couples

'My partner's in France. I'm in Australia. And it might be years before I see him again.'

February 2020 looked very different to our current reality. From what I remember, the virus was still distant to us in Australia or, at least, it was yet to truly impact our everyday lives.

We were at Sydney’s Central Station bus stop, and my partner Leo was about to board a coach to Melbourne where he would then fly back to his home in France.

WATCH: Horoscopes in isolation. Post continues below.

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If I had known a global pandemic was just around the corner, maybe I would have squeezed him just a little bit longer, but the bus lady was already pretty annoyed at us for dragging out our goodbye and could she not just GIVE US A MOMENT LONGER PLEASE TO BE DRAMATIC AND EMOTIONAL?!

This not only marked the end of Leo’s two-year adventure in Australia, but the beginning of a new chapter for our two-year relationship as well. I met him pretty early on in his travels here and kind of messed up his whole crazy backpacking adult-gap-year plan.

From the start, we knew things were going to be difficult because there was a clock on our heads and a looming end date for his visa. We had explored multiple different options for him to stay, but it became increasingly obvious that he was going to have to go back home eventually.

Knowing this, we still decided to pursue it and try our best to live in the moment. We both fell hard and fast. What unfolded was the most wonderful two years of my life. The relationship was serious, yet playful, stable yet endlessly evolving and as blissful as it was plagued with intermittent pangs of dread about our inevitable future.

Image: Supplied.
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And so, in those final moments at the bus stop when we were fumbling through mutually reassuring each other - there was an odd feeling of excruciating heartache alongside a feeling of preparedness. We had known this was coming since the day we met.

We had decided to stay together and do long-distance because we just weren’t ready to give up. We recognised in each other a sense of something real - something that had been absent from our previous relationships. We knew it would be difficult, but we were determined to make it work.

And so we said goodbye and it was sad, but I was comforted in knowing that I would fly over there in June which was only a few months away and the pain would be alleviated, at least for a few weeks. Knowing that I would see him again soon made the prospect of us being apart slightly less painful.

Believe it or not, it was almost a nice thought that we would have a healthy space between us, to be alone and to focus on other important things in our lives. I think I had romanticised the idea of this impending cross-continental relationship so much so that a lot of my friends said they were surprised at how well I was handling it. Basically, I wasn’t that worried about it all. I was overly confident that everything would work out just fine.

***

The first few weeks were good, almost fun. There was a certain novelty to it all, we were running on adrenaline and were excited by little things like Facetiming and chatting in different time zones. I’d send him Aussie snacks in the mail and he’d send me postcards - little physical touches to give the relationship a much-missed physical dimension.

It was actually a refreshing feeling to get the chance to miss him and I found myself having experiences and conversations that I couldn’t wait to relay to him. We’d send each other a constant stream of nostalgic pictures and reminisce about everything from the time we had our first date and we could hardly understand each other’s thick accents - to the time I spent summer with his family in Normandy.

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Leo and I in Sicily. Image: Supplied.

When coronavirus hit Europe and the rest of the world, we were pretty naive about the implications it would have for us. We spent our conversations chatting about lighthearted things like comparing our family’s different approaches to stockpiling. His family, who live in a rural village, were frantically collecting firewood and had a wild boar hanging in their basement, for example - while we were hoarding toilet paper and canned beans from Woolies.

But as the weeks went by and we turned into each other’s international correspondents for the pandemic, it dawned on us pretty quickly that this situation was going to change our timeline pretty dramatically.

The prospect of me flying over there to visit was off the cards and what we thought was going to be a short separation was looking like something a lot more long-term.

***

As it currently stands, international travel is banned indefinitely.

I’d heard about couples who were separated because of coronavirus - people having to go back to their home countries and leave their partners behind - but what about couples that were already apart, and then coronavirus hit?

What does this mean for us?

What actually is a long-distance relationship with no light at the end of the tunnel? No finite date to see each other?

Are we just digital pen pals that also happen to like each other, like a lot?

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What’s holding us together?

How do you navigate a path when no map for it has ever been created?

We had definitely prepared for long-distance, but nothing could have prepared us for this.

To be fair, there really is no better time to be doing long-distance than in our current era. We can pick up our phones whenever we want and video call, send a meme or tag them in something cute. I recognise that privilege and luxury, but none of those things could replace the feeling of physical togetherness right now. Especially in these “unprecedented” times (I hate myself too for using that cliché.)

It’s a strange feeling.

It’s like we’re suspended in time and space. It’s a limbo period.

In our relationship right now, I think there’s an unspoken sense that there are forces outside our control that could unwillingly drive us apart or create a rift between us.

I think we both feel this and don’t want it to happen so we overcompensate in communication to show each other that we’re dedicated to staying together.

I dispel my fears by telling myself platitudes like, "there is bravery in uncertainty" and "if we can get through this, then we can get through anything."

But in the in-between moments, the hours that I’m awake and he’s asleep, the moments of quiet between notifications, I still find myself worrying about what will happen in the future.

I still find the situation unfair. Not only did the ~universe~ bring us together from across the world and then force us apart, but it also decided to sprinkle on another extra logistical challenge for us to overcome. Just for fun.

Yes, I know there are bigger issues in life.

But sometimes it’s the presence of our better halves that make dealing with those bigger issues just that little bit easier.

***

One benefit of having more time on my hands is that I’ve finally got around to reading Sally Rooney’s novels.

The last line of Conversations With Friends really stuck out to me:

“You live through certain things before you understand them.”

And that’s never been truer than now.

Feature image: Supplied.

Can you relate to Eleanor's story? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

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