By Fazira Che Ghani
My heart sank when Malaysia announced its first lockdown in March 2020. It meant that my partner and I, who live in different countries, could no longer travel to see each other.
It hurt particularly because my fiancé and I had paid deposits running into the thousands for our wedding scheduled for the end of 2020. After said wedding, we had planned for me to move to New Zealand to settle down together. After 2 years of our long distance relationship, we were very excited to say goodbye to the late night calls and texts, and finally be together under one roof.
Then the pandemic hit. Now, I have not seen my fiancé in person for 16 months.
During our long distance relationship (LDR) pre-covid, we made the distance bearable by making plans about the future that we could excitedly forward to. Like getting married, and the days after. But we were not prepared for a pandemic. So we went from being excited to marry, to not seeing each other for 16 months with no certainty as to when this ordeal will end.
As months passed since the first lockdown with rising cases, I thought to myself, “The world will eventually be okay again and I will get my happy ending, right?”. My optimism faded when it dawned on me that the pandemic is more serious than I initially thought.
Our relationship was already challenging as a binational couple with very different upbringing, religion and cultural values. Now it feels like a constant cycle of one obstacle after another. Just as when it seemed like the worst of living in two countries was over in light of our upcoming wedding, the pandemic hit. It feels as if the world is constantly working against us. I started to think that we were just not meant to be.
“The pandemic changed everything and I started feeling helpless. I started to doubt and wondered if this meant the end of our relationship.“
To top it off, I especially felt behind in life seeing that all my siblings have welcomed a newborn and started new beautiful chapters in their lives. I am reaching my 30s soon and am the only one unmarried among my siblings.
While I received much encouragement from the people around me, I was also met with a few unhelpful responses. “God has better plans for you” or “You are not the only one affected by this”, are some hurtful remarks I received. I imagined that they could not relate as they are not in an LDR, and yet, I can’t help feeling more frustrated and angered by the situation. I eventually withdrew from discussing this with people who are not in the same boat as me.
But things changed when I found immense relief and support when I discovered the Facebook page ‘Love Is Not Tourism’, a support group for LDR couples separated by the travel ban. We had finally found a community of people with similar struggles. We had access to a pool of resources and information that allowed us to prepare for when we are finally ready to submit our application. Best of all, it was a community full of supportive and caring individuals who are ready to offer a shoulder and advise.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution but we eventually made it work with time.
Firstly, we started by accepting that the pandemic is beyond our control. We accepted that despite our best efforts and plans, things can still fall apart. We learnt that even when things fall apart, it can still be okay.
What matters more is how we choose to react and how we make the best out of the situation. For me, I choose to remember the wonderful memories we shared and will continue to share. I choose to focus on the positives instead of the insecurities and doubts the pandemic brings.
Secondly, learning each other’s love language, the different ways a person expresses and experiences affection. Identifying our love languages made communicating expectations a lot easier. We both share the same love language of quality time but differed in other love languages –
with words of affirmation (his) and receiving gifts (mine).
So he would meet my love language by getting food and treats delivered to my house (who doesn’t love free food?). In turn, I would meet his love language by giving him compliments and empathising with his day, especially since his work is both mentally and physically challenging. To meet our quality time love language, we would call and text everyday when possible.
Thirdly, embrace the pandemic challenges. While my LDR has been rough, my relationship has also grown in ways that it might never have without the lockdown. As we are limited to just talking and texting as means of communication, I learned more things about him than I did before. I learned more about the importance of properly listening to my partner – to be able to sympathise better, and to be kinder, more patient, and less judgemental.
Being apart for so long gave me an entirely different perspective on the past arguments we had while together, and how silly they were. We used to sometimes argue about foolish things like the past, him working too much, his gaming habits, and other things that are probably too embarrassing to share here. I for one learned to be more compassionate, and to be able to see things from his point of view.
Only then was I able to understand his struggles and weaknesses, and how it was completely fine as flaws and imperfections are what makes us all human. Recognising this enabled us to help one another, and eventually, grow together. I made a vow myself to never take him for granted anymore, and to spend the time we will have in the future more wisely (yes, cheesy, I know. But I mean it).
Fourthly, be okay on my own. Being away from my fiancé also meant that I had to spend more time with myself and learn to be more independent. It allowed me to discover the values I want to instill, skills I want to improve, and goals I want to achieve. Figuring out who I am outside my relationship was the journey I never knew I needed, and is one of the surprising positive outcomes out of a dreadful pandemic.
My love story is far from perfect, but it is by far my favourite one.
To me, nothing is more beautiful or more hopeful than the idea of two people who are separated by continents, but whose feelings get stronger day by day, whose eyes are only for the other person in a sea of humans, and whose hearts are still beating as one.
If you are in an international LDR now during the era of Covid-19, brave through it. You are not alone. Your love is tougher than you think. When it is all over, I promise you, the feeling of seeing each other again will be unmatched. Good luck!
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