Real Life Story

Love Beyond Borders in the Pandemic

Topics: Starting Out,Inter-racial,Dating,Getting Serious

Unable to be at each other’s side, these couples are relying on verbal communication to keep their relationship alive.

When Paul Westergaard proposed to Carla Teng right before her masters graduation at New Zealand’s Massey University in November 2019, the plan was to travel to and from the Philippines, where Carla is from, to prepare for their 2020 wedding.

They’ve been apart since their proposal. Daily video calls just aren’t the same, and the couple is still waiting for their earliest chance to get married.

Paul was two days away from visiting Carla in Manila in February 2020 but the city imposed its first pandemic-related restrictions, and Carla didn’t want him to get stranded. Paul was moving to Auckland at the time to start his dream job at a company that makes rockets and satellites.

“He witnessed many milestones in my life. He was there physically. When it was his turn, I couldn’t be there for him. Pep talks were all I could give him. It was frustrating,” Carla said, fighting back tears.

The guilt was mutual, although for different reasons.

“I felt guilty quite a lot of the time as well, especially when New Zealand was doing really well in coming out of the pandemic. All of a sudden life was almost normal again to some degree here, and Carla still couldn’t do anything, unable to leave the house,” Paul added. They were on separate screens for this virtual interview—he in Auckland and she in Manila.

Photo: Courtesy Paul Westergaard and Carla Teng

For Bernice Aspillaga and Iyke Evaristus, another couple forced into an extended long-distance relationship, a successful video call is a miracle. The internet connection in Iyke’s village in Nigeria is so unreliable, the couple have had to resort to text and voice messaging just to stay connected. The seven-hour time difference between Nigeria and the Philippines doesn’t help.

“It’s really hard. It really takes the two of you to work it out,” Bernice said.

In their two years together in Manila, Iyke and Bernice enjoyed quiet moments and companionship together. But last January, Iyke flew home to attend his sister’s wedding, and has since been stranded in Nigeria because of the pandemic. Now, their relationship needs to thrive on conversation.

An artist and teacher, Bernice figured out a way for her and Iyke to talk more meaningfully to surmount the physical, cultural and technological barriers separating them.

“I’m not asking him to call me every minute of the day, no. Just a simple ‘good morning’ and a ‘simple good night,’ and maybe some checking on me during the day, just so I know that you’re there for me, that we’re there for each other,” said Bernice.

Photo: Courtesy Iyke Evaristus and Bernice Aspillaga

Paul and Carla are able to talk to each other more but they, too, find simply saying “good morning” and “good night” really helpful in keeping that sense of connection.

“We’re pretty strict with our communication regime. And even if it’s just saying, ‘Hey how ya doing?’—real simple stuff—always, always to try to check up on each other,” Paul said.

“Know your partner’s communication style,” Carla added. “We’re human. We get frustrated and take it out on each other. But at the end of the day, you always have to talk it through and really listen. Take a step back, assess the situation, and listen to each other.”

In some ways, the long distance relationship has – aside from improved their communication with each other – also strengthened their partnership.

They used to argue over trivial things like whether they should keep that takeout burger in the fridge for another day for example, but those small differences no longer matter. They spend more time talking about their emotions, fears and concerns, and they’ve found a sense of security in each other that’s proving strong enough for a long-distance phase. It’s this sense of security that keeps them going.

“That’s something that I love about him. He will definitely initiate [updates]. Not that I’m policing, but he’s giving me that security emotionally that even though we’re apart, I'm good,” Carla said.

Paul feels the same, “I don’t need to worry, that’s for sure,” he said.

As for Bernice and Iyke, their relationship is still quite young. “We still have a lot of room for discovering each other,” Bernice said. She admits being apart during the pandemic had made her think about giving up, but Iyke is determined to hold on.

What keeps them going is the knowledge that there is an end to the long distance. Iyke plans to come back as soon as he can to the Philippines, where he plans to settle for good.

“The reason I got attracted to him is that he’s a simple guy. No qualms. No drama. He keeps things simple. For me, it was a breath of fresh air. That’s why I guess we clicked,” said Bernice. “He really wants to work this out.”

Source: JC Gotinga, VICE author

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