While there have been no concrete studies about the rise in the number of long-distance relationships due to global lockdown protocols, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing in general, there are other indicators that could provide clues to the fact that long-distance relationships of all types – friendship-based, familial, and romantic – could be showing significant increases during this troubling time of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 around the world. Therefore, the increase in the number of LDRs (Long-distance Relationships, vs. GCRs or Geographically Close Relationships) must necessarily be deduced from the clues gleaned from various quarters.
The Quarantine Conundrum
The first of these is the quarantine period that people suspected of having a novel coronavirus infection are forced to undergo – or go through voluntarily, the latter of which is known as self-quarantining or self-isolation. This physical separation is bound to lead to several GCRs being torn apart and forced into the territory of long-distance relationships. While they’re not actual LDRs, they certainly have the same quality of being forced upon the couples in question; i.e. from compulsion rather than by choice.
Although lockdown restrictions are being lifted around the world and some countries like the United States are going through a tremendous mass violation of social distancing norms (due primarily to the killing of George Floyd by a law enforcement officer), some countries have issued fresh quarantine regulations. The UK, for example, is now requiring a 14-day period of self-isolation for all international passengers arriving in the country. New Delhi, the capital of India, has updated its quarantine guidelines for people arriving by air, rail, and road. Around the world, as countries attempt to ease lockdown regulations in a phased manner, the new rules for self-isolation are coming into effect.
While these may be short-lived, common sense says that this will lead to a spike in long-distance relationship-type situations around the world. That’s the first indicator.
Novel Coronavirus: A Dating Game-changer
The second clue comes from the shifting trends in social life in all parts of the globe. Several reports, including a recent New York Times article, show that physical dating is out and virtual dating is in. This could affect the way the dating game is played from now on. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about splitting the bill! On the downside, no more experiencing the anticipation and thrill of that first-date kiss. Considering that even after lockdown restrictions being lifted, social life is never going to be the same again (translation: face coverings and masks to be worn indefinitely while in public.)
Social distancing was once a requirement to stop the contagion called novel coronavirus; in the future, it may be a wise choice to make to preserve your health and well-being. This is certain to affect the quality of our romantic relationships, and a long-distance relationship seems to provide the answer to a problem that may never be solved: how to prevent infection when there’s neither a cure nor a vaccine for COVID-19 at this particular point in time?
On the one hand, GCRs are going through a rough patch; on the other, LDRs appear to offer a make-shift solution to a long-term problem. If that is indeed true, then it follows that long-distance relationships will spike in the post-coronavirus era and continue to grow until it plateaus sometime in the future.
Growth in eCommerce Gifting
The third clue that long-distance relationships are spiking comes from the world of eCommerce. According to Theresa McEndree, marketing VP at retail research firm Blackhawk Network:
“We’ve seen unprecedented growth in digital gifting in 2020 and believe consumers’ rapid adoption of digital gift cards is here to stay. The gift card market is forecasted to reach nearly $550 billion by 2024 and now 71% of consumers that were surveyed report they are interested in digital gift cards vs. other gifts.”
Of course, not all of that growth can be attributed to LDR couples sending each other gifts, but it is a strong indication that long-distance relationships are on the rise. This doesn’t only include romantic LDRs but also families and friends who are distanced from each other due to the global pandemic situation.
Love from a Distance, à la Videoconferencing
A fourth clue is offered by another technology element – videoconferencing. The rapid growth in the number of cloud-based video calling on platforms like Zoom is a clear indication that remote communication is on the rise and will remain high for the foreseeable future. As early as April 2020, Zoom announced that it was hosting daily meetings for a staggering 300 million participants. That’s the DAILY figure when lockdowns were still in their early days of implementation. In fact, data from Drift shows that Zoom quickly scaled up to 1 million followers on the microblogging platform Twitter. By comparison, major telecommunications operator AT&T has 908,000 after being on the platform since 2008!
We can safely assume that a significant portion of these calls is between long-distance relationship couples, physically distanced family members, and friends who are missing each other’s physical presence. A lot of that volume is obviously coming from the business world as companies struggle to get back to normal using a work-from-home model for their employees, but the typical ratio of business calls to personal calls is likely skewing toward the personal side at the moment.
What these indicators collectively suggest is that all versions of long-distance relationships – romantic, familial, and friendship-based – are definitely on the rise around the world. Furthermore, this is a trend that will conceivably continue through the end of 2020 and well into 2021.
The Vexing Issue of a Working COVID-19 Vaccine
Will the release of a vaccine or cure reverse this effect right away? That’s not very likely. The first reason is that we’re still months away from properly tested and verified vaccines being released to the public. The typical timeline for a vaccine to be tested and released is about 10 years; we’re trying to squeeze that into an 18-month timeframe, which experts suggest “is an incredibly aggressive schedule.” Granted, there are about 90 potential candidates being tested right now which is much higher than any other vaccine development attempt in history; however, there is no guarantee that even one of them will be able to successfully prevent a COVID-19 infection in all cases.
Secondly, even if something comes at the end of 2020 or early in 2021, as the optimists are saying, it will be several months more before such a vaccine or cure can be mass-produced and mass-administered at a global scale.
Another problem with that best-case scenario is that the World Health Organization, the only body capable of coordinating a global vaccine administration plan, is hobbled by U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to stop its funding. As of now, there is no global plan to roll out a successful vaccine when it does hit the market.
Moreover, there are questions such as whether or not the vaccine, if developed by a private entity, will be offered for free. If not, governments around the world will be vying to get supplies, and this could quickly deteriorate into a free-for-all, with the highest bidders getting the chunk of vaccine supplies.
Another problem that seems to be creeping up behind us is that even a successful vaccine may need to be ‘redesigned’ if the novel coronavirus shows a significant mutation. Thankfully, the rate of mutations in the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus has been slower than in the case of other viruses. However, one alarming development is that mutations have been found in the “spike protein”, the part of the virus that is used to infect normal human cells. Although these mutations are rare per expert opinion, it might result in need for global coordination to monitor any critical changes. And that’s not something the world is ready for.
The situation does not look good for the next several years, and long-distance relationships could be the best medium-term solution that helps people around the world maintain and nurture their relationships with their near and dear ones, whether they’re lovers, friends, or family members.
Editor’s Note: The friendship lamp can be a terrific aid in your long-distance relationship efforts.