By Noor Lone
After being in a long-distance relationship for a year, Rafay Hassan was used to not being able to see his girlfriend in person. But after the coronavirus outbreak forced them both to move back in with their respective families, they aren’t even able to call each anymore.
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads on Long Island, separated couples are turning to digital platforms, video chat, and phone calls to keep in touch. But some connections are strained. Because Hassan and his girlfriend come from conservative Pakistani families, he says they don’t have enough privacy to call each other without their families finding out about their relationship.
“We’re doing our best to stay connected but when it’s just texting, there’s only so much emotion you can convey,” Hassan said, “She feels her emotions are being ignored and I feel invalidated. Because this is the first time we’re not talking to each other and are just texting.”
After the first two deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in New York on March 14, Governor Andrew Cuomo urged strong social distancing protocols. The new rules have had an impact on young couples who still live with their parents and families.
“I can’t see my boyfriend so it’s been really hard,” Apoorva Tadepalli, a 20-year-old from East Meadow, said, “We want to see each other in person, but we can’t.”
Some couples are even separated by state lines on their families beliefs in terms of gender and sexuality. After a 22-year-old man, who asked not to be identified to protect his sexuality, came back from school in Virginia to his family’s home on Long Island, he was separated from his partner who is still in Virginia. They have been talking at least over text every day.
“I think it’s really going to put people in a crucible,” he said, “They’re either going to become stronger and find ways to communicate or they’re going to drift apart because they communicate poorly.”
Chandana Kochath lives about 30 miles from her boyfriend, Matthew Brulhardt, and hasn’t been able to see him for the last three weeks.
“It’s definitely cut short 90 percent of the contact my boyfriend and I have had,” she said, “It’s basically like living in a long distance relationship.”
But the digital landscape also allows couples to find substitutes for in person contact.
Kochath and Brulhardt synchronize movies on their own screens to watch movies together. And they call each other and talk for about one hour before going to bed.
On the other hand, couples that aren’t separated, like Thomas Feneran and his partner, aren’t able to avoid each other.
“With the quarantine, it makes it extremely difficult to try and meet anyone because everything is mostly closed and people are afraid of catching the virus,” Feneran said.
So Feneran and his partner are using Facebook and MeetMe to find and talk to new friends online.
Messaging or dating websites like Facebook and Tinder experienced a spike in the number of conversations, length of conversations, and time spent on the platforms, since the outbreaks in multiple countries began.
In countries most impacted by coronavirus, total Facebook messaging increased over 50 percent in March, Facebook reported in a blog post. And voice and video calling more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp.
On Tinder, the length of conversations increased between 10 and 30 percent, according to a filing by Shar Dubey, the Chief Executive Officer of Match Group, the company that owns dating websites like Tinder, OkCupid, and Match.com.
In the time of the coronavirus, new young couples may find themselves in long-distance relationships for an unknown amount of time, so virtual dating might become the new normal.