Alexandra E Petri, The New York Times
Published: 2020-05-16 13:12:17 BdST
It has been more than a month since they hung out, and at 15, neither has a license yet. They used to rely on their families for rides to each other’s houses in the Atlanta suburbs, and they saw each other in school. But now, the pandemic has them in a star-crossed state.
“If I could see Gabby every day, it would be paradise,” said Kai, a freshman at Centennial High School.
Gabby, a sophomore, said: “I cry, like, every night.”
Teenagers, like nearly everyone, have had their lives upended by the coronavirus. They’re cooped up at home with parents and siblings, unable to let off steam by participating in extracurriculars, deprived of important milestones like graduation and prom. And they can’t even expect to enjoy the summer freedoms of going to camp and the pool. For those in love, heartache caused by separation is another excruciating element.
“Teen relationships are looked at like they’re not really real and they’re more like trial and error,” said Jessica Muller, a 17-year-old junior at the Bronx High School of Science. “Discrediting it is just wrong.”
By Jessica’s count, she’d been in lockdown and apart from her girlfriend for about 60 days. Going from seeing her every day to not seeing her at all has been really hard. They’re supposed to be “making memories together,” Jessica said.
“I miss her hugs,” she said. “Her hugs are the best.”
Jessica and her girlfriend met at school and became an official couple in January. By Valentine’s Day, they’d said “I love you” to each other.
The two live in New York City, where different boroughs feel like different continents during the pandemic. Jessica is sheltering in place in Queens with her parents and sister. Her girlfriend is at home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
At times, Jessica wonders if they’ll ever even see each other again. Recently, she has seen photos on social media of other couples hanging out. “I was really crushed,” she said.
Still, Jessica and her girlfriend are finding ways to do things together without being side by side. They use Netflix Party to watch shows (currently it’s “Jane the Virgin,” a show Jessica’s girlfriend has seen but is rewatching because she told Jessica, “You really remind me of Jane”) and talk all day long. They have even started sending handwritten letters to each other.
“Each of our first letters were basically just acknowledging that this is going to be really rough,” Jessica said. But they are determined to make it work. “We’re not planning on just letting go of something because it’s getting difficult.”
Zoya Garg is also a 17-year-old junior at the Bronx High School of Science. She and her boyfriend live in Manhattan, but still, her parents have been strict about letting them hang out. Last month was her boyfriend’s birthday, and his family invited her over for dinner. At first, Zoya’s mother said it was OK. But ultimately, she wasn’t allowed to go.
“I knew she was doing it out of safety precautions,” Zoya said. “And I just wanted to go so badly, I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
With the weather getting warmer, the couple can go for socially distant bike rides together, but Zoya has to wear a mask, which she said she keeps on the whole time.
Other couples are finding ways to see each other with their families’ approval. In San Diego, Fisher Ransom and Aidan Moseley, both 17 and seniors, go to different high schools and live about 30 minutes from each other. Fisher lives in the mountains, where his only access to the internet is his cellphone, which his parents take every night at 11:30. Between school, their sports schedules and Aidan’s after-school job, the couple was practically long distance to start.
Now, the only time they leave the house is the two to three times a week they see each other. Their parents are old friends — “Our moms are constantly talking and constantly checking in with each other,” Aidan said — which helps make their families comfortable with the idea.
With more time together, their bond has gotten deeper, they said. Their relationship has also gotten them through some challenging moments. Fisher’s grandfather died in early March, just before California’s statewide stay-at-home order took effect. “If I didn’t have Aidan, I’d probably still be struggling,” Fisher said. “It’s hard to find a source of happiness sometimes in quarantine.”
Aidan agreed. “So many things are being taken away,” she said. “It’s nice to have somebody to support you and talk to you about literally anything.”
Some families are extending their quarantine bubbles to include their teenagers’ significant others (and usually, by extension, the significant other’s family).
Jason Nguyen and his girlfriend, who goes by the nickname Alice, are 17-year-old seniors at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC, who have been dating each other for over a year.
“I’m pretty much allowed to only see Alice now, and there are still strict rules about how I get to see her,” Jason said over FaceTime, sitting shoulder to shoulder with Alice. Their moms shuttle them back and forth between their homes, but in the rare instance Jason has to take an Uber, he must wear a mask and bring a change of clothes.
Alice, who struggles with anxiety, said her mother understands how important maintaining social connections is for mental health.
“It’s hard for kids my age to be doing quarantine,” Alice said. “This is the one little thing Jason and I get to keep doing to stay sane and stay happy.”
Over the past year, each has become really close with the other’s family. They mostly hang out at Alice’s apartment (“She’s lazy,” Jason joked, to which Alice playfully rebutted, “I’m not lazy!”), where she lives with her mother and her sister, though sometimes they go to Jason’s apartment, where he’s also sheltering with his mother and his sister. Occasionally they take Alice’s dog on a walk, or they may go sit on her rooftop, but otherwise they stay inside, doing things together like learning how to cook.
Unlike Fisher and Aidan, who are planning to go to college together in the fall (at the University of Hawaii at Manoa), Jason and Alice are supposed to start college 850 miles apart, her at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, him at George Mason University in Virginia. Quarantine is giving them the time to talk about managing the distance.
In Georgia, Gabby and Kai are finding ways to deal with their current distance. They understand why they can’t hang out, and take the rules seriously, but it doesn’t make them miss each other any less. So they often fall asleep together on FaceTime, calling each other at around 11 p.m. or sometimes midnight, talking until the early hours. Gabby holds Meese, a stuffed Moose that was once Kai’s, and Kai does the same with Fanta, a stuffed elephant that Gabby made for him.
“It reminds me of her, and it makes me happy,” Kai said. “I sleep with it every night.”
c.2020 The New York Times Company