Certain Love Languages Are More Difficult in the Time of Pandemic

a heart-shaped piece of snow held in red gloved hands
Image by Dean McCoy / CC BY

Depending on your current situation, your love life could be affected a lot by this pandemic. Or not at all.

For example, my older sister is unhappily single. Gay and trying to date in a small town in the woods. That wasn’t easy even before the rise of covid-19. She keeps posting funny memes about how the pandemic has screwed up a love life situation that was already pretty hopeless seeming.

And of course it’s not just the monogamous, single folks who run into problems either.

I saw a Facebook post from a friend that got me thinking, too.  She was talking about how if you don’t live with your partners and have the wrong love languages, it can be fiendishly difficult to feel like you’re loved and loving your partners properly while being separated from them.

It does remind me of the challenges a lot of people have in long-distance relationships (LDRs). Because suddenly a lot of relationships that weren’t physically distant have functionally been suddenly nonconsensually converted into LDRs.

And LDRs can be tough enough when you set out and agree on having them. (I speak from experience on this, having been in a number of them myself over the years.)

A lot of people simply refuse to. Because they generally find them too stressful (they’re gut wrenching for certain folks). Or not worth it. And I’ve noted some individuals who are in this camp, the ones who don’t typically have LDRs, are suddenly having them. Because, for whatever reason, they can’t or don’t want to live with their partners. And they’re not about to risk it by violating shelter in place guidelines.

Looking around, what your top love languages are do seem to come into play here. In particular, the one friend who wrote openly about this mentioned that physical touch and acts of service are big challenges. If you’re used to showing love and feel loved in return via physical touch… well, a pandemic and isolation poses an obvious challenge. Acts of service — that is, being helpful to the person you love, typically by cooking, doing chores, fixing things, etc. — well, that can be rather tough to do from a distance.

It’s possible that someone might be able to help you do something like troubleshoot computer issues over video chat. And I think that would fit the bill. But there’s still a lack of the hands-on that typically accompanies most acts of service there. And most of the things you can do remotely are limited to guiding or providing knowledge somehow. (Perhaps calling to have food delivered no-contact could count, in lieu of cooking.)

It’s a Matter of Timing & Chance (& Not Relationship Style) Whose Love Lives Are Affected By This & Whose Aren’t

Many other friends of mine are fine. Some of them are monogamously married and find that this doesn’t affect their love lives at all. Other friends of mine are polyamorous but still unaffected because they live with all of their partners (whether that’s one partner or four), so they’re all staying inside as much as they can but can see each other as they always do (most of my friends seem to fall into this category, polyamorous but live with their partners).

By a matter of sheer chance, my own personal situation at the moment is ideal for pandemic conditions. I moved cross country last summer to a new area with my partner Justin. We live together and practically all of our other social contacts are at a distance. We text/call/chat with friends and family as a matter of course. We’d only begun to make any friends locally over the past few months. Neither of us are dating anyone else in the local area.

Even setting that aside, my top love language is words of affirmation. Yes, I know. Stereotypical for a writer. But it is what it is. I feel most loved when partners compliment me or say nice things to me. (I also tend to feel very happy with my relationships when we have good, interesting, entertaining conversations.)

This is probably why I’ve been able to do long distance relationships well in the past. Words are actually really easy to do at a distance. Shockingly so.

My partner is quite different from me, however. His top love language is acts of service. So he shows love and appreciation by doing things. And feels it when I do things that are helpful and useful for him. (Especially if I’m doing  something unpleasant like cleaning toilets or calling people on the phone for adulting reasons.)

Relationships That Suddenly Become Long Distance Are Emotionally Challenging; I Was in One Last Spring & Summer

I do remember how difficult it was when our relationship became long distance for a few months while I stayed behind and sold our old house and he was in the new place starting his new job 2000 miles away. In that case, however, I did have grand gestures I could do for him even though we were apart — since I packed up all our possessions, staged the house, met with the realtor, managed all the showings (making sure I was bugged out during them and cleaning afterwards when people would track things in on the floor, resetting the positions of anything buyers had moved, etc.), and did a bunch of final DIY that needed done.

But even with that, it did feel different. I still felt bad that I couldn’t do the things I normally did for him when we lived together. It wasn’t really about no longer meal planning and getting groceries for both of us (something that I’d normally do when we were in the same place). It was about not being able to take care of him. To show him I loved and appreciated him, in a way that he’d get. Really get.

Me? Pretty much all I needed was to talk to him on the phone every now and then. Hear his voice. And for him to say nice shit. Again, it’s that words thing. It does well over a distance, especially with how easy modern tech has made it to communicate (it was still doable but harder in the long-distance phone card days and when you only had snail mail to contend with).

A big part of what’s made our relationship work so well is that even though we both have different top love languages, we’ve learned to meet in the middle. And it helps, too, that our second highest love language is the same: And that’s physical touch.

But that wasn’t on the table when we were apart.

We kept finding strange workarounds that helped us. Sometimes we played Stardew Valley together. It’s a farming simulation that’s on Steam. That was weirdly satisfying in a way I didn’t anticipate.

One memorable night we found the same bottle of wine (well, same kind but technically different bottles) and drank it 2000 miles apart while talking on the phone the whole time. I remember that night particularly well because I did end up feeling so connected to him.

I found that we did have to get creative to make it work in those months. I sent him lots of pictures of the progress I was making on the house. And even with creativity, there were nights when it wasn’t easy at all. When it was positively soul crushing. In my own situation, I was staying in a house that was staged for sale. So it was nearly empty with no pets and only a backpack full of clothes, so I had the stress of feeling like I was living somewhere that wasn’t really my home anymore.

And frankly, I just missed my partner a lot. I woke up all the time. Had strange dreams about an unfamiliar old man talking to me, about his sadness, about how alone he felt. (Later, Justin and I would look up information about former owners of our house and see that a man had been widowed and lived in the home for a long time by himself without his wife, which was spooky.)

What I Learned About Love Languages When I Was Suddenly in a Long-Distance Relationship

But these days we’re together in the new home. Justin’s love languages would be sucktastic and challenging in a pandemic situation but only if we weren’t living together. And my top language travels well. This is likely why it took me many months to want to make local friends in Texas; I communicate virtually with a number of friends who live in Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Florida, and it feels an awful lot like satisfying social contact. So long as I’m trading words with folks, I feel connected to them.

But I know that if the timing had been just a little different that my situation could have been miserable. The timing of this event is arbitrary. It doesn’t care about our plans.

Anyway, I learned a few important points from my experience with suddenly being in an LDR with a person whose love languages were acts of service and physical touch (which are challenging ones to have in a pandemic situation):

  • You need to be creative and experiment with new ways to feel connected.
  • Seriously, just try new things.
  • Sometimes something that you don’t think will make an impact will surprise you big time. And you’ll discover that what you try really helps (such was the case with playing Stardew Valley with my partner and the same-wine drinking call we had).
  • Planning CAN BE an act of service. And planning can be done at a distance.
  • Physical touch is a real challenge when you can’t be in the same room as someone. Weighted blankets and masturbation aren’t the same. But if you haven’t tried them, you should. As far as non-sexual physical touch goes, I have heard from friends who adopted pets from shelters for cuddles. It’s not the same as romantic or sexual touch, but it can help with loneliness and stress and is something to consider.
  •  Even if you’re fortunate enough to be shut in with your partner(s),  not being able to go out anywhere can be stressful particularly for people whose ideal quality time love language involves travel or events. Something that can be helpful is writing down all the things you would like to do and places you would like to go when such things are possible again. Consider writing this on pieces of paper and putting it in a jar. (That makes it easy to fish them out and do them in the future, when you can.)

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Anyway, if you folks have suggestions for ways people can manage their love languages in the time of pandemic, I’m all ears! Feel free to comment with them here or on social media or send them privately to me here.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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