Columns From Quarantine: The hardships and heartache of love under lockdown

(Andrea Grigsby/Cartoons director)

By Cecile Wu

April 23, 2020 at 2:56 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 25 at 4:55 p.m.

Editor’s note: The Bruin updated the art for this story.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically upended life in the most unforeseeable of ways. At UCLA, our community is remarkably united by similar feelings of loss, confusion and concern, but also by light, hope and perspective that the pandemic has brought to the forefront. In “Columns From Quarantine,” Daily Bruin staffers and community submissions highlight the personal stories that mark this unprecedented moment. If you have a quarantine story to tell, you can submit it here or email [email protected].

The last time I saw my boyfriend, we were sitting in his car. I gave him a valiant smile and told him I would see him soon. In our heads, we had not fully processed the extent of the pandemic; in our heads, our little world would be preserved. We were healthy, we were close and we were in love.

It’s been a month since then.

When we first started getting serious, I was halfway across the world for winter break. We counted the days, impatient for when we could finally start our journey together. I would set alarms for 1 a.m. to talk to him when he woke up. He would send me songs that reminded him of me. Over those three weeks, we drafted plans for spring break: go to our favorite pizza restaurant, visit his childhood spots and destroy each other in Wii Sports. Little did we know, those plans would still have to wait.

The three-week experience over winter break taught us to be patient. However, when we were once again separated, it seemed especially unfair. My boyfriend and I are only 10 minutes away from each other, but those 10 minutes have turned into thousands of minutes before we can meet again.

We realized how much harder it was this time. It boiled down to two reasons: the pain in knowing how close we were, and the anxiety of not knowing how long it would be until pizza picnics and night drives began again. But the commitment to being safe, not just for us but for our loved ones, was what we both held tightly to.

Throughout the world, countless people are experiencing the same hardship, in which we can no longer show our love through closeness, but by walking away. In a truly perilous moment in our history, we are experiencing a threat to our human necessity to love openly. Whether it’s partners, friends or family, people express endearment by being there for one another. Now, we are stripped from that role, and loved ones have no choice but to view each other’s safety from a screen, in a social distancing-induced long-distance relationship.

In our case, that distance isn’t very long – I am, in fact, approximately 1.8 miles away from him.

The feeling of being so close yet so separated has permeated the past month on lockdown – we often talk about the foggy Bay Area weather and how it felt driving through our empty neighborhoods. But that innate desire to just hop in the car and drive over crept into my mind on more than one occasion.

Some partners have succumbed to this desire. Being in the same shoes has shown me the difficulty of viciously blaming them. It has also shown me that staying apart can allow a partnership to flourish in new ways.

When I knew we would be apart again, part of me felt hopeless. But he reminded me of what we have nurtured since the day I took that 10-hour flight, and I realized that while feeling assured was hard, giving up would be harder.

There are moments when you are scared that the ice will crack. They will always be there in a relationship – global pandemic or not. A relationship will never be an easy, one-way street. I learned that the pain we feel now is necessary for our bond to grow.

When you are stuck in a situation like this with no choice, it’s a chance to show that you can make it. It’s a perfect way to establish trust and demonstrate the dedication needed to not only keep things alive now, but blossoming for years to come.

In the weeks since quarantine began, we found ways to accomplish this goal. Keeping the camera on, we did homework, watched movies, brushed our teeth and even took naps together. We let each other know how we were feeling every day and talked through those feelings. We explicitly expressed our dedication to working through this. We talked, talked, talked, until everything we said repeated.

Because that was what we needed.

I was expecting an undoing, but what I really got was a blessing. I finally feel completely secure in a bond I’ve created with someone, and that if we can get through this, we can work through any problem.

As I finish this up, I look over at him, temporarily living in the little box on my screen.

Yes, the horizon seems never-ending. We are tired of seeing the people we love in that little box. We are tired of hearing their words through grey bubbles. We are tired of waiting for when we can hold them again.

Regardless of how I get to see him, I will never be tired of loving him. For each person to find that commitment, I think, is all we need to get us through.

And in time, we’ll all come out of our boxes and back into the world, together.

Cecile Wu is a first-year sociology student from Berkeley and is a Blogging contributor for the Daily Bruin.

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