Edwina Frost is in a happy relationship with Josh – but she doesn’t know when she’ll see him again.
The Melbourne-based paralegal, 25, is just one of countless Australians who have inadvertently found themselves in a long-distance relationship because of COVID border closures.
We asked Edwina and two other Aussie women how they’re keeping their relationships alive with no clear reunion date in sight.
Regular, informal check-ins are key
Before COVID hit, Edwina regularly travelled interstate to Wollongong to see her civil engineer boyfriend Josh, 27.
But since lockdowns began in 2020, their plans keep getting pushed back.
“We have missed both our birthdays, and Christmas, and Chinese New Year which his family celebrates,” says Edwina, who first met Josh in Madrid in 2018.
She and Josh stay connected by speaking about four times a day, including soon after they wake up and on lunch breaks.
“A few hours go by and [I’ll ask], ‘what are you doing now?’ It’s kind of like livestreaming each other’s lives,” she says.
Emma, 22, is an occupational therapy student based in Sydney.
She met her German boyfriend Nico, 24, in Sweden last year on exchange, and they have been in a long-distance arrangement since she returned to Australia in mid-2020.
Emma agrees that regular communication is key to keeping a long-distance relationship healthy — and like Edwina, she prefers spontaneous catch-ups to long, formally scheduled chats.
“We want to talk to each other and catch up on each other’s days, so it ends up naturally being about once a day. But from the beginning we sort of said, ‘we have to not put the pressure on when we’re going to talk’,” says Emma.
Her interactions with Nico are sometimes brief but valuable: tagging one another in a dog appreciation group on Facebook, or sending each other videos or photos.
“If I see something on social media, I just send it off — it’s just making that point of acknowledging that you’re thinking of them,” she says.
Make ‘dates’ to do everyday things together
Caroline Cheng, 24, is in a different time zone to her Florida-based boyfriend Matthew, 25, an IT specialist.
But on Sunday mornings in Melbourne — Matthew’s Saturday evening — they sometimes have ‘movie dates’.
“We came up with the idea [during] second lockdown in Melbourne,” says Caroline.
“We watch something together on a streaming service, and we’d make sure that our timing of the movie’s the same.
“Occasionally we order food for each other,” using online delivery services, she adds.
Edwina and Josh have sometimes similarly embraced low-key ‘dates’ where they bond over shared activities.
They have sometimes video-called to complete the crossword together in the evening to unwind.
“Just very mundane things like that can be just such a comfort,” she says.
You’ll have to accept a level of uncertainty
Part and parcel of a long-distance relationship during COVID is dealing with flight cancellations, delayed plans, and ongoing uncertainty as Australia’s travel rules continue to evolve.
Edwina says she’s become an expert on researching border closures across Australia,
“We’ve mastered how the borders work,” she says.
“We are onto it! Any time any of my friends are trying to get interstate I’m like,’ no, you’ve got to look at Queensland Health and who they’re allowing in, not just Victoria’s rules.'”
But organised though they may be, she and Josh have had to accept the uncertainty that comes with a pandemic without an end date.
“It’s so strange because we are so realistic and practical in other parts of our life,” she says.
One thing that helps is reminding each other that “when this is all done, nothing’s going to have changed — we’ll go back together and be normal again which is exactly what it is when we do get together.”
Emma, too, is trying to embrace uncertainty after seeing others struggle after setting their hearts on a particular reunion date.
“One of my friends was in a similar situation: she came home from exchange, had a long-distance relationship during COVID and they put a date on it,” Emma says.
“She wanted to be back by January, and it keeps having to be pushed back.
“And I think that made it harder for her, as she kept not being able to leave.”
Nico is currently applying to undertake his PhD in Sydney and will hopefully arrive in Australia “at the end of this year, we’ve aiming for about December [or] January,” Emma says.
But she’s aware an exact date is hard to lock in, and is trying to keep an open mind.
Find support where you can
It can help to draw support from social media groups of people in similar situations, Caroline finds.
“I’m in this Facebook group called ‘Partners Apart’ and most of them are Australians, and you hear these stories [of people] trying to get visas and exemptions and they’ve tried 15–30 times and they’ve been rejected,” she says.
It’s “really tough” to hear of many young Aussies struggling to see their long-distance loves, Caroline adds.
But it’s also reassuring to know “that it’s not just us — I’m sure there are hundreds and thousands of people who are in this situation.”
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