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Published June 12, 2024

Summer Lovin’: Pandemic edition

A&E spoke with University of Minnesota students about navigating the complexity of online and socially distant relationships amid a global pandemic.
Illustration by Hailee Schievelbein
Image by Hailee Schievelbein

Illustration by Hailee Schievelbein

Love is in the air but so is COVID-19. From Zoom dates to quarantining together, University of Minnesota students’ love lives are being put to the test. These are their stories.

At a distance

Emerson Martin, a fourth-year student studying global studies and sociology, began her relationship with her boyfriend in the heat of the pandemic. In early February the couple began exclusively dating but as restrictions were set in place, her boyfriend returned to his Illinois residence as she stayed in Minnesota, and they soon entered a novel and distant part of their relationship. 

Long-distance presented Martin with challenges. She worried whether the relationship would endure through a pandemic, and the plethora of free time that enabled constant overthinking only exacerbated her anxieties. 

“The hard part was dealing with the anxiety of when this would end, when he would be back and if it was all worth it,” said Martin. “It was a hard time to be dating someone.”

Luckily, it was worth it. Owing to the distance, Martin found a new appreciation for her boyfriend once he returned to Minnesota.

On the topic of lessons learned, she revealed that she now understands the different ways intimacy takes shape.

“It doesn’t need to be physical all the time. Through Facetiming every night or playing Animal Crossing together, it was a lot more special knowing you weren’t going to see them for a long time, but they were still thinking of you.”

An introvert’s paradise

Joe Blake, a third-year student studying family social science, found the time spent at home as an opportunity to return to his introverted and independent roots. Right before quarantine, Blake ended a long-distance relationship with his ex-boyfriend. The breakup and the shelter in place restrictions provided him with time for necessary reflection and an opportunity to explore new love — in a casual and quarantined manner.

In regards to the strength that solace provides, Blake mentioned, “The pandemic gave me the space to heal by myself, reflect and kind of date myself in a way.”

Blake spent his time in quarantine keeping to himself while also utilizing dating apps and texting for slivers of social interaction. Comparing the phases of lust and attention to the sudden obsession with making banana bread, he wondered if men were talking to him to simply pass the time in the same way that the Internet was hopping on the latest “Bon Appétit” Youtube recipe video.

On the topic of Zoom dates, Blake argued that the virtual dates would hinder his perception of the dating experience. 

“I was getting to know people enough by text anyway. It also gave me something to look forward to when the quarantine is lifted, and in that way, it almost serves people better for longevity if they didn’t do it,” he said.

Laughing, Blake mentioned one pitfall that online dating presented. Before meeting in person, “no amount of capital letters will tell you how crazy someone is.”

Quarantined, close and personal  

Doua Ci Lor, a third-year student studying psychology, quarantined with her girlfriend. And while many people warned her that this lack of personal space may present challenges to the relationship, Lor saw the close quarters as something that brought them physically and emotionally closer together. 

She emphasized the importance of understanding her girlfriend’s love language, citing the convenience of the two of them sharing quality time as their primary love language.

“Not only did we hike, swim and picnic together, but we also sat down at the dinner table and asked questions about each other as if we were starting from day one,” said Lor.

Healing from a bad break

Ava Izenstark, a fourth-year student studying dance, had been meaning to end her incompatible relationship for a while. Luckily, quarantine provided her with the perfect opportunity to do so. The relationship ended shortly after shelter-in-place restrictions began.

“Having a lot of distance from a toxic person gave me a lot of mental clarity. I’ve been stuck in cycles of bad relationships for a long time. It was easier to take a step back and evaluate what I want.” 

Izenstark turned to her friends, cooking and dancing to heal from her past relationship. 

Through lots of reflection, Izenstark learned to find validation within herself, saying it’s important to have something you are doing just for you and never counting on another person for your own happiness.

“They can add to it, but you are responsible for your own happiness and seeking out friends and family to provide support [instead of relying on a significant other],” she said. “This whole experience has been super introspective. Being able to take time to reflect is super helpful for emotional stability and healing.”

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