Amidst the pandemic, many aspects of people’s ordinary behavior and attitudes have changed. One thing that has not though, is our lookout on and desire for love. Times of social isolation have made some people feel increasingly touch-starved. A study by Dr. Viviana Horigian from the University of Miami reported that in a survey of 1,008 people aged 18-35, 65 percent of participants experienced increased feelings of loneliness since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. One way people combat this loneliness is by seeking out romantic relationships.
At Wellesley, the combination of the block system, mask regulations, social distancing and other prohibitions might make getting into a relationship difficult. However, this was not the case for everyone.
Managing On-Campus Relationships
When Wendy** met her girlfriend through social media in the months leading up to move-in, the two decided to form a block together. Before getting into an official relationship, however, the two hooked up with each other. The student attributed their getting-together to their mutual comfort and the loneliness the COVID-19 pandemic had caused.
Additionally, since they were blockmates, it made their decision to date much easier. They could still eat with one another without fear of being reported and, perhaps more importantly, were able to be in one another’s rooms. Currently, however, with the interviewed student off-campus and her girlfriend on-campus, she finds it difficult to balance a job, relationship and school. With remote classes, it is hard finding time to be on Zoom or FaceTime with each other. One new activity that the couple does to spend time with each other is practice yoga through Zoom.
Other students across campus have also gotten into relationships with their blockmates. A sophomore who was on-campus last semester and is studying remotely now discussed the naturalness of dating their girlfriend.
“Blockmates are the only people you’re supposed to hang out with,” they said. “These become the people you primarily hang out with so it’s easier to get close to each other.”
Even though they were in a block together, however, the sophomore said that COVID still had an impact on their relationship. In comparison to a normal school year, there were fewer events and parties going on, with many more students staying within their residence halls and dorms. As a student who was never in their room last year and always out, it changed the way they now interact with other people.
The sophomore couple is now living together off-campus, and said seeing each other constantly has not caused tension in their relationship. Although they periodically need time to be out of their home and get away, the student says they have yet to get bored of their girlfriend.
However, regardless of how COVID has impacted relationships, there are still breakups. The interviewed sophomore describes the block dynamic with someone they were no longer in a relationship with anymore to be initially difficult.
“Due to close proximity, you see each other all the time,” they said. “You have to find other people to hang out with.”
In a normal year, it would be easier to avoid an awkward encounter with an ex as one could spend time in different parts of campus. Unfortunately, the blockmate system discourages that and makes it much more complicated to do so.
For some relationships, though, COVID has not impacted much, with the exception of having no more off-campus dates. Activities such as thrifting in the Garment District and exploring new restaurants in Boston were common for one senior and her boyfriend prior to the pandemic.
“The most exciting thing we do now is grocery shopping within the Ville,” said the senior.
Wellesley’s limitations on off-campus travel have encouraged students to find fun in what would usually just be something routine. The effects of the restrictions go much deeper, and the interviewed senior was a bit apprehensive to how certain rules have been approached. When asked if COVID rules had put stress on her relationship, she said that she and her boyfriend discussed the rules and tried their best to make appropriate decisions.
“The fear of retribution by Wellesley was the worst thing,” she said.
One of the most common fears couples discussed was other Wellesley students reporting them for things like sitting too close together in the common room. This stress impacted their mental health greatly. But when asked if these challenges made them a stronger couple or not, the senior affirmed that it did because they had to communicate with each other much more.
Getting caught was an even more consequential worry for students in relationships outside of each other’s blocks. One on-campus first-year described the experience as being very complicated. She and her current girlfriend found it difficult to navigate the general restrictions that the school mandated and the ones her own block set up.
“We didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable,” she said, reasoning that if someone in her girlfriend’s block got COVID, then that would put everyone in her block at risk.
The two prioritized openness and honesty and became friends with the other’s block. The couple was also exclusive and monogamous to mitigate exposure and risk as much as possible.
They realized that the beginning of the new semester would likely entail stricter rules, so the first-year decided to join her girlfriend’s block. She described how sneaking around took a toll on her and her relationship, and says that the opportunity to be more COVID-conscious by blocking together ultimately makes her happier and more comfortable.
Maintaining Long Distance Relationships
For Wellesley students unable to see their significant other, their long-distance relationship still offers a much needed reprieve from the pressures of fast-paced academics and strained social lives. The College’s strict no-guest policy has prevented many couples from visiting one another as they might in a COVID-free year. Nevertheless, Carrie Goeky-Morrey ’24, a first-year living on campus, maintains a healthy and fulfilling relationship with her girlfriend attending university in Texas.
Having started dating mid-summer in 2020, agreeing to a long-distance relationship was always part of the deal. Through FaceTiming and staying connected with her friends online, Goeky-Morrey was able to get to know her current girlfriend, developing the relationship even without the guarantee of seeing one another in person. This made the choice to pursue long-distance simple, explained Goeky-Morrey, who shares how dating during the pandemic “opened our eyes to the possibilities of maintaining closeness virtually.”
Although the College’s restrictions continue to impact all students, first-years have uniquely needed to navigate the beginning of college in a distanced, masked and mostly virtual environment. While separation from loved ones may bring its share of difficulties and challenges, Goekey-Morrey affirms that staying connected to her girlfriend offers great comfort.
“I don’t know if that’s a testament to how strong our relationship is or just how much is possible now,” Goekey-Morrey said. “Maybe both.”
In the hopes of a pandemic free sophomore year, the couple looks forward to visiting each other. Yet Goekey-Morrey and her girlfriend are flourishing despite the distance. Though she acknowledges inevitable disadvantages of geographical separation, she appreciates that long-distance came “surprisingly easily.”
An on-campus senior, Wanda**, has also had to adjust to the distance. Though her boyfriend of three years, a senior attending university in Boston, is only half an hour away, the couple must now approach their relationship differently. In a normal year, the Wellesley student explained, visiting each other was commonplace. Now COVID regulations compounded by busy senior schedules have added significant challenges to communicating.
Having spent all of winter break together, returning to their separate college worlds was a difficult transition. To stay connected during hectic weeks, the couple planned out specific days of the week to catch up with a distraction-free conversation.
“Even FaceTimes were getting hard,” Wanda said. “Sometimes you need the whole night to work on a problem set. Our FaceTimes then only became that — working, all the time.”
To remedy this, the couple takes advantage of their proximity to see each other on the weekends.
Breaching protocol brings with it a new set of pros and cons, the Wellesley senior explains. Since both of them are enrolled in remote classes and regularly receive COVID tests, she feels secure enough to visit her boyfriend in his off-campus apartment. To keep her friends safe, she self-isolates upon return until seeing a negative test result on the CareEvolve portal.
Though she describes their COVID-era separation as temporary, graduating might mean a more permanent distance.
“After senior year, I’m not even sure if we’re going to be in the same place,” she said. “I feel like we need to make the most of now.”
The couple is still trying to balance their schedules, regulations and quality time with each other, navigating FaceTime and weekend trips. Though this year has brought unique difficulties, both are willing to put in the effort to maintain their relationship and are looking forward to the experiences to come.
Without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the landscape of love, sex, and dating. At Wellesley, long-distance couples are no longer able to see each other as easily as they used to, depending on video call and needing to become more creative with virtual dates. On-campus relationships have transformed as well, as they navigate COVID regulations and harm-reduction strategies. Fortunately, love prevails and Wellesley students have still found ways to maintain romantic relationships.
**Names have been changed to protect student anonymity.