Yesterday, I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast on comparative suffering. Brene argued, citing several psychological theories and quoting well-to-do psychologists, that it does no use – and is in fact harmful – to diminish your own emotions and problems because others’ seem objectively “worse.” She said that we actually do not develop more empathy or help the other people suffering more by failing to deal with our emotions or process our own problems. So, with that, I have decided to lament the reality that is: Dating while distancing.
I know couples do long distance. I know military wives go years without seeing their husbands, sometimes giving birth to their child without their husband being there. I know some couples are married and live in different states, that boyfriends go off for programs or summer institutes while girlfriends chase their dreams elsewhere.
But what I wasn’t familiar with is long distance dating — unexpectedly and with no end in sight. It’s a complete shock, and utterly confusing, to date while social distancing, when both of us are quarantined with family in different states thousands of miles away from each other.
Certain long distance “quick fixes” just don’t work for us. There’s no countdown; I have no idea when it will be safe to see my boyfriend in New Jersey or when North Carolina will end my stay-at-home order. It’s a count up – 46 days without seeing each other, a random “x” days until we see each other again.
Planning our reunion doesn’t really work for us, either. I don’t know if I’ll go there, or he’ll come here, or what we can safely do but hug while wearing masks (or does hugging while wearing masks completely defeat the purpose?).
We can’t think about all the fun days ahead spent together, because even when I see him, I’m not sure what those days will look like or how long we’ll have together. Since my boyfriend lives with his parents, seeing me for the foreseeable future puts them at risk.
What’s worse is that I can’t shake how selfish it is to try to see him before it’s genuinely safe to do so. How selfish could I be to have my boyfriend drive nine hours to North Carolina to hang out with me when he could put my dad, who is nearly 60 and has heart disease, at risk of dying?
Turns out I can’t find one piece of advice, book or person who has ever had experience with feeling selfish for reuniting with their own boyfriend.
And when will I stop feeling selfish? I really don’t know, because even when stay-at-home orders are lifted, even when we pretend to go back to normal, the virus is still out there. And phase two could come any day. Will I have to be careful around my boyfriend for 18 months until there’s a vaccine? Will my boyfriend have to choose me or his parents every day?
Then there’s sadness over all our future trips being canceled. Right now, ironically, we’d be sitting in a cute Airbnb in Cinque Terre, Italy. But Coronavirus sort of, you know, canceled 2020.
And then, worst of all, there’s the sinking irony that our separation is the center of our relational disputes to begin with. It’s really tough dating a guy who lives in Jersey when you live in New York, it turns out. It’s really hard dating someone who speaks Arabic and English and grew up in Egypt, when you speak Spanish and English and grew up in white-privileged-America. And let me tell you, those differences and distances become all the more real when your girlfriend heads home to North Carolina and is now even further from you and her life looks even more different.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t gotten jealous, too. Scrolling through Instagram and seeing couple after couple quarantining together is tough to swallow. It seems like they’re living the dream, and I’m wallowing in despair.
Some days I feel okay. I remember that I’m independent, that my boyfriend doesn’t define me, that people are dying, and that 46 days is really not that long. I mean, Noah lived on an arc for 40 days, so I KNOW God can bring me through this. I think about what an answered prayer my boyfriend was, is and will continue to be. I remember that God has me right where he wants me, and right where he wants him, and that I do not need to be afraid or confused. I remember that God does not call us to plan every minute or have a countdown, but to stop counting and start living in the moment. I remember that God is using me every day I am in quarantine, preparing my heart for the next time we’re reunited, and doing the same for him.
I think about all the thinking I’m able to do in this time, like how I’ve processed the health of our relationship, the future I see with him, the ways we partner in life, the possibilities and realities of building God’s kingdom together, the really hard stuff that makes us different, and how I should, probably, ultimately, think about him less.
I should also think about myself less. And think about God more.
And then I wake up the next morning, and the thinking begins again, a rollercoaster of comparative suffering, new mercies, guilt and selfishness, shame and confusion, beauty and grace, and dedicated prayer and meditation.
But, isn’t that often how our relationship with Jesus goes? One morning we’re doing great, loving Him and loving others and loving life, and the next we’re lost and confused. How easily we forget that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that the more we press into Him the less we have to ride this rollercoaster. We don’t have to cling on for dear life, screaming and begging the ride to end, but instead, we can throw up our arms in praise, smile as the ride darts around each bend, take each moment in stride, delight in the goodness and look ahead at the glory.