COVID-19 SPECIAL

Contactless love: Couples under circuit breaker go the distance online

Mr Edward Tan chats with his girlfriend, Ms Priscillia Chen.
Mr Edward Tan chats with his girlfriend, Ms Priscillia Chen.PHOTO: COURTESY OF EDWARD TAN

SINGAPORE - When Ms Zizie Zuzantie and Mr Lim Zhong Hao learnt that they would not be able to meet for a month as part of circuit breaker measures, they were confident their relationship would weather the storm.

The couple, newly engaged in March, have spent weeks apart when either one was on vacation or, in Ms Zizie's case, deployed as part of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps. They have been together since 2016.

Still, it has been a challenging week-and-a-half for the public servants, both 29, who work at the same statutory board.

"We decided to video call at least four times each week, and switched on our webcams while working so we could see each other. But it felt insufficient because we weren't getting enough quality time," Mr Lim says.

Since April 7, couples who do not live together have been kept apart by circuit breaker measures. People have been advised to stay at home and social gatherings with those living in different households are no longer allowed.

Couples who spoke to The Sunday Times admit that they were tempted to flout the rules by "meeting" at a supermarket to buy groceries, or going to each other's houses. But besides the threat of a $300 fine, they did not want to put family members at risk or negate the efforts of healthcare workers on the front line.

WHEN WILL I SEE YOU AGAIN ?

Although the circuit breaker is meant to last until May 4, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said this week that it could be extended.

For Ms Zizie, the uncertainty compounds their separation.

"We don't dare to be certain that it will be over in a month. There is pressure to adapt to the new normal," she says.

Family Life Educator Sarojini Padmanathan, who gives talks to parents and students, says physical distance is the greatest challenge for young couples. "The opportunity to meet, hold hands and do things together has been taken away," she adds.


Ms Zizie Zuzantie (right) and Mr Lim Zhong Hao have learnt to communicate their needs and expectations better. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZIZIE ZUZANTIE

Text messaging and video-conferencing apps help fill the void. But it is harder to read body language on a screen, and when miscommunication arises, couples can no longer rely on physical touch like a hug or kiss to smooth things over.

Then there is the question of how much and how often to communicate. Although Ms Therese Grosse and Mr Edsel Chua text daily, they had a minor argument when Ms Grosse, 24, was too tired to video call at the end of a long day.

 
 

"He was a bit sulky because I continued texting my friends when he thought I wanted to rest," says Ms Grosse, who is juggling a marketing degree at the Singapore University of Social Sciences and a writing internship at a travel start-up. She adds that video calling requires her full attention, while texting is low-commitment.

"I now better understand what she means by alone time and how she recharges," says Mr Chua, 26, a process engineer. The couple have been together for almost two years.

SET UP A ROUTINE, SAYS EXPERT

Mrs Padmanathan suggests establishing a routine, such as a time each day or week to check in with each other. "The circuit breaker is an opportunity to communicate and connect better by being patient and putting ourselves in the other person's shoes," she adds.

From games to watching movies, there is much to keep couples occupied on virtual date night.

Ms Grosse and Mr Chua enjoy battle arena mobile games Brawl Stars and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.


Ms Therese Grosse (right) and Mr Edsel Chua stay in touch by playing mobile games such as Brawl Stars. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THERESE GROSSE

Other popular options include drawing game Skribbl, trivia-based Psych and Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing.

Meanwhile, local dating service Kopi Date has launched a couples edition of its date-from-home-kit, which includes a series of discussion topics and surprise challenges for couples to do over a video call.

The kit, which costs $33 a couple and comes with either drip coffee or artisanal tea, will be delivered to two addresses.

Co-founders Lee Jing Lin, 26 and Zhiqun Liu, 28, themselves a couple living apart, launched the kit less than a week ago.

"We know what couples are looking for because we are in their shoes," says Ms Lee.

One of the surprise challenges, to plan a virtual date for the other person, came from the couple's recent 10-month celebration, where Mr Liu took Ms Lee on an online tour of the Louvre museum in Paris.

Lawyer Nathaniel Goh, 28, did the same challenge with his girlfriend Angelina Tan, 25. He took her on a comprehensive virtual tour of Pulau Ubin that included a ferry ride, "renting" bicycles and visiting various scenic lookouts.

Ms Tan, a law graduate who recently passed the bar examination, says: "Ubin is a place we have been talking about going to for the longest time, and I really felt like we were there. We will probably go on more virtual tours on our dates to explore new countries together."


Angelina Tan (right) and Nathaniel Goh tried out the couples edition of a date-from-home kit launched by Kopi Date. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANGELINA TAN

Notwithstanding how fun virtual dates can be, couples interviewed feel that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Many think that this month, while challenging, is a chance to strengthen their relationship.

Business continuity consultant Edward Tan and Tan Tock Seng Hospital nurse educator Priscillia Chen, both 29, got together just three months ago and had their "honeymoon period" cut short by the circuit breaker.

 
 
 

The couple had to cancel a staycation, but are looking forward to resuming their hiking and cycling dates at parks when all is well again.

Mr Tan says: "This distance will reinforce our bond. All relationships go through obstacles and I am confident that if we can survive this, we can overcome other things together."

VIRTUAL DATE IDEAS

While hugs, kisses and physical dates are not possible, couples who are separated during the circuit breaker period can keep sparks flying with these fun virtual activities.

MAKE: CRAFTS FOR EACH OTHER

Enjoy a relaxing virtual date by making crafts together - be it folding origami or creating cards.

Couples unsure of what to make can purchase the

Art Jamming Home Experience Kit ($35). The package by local events company The Fun Empire comes with all the materials needed to create an art piece at home.

Exchange your finished pieces in person once it is safe - and legal - to do so.

ASK: RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING QUESTIONS

Connect with your partner on a deeper level with We're Not Really Strangers (left, $42.80), a card game containing 150 thought-provoking questions categorised into three levels: perception, connection and reflection.

Questions like "What's the most pain you've ever been in that wasn't physical?" will stimulate deeply personal and meaningful conversations.

Alternatively, try The New York Times' 36 Questions That Lead To Love for free, in which you ask each other a series of increasingly personal questions.

PLAY: VIRTUAL CHARADES

Time to get moving and turn up the laughter. This classic game can easily be played over a video call.

Couples who run out of words to act out can go to a charades word generator website.

PLAY: BOARD GAMES VIRTUALLY

This old-school entertainment is far from being outdated and can keep you and your partner occupied for hours.

Classic games such as chess and Othello can be played online for free. There are also newer video-call-friendly games like Codenames Duet ($28, from The Mind Cafe), where you work together as spymasters to contact all your spy agents.

PLAY: ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS

This role- playing video game (starting at $79.90, from Shopee) is one of the hottest games in the market.

Played on the Nintendo Switch, it allows players to embark on a relaxing island getaway and temporarily escape from stay-home reality.

Couples can play together in online multiplayer mode. They can visit each other's islands and enjoy idyllic activities like fishing, planting flowers and collecting fruit.

- Chloe Kok