A post-quarantine pandemic reunion with your partner isn’t always as sweet as you’d imagine. After weeks or months of social distancing in separate places, the coronavirus pandemic still remains. This means that every interaction comes with a somewhat awkward protocol. Instead of jumping into each other’s arms, you might open your door and carefully back out of a tiny hallway to let your lover into your home. You might watch as they take off their mask and wait patiently for them to wash their hands for 20 seconds—humming “Happy Birthday” to yourself. Then, you smile at each other, or, your heart starts pounding so hard that you don’t know what to do.
I, personally, had an out-of-body experience when I saw my partner for the first time. We’d been apart for a month, a time during which I’d completely overhauled my life, going from bartender to full-time freelance writer. For three weeks, he fought a severe case of strep throat and attempted to keep his business afloat. We’d both been waiting for this moment for a month. Yet when the time finally arrived, it felt like he wasn’t even there in front of me. Instead, it felt like I was floating beside him, disembodied and invisible. I worried something was wrong in our relationship, but it turns out this isn’t a totally abnormal response.
“In New York and some of the other hot spots, [people have] gone through significant trauma,” Rachael Robnett, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tells SELF. “So…in addition to the adjustment period between just the two of you, there’s still all of this other stuff that you’re trying to cope with.” This makes sense. That dissociated feeling I had is a common response to traumatic events. After all, this wasn’t an ordinary reunion. We weren’t on an extended vacation. My partner and I had been kept apart by the threat of respiratory droplets. Life was, and still is, in total upheaval.
Being away from loved ones is an incredibly challenging part of this pandemic. And reunions, though generally positive, bring a jumble of mixed emotions. I’ve settled into a groove with my partner again, but I was still curious about how other folks reacted to their pandemic reunions. Below, six people share what it was like to separate and reunite with their loved ones during the pandemic. I hope their stories help you realize what I came to understand—there’s no wrong way to react once you see your partner again.
1. The reunion could potentially end months of feeling disconnected.
Even for couples who were used to spending time apart, the pandemic brought some unforeseen challenges. Gaby D., 32, tells SELF that she and her partner, Mal, were used to long distance before the pandemic. For a year and six months, the pair traveled between Los Angeles and New York City, she explains. Once the pandemic hit, however, air travel was no longer an option. “All of a sudden, long distance went from being our way of life to absolutely impossible,” Gaby says. Unable to travel to New York City to visit her partner, Gaby and Mal spent three and a half months apart.
During this time, Gaby and her partner were fighting more often, but Gaby says she knew the added tensions weren’t signs of major relationship issues. Eventually, Mal drove five days to see Gaby in California. “When I saw [Mal], I was just so relieved and so happy. I kissed them through their window before they even had time to open the door. I maintained hope the entire time that even though it was hard being apart, as soon as we were together again and could figure out this whole pandemic … we’d be okay again.”
2. You may realize that the time apart was good for you and your relationship.
After her partner contracted the coronavirus, Tiffanie C., 25, and her partner were apart for two months. To stay connected, they video chatted until they fell asleep together. The distance was hard, but Tiffanie tells SELF that, “spending some time apart from each other actually strengthened our relationship a bit. It’s important to be able to separate yourself from your partner at times and focus on yourself.” During the two months apart, Tiffinie says that she became interested in yoga and meditation, “which helped with my overall confidence (in and out of my relationship), and it gave me the ability to be happy alone.” The reunion itself? That was pretty low-key. “We stocked up on snacks and drinks and had a classic movie night when we were finally reunited,” she says. “[The reunion] consisted of a lot of quality time and snuggling.”
3. You might hug and cry…and immediately move in together.
Unsurprisingly, many couples, once together, decide to quarantine in the same household. Alex H., 26, was away from his partner for a month and a half after she came down with a persistent, low fever. It wasn’t COVID-19, but due to lack of available testing, quarantining was their only option. “After such a long and stressful time apart, our reunion was all the more ecstatic and cathartic,” Alex tells SELF. “We hugged and cried.” But, he adds, once they moved in together, there were a few challenges. “Basically, moving in with a new-ish partner is stressful enough without a worldwide pandemic—but we adapted to make it work.”
In situations where couples reunite after time spent apart due to the pandemic, Robnett has two pieces of advice. “The most important thing is to prepare for an adjustment period [and] to recognize that it might be difficult at first,” she says. Along with mental preparation, she suggests that couples communicate about the incoming adjustment period. “Once you acknowledge that things might be a little bit different, talk it through,” she explains. “If you try to just brush it under the rug and pretend that nothing has happened, it could actually cause problems down the line.”
Alex and his partner unknowingly followed Robnett’s advice. “We had talked about our anxieties beforehand and reassured each other,” he says, adding that they’ve continued to have those conversations as difficulties arise.
4. You might discover that being apart was just one of many of the stressors you’re facing.
For some, the pandemic ramped up emotional intimacy. Jo T.*, 29, suddenly found herself in a far more intimate partnership after she was apart from her partner for two months. Before the pandemic, they were less serious, but while separated, they started speaking way more often. “Being in each other’s [lives] every day was a type of intimacy we hadn’t had before,” Jo tells SELF. Though their pandemic reunion was sweet—filled with tears and hugs—Jo realized that being separated wasn’t her main stressor. “I thought so much of what I was feeling during quarantine had to do with missing him. But our relationship was just something I was fixating on because he was my anchor during a really hard time,” she explains.
It’s not uncommon for folks to rely on romantic partners for the bulk of their emotional support. However, Robnett suggests being mindful of that tendency, especially in times where everyone is dealing with stressors. “You want to have a wide net of social support so that there’s not the burden placed on just this one person,” she explains. Jo did exactly that. “I decided to focus on healing myself, found a therapist … and slowly began to piece my life back together.”
5. You may feel emotionally distant even though you’ve reunited.
“It was a pretty confusing experience,” Nichole H.*, 25, tells SELF. “Things felt and continue to feel different,” she says of reuniting with her partner after three months apart. Nichole mentions that she’s someone who needs a lot of time to feel comfortable with a partner, and she relies “mainly on interpersonal interaction to keep me feeling close and happy with someone.” When they reunited, they went for a hike and packed a picnic. They watched Tik Tok clips together and laughed. “The first meeting after quarantine was nice…but there’s a difference I can’t quite place. Maybe the preservation of trying to keep things afloat drained a lot of emotional energy.”
Robnett points out that world-changing events like a pandemic can shift your worldview, [and] your perceptions of yourself. “[Your] identity might shift in fundamental ways,” she says. “So it’s certainly possible that some people, who are quarantining separately, might come back together and realize that their partner… or their dynamic is a little bit different than it was when they were together pre-pandemic.” To deal with these differences, Robnett suggests communicating with your partner about these changes.
6. Your reunion might feel like a first date.
Raechel W., 29, was separated for three months from her partner, Steve, after two years of dating. Raechel has asthma (as do many of the people she lives with), so—in addition to being away from Steve—the pandemic stirred up new anxieties. “I began having panic attacks,” she tells SELF. “I had to create new coping skills for myself and work on reducing my anxiety by…going for daily walks, and telling [Steve] not to talk to me about the news.”
After three months, the reunion was sweet but awkward. “We went on a walk for an hour or two, and it felt almost like a first date. We lost a little of that natural rhythm that comes when you are inseparable, and while we joked about it, internally, my thoughts were racing. I was so distraught about that feeling of a little awkwardness. I was scared it was going to linger. Thankfully, it didn’t.”
Learning to cope with this pandemic will pose challenges for all of us. The world is continuously changing, and reunions are transitions, albeit happy ones. “Even when you get to see one another again, even though it’s a happy time, there is a lot of really difficult stuff going on. It’s hard to set that aside and just be joyful and in the moment,” says Robnett. So whatever comes up when you finally reunite with your loved one, know that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.
Names have been changed upon request.