started seeing each other more, we fell in love with the whole package. I actually love how it forced us to take it slow.
Brandi, 26, and Lakshman, 29
Brandi Bandi: I live in Utah and my husband lives in India. We met online in April 2018 and we met in person for the first time in February 2019. The last time we were able to see each other was the beginning of March 2020 just before India’s borders closed. My husband and I have been engaged in the visa process for two years and are currently involved in the visa process to bring him here. The visa process is notoriously slow, but the pandemic has caused the process to become even slower. The pandemic has definitely added a lot of additional stress to an already stressful situation.
Because we have to fight so hard to be together and build a relationship, I think we appreciate each other and the time we have together more. The pandemic has definitely caused us to rely more on each other emotionally. I think we have both become better at talking about how we are feeling and why.
Lakshman Bandi: The hardest part of our current arrangement is being apart from each other. It is sometimes hard to find time to talk because of the different time zones and schedules. Despite all of the difficulties we have faced and continue to face, I am grateful for our relationship and for the things we have been able to learn together.
Samantha, 25, and Taylor, 26
Samantha Smylie: Taylor and I met in July 2020 in Bangkok while we were both solo backpacking across Southeast Asia for six months. After the trip, he came to England to meet my family and friends, and we knew we would have to be long-distance for a few months as he returned to Chicago and I stayed in London. I made a trip to Chicago in March, but after that the pandemic struck and we were physically unable to see each other for five months due to the U.S. travel restrictions. I had never been more heartbroken.
I was determined to see Taylor again, so I did some research and I figured out that I would be allowed into the U.S. if I quarantined for 14 days in Bermuda (which was COVID-free and required about five COVID-19 tests ― before flight, upon arrival, and three more during our stay). Taylor proposed to me in Bermuda and I said yes! I then stayed with him in the U.S. on a tourist visa for six weeks and we had the most magical reunion. Eventually, I returned to England where Taylor has visited once since ― to give our notice to marry in the U.K.
It has been hard and there have certainly been the occasional frustrated tears shed from my side, but we have supported each other through it all. We laugh extensively on every single FaceTime, we do virtual movie dates on Sundays, I call him as soon as I hear good news, and he does the same. And generally, I think the time apart has allowed us to cherish the time we do have together. I can’t tell you how many plans we have had fall through in the past year, but for every negative that has happened, we have always worked together to create a new plan, a new positive.
Long-Distance Love is a HuffPost series all about long-distance relationships and how to make them work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll feature advice for romantic relationships and friendships alike, with tips on how to keep your connection strong despite the distance.