COVID-19 SPECIAL

An ode to lockdown love amid the coronavirus

If ever had I thought a long-distance relationship (LDR) was hard, the coronavirus has thrown a wrench in my perspective.

Nothing says "relationship hurdle" like a government-sanctioned and enforced LDR.

He lives in Kuala Lumpur - just near enough to meet once a fortnight. Seven hours away by bus, or one, if either of us feels rich enough to fly. Rarely did we, especially as airports increasingly became a transit area for warm bodies and viruses.

In February, our solution was to meet in the middle, in Johor. I braved the Customs crowds, and him the hours-long bus ride.

At the beginning, it was a joke to us. The star-crossed lovers separated by a body of water, like in the Chinese fable Cowherd And Weaver Girl, but who reunite at the Causeway, instead of on a celestial bridge of magpies.

At the time, I still groaned to friends that I would be spending another boring weekend in Johor Baru.

But as cases grew worldwide, so did our hesitation in meeting. We scheduled one last meet-up in the middle of last month and agreed to put off meeting for the next few weeks. It was, after all, the responsible thing to do.

The Monday after that bittersweet farewell, Malaysia announced its two-week lockdown, barring citizens from travelling abroad.

The Internet was helter-skelter with misinformation and outrage, and in that moment, I was grateful to have been mentally prepared for time apart on my own terms.

 
 
 
 

To cope with the distance, we get creative online.

WhatsApp calls are now video chats with the webcam left on, so we have company while working from home. We join dubious Internet game rooms and play strategy games with strangers.

On the suggestion of a friend, I downloaded Netflix Party - a third-party Google Chrome extension that lets you and your friends sync shows on Netflix, so you never miss a second together. We blew through the documentary series Don't F**k With Cats in joint speechlessness.

Now, with Malaysia's lockdown measures extended and Singapore implementing its own travel restrictions, at times, the waiting feels endless.

But it is not just couples who feel the brunt of the global lockdowns. I think of relationships around the world suffering the same pains, with entire families forcibly separated.

The nature of love has changed. No longer is it measured in time spent together. Now, an act of love is keeping away from our loved ones abroad. We stay in to keep not just ourselves safe, but also our families - and fellow countrymen.

With no seeming end to this LDR in sight, novel apps and video calling are my best friends.

I have even been coerced into downloading a fitness app with workout tutorials so we can stay active together, in place of our usual walks in the park.

 

Love is a difficult premium to trade in the time of coronavirus. But it is also the only thing we still have to give - that does not endanger a deliveryman.

All we can do is practise patience in riding out this apocalyptic spell, and extend love where we can - even if that means being alone.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 05, 2020, with the headline 'An ode to lockdown love'. Subscribe