We are in a really strange time. Not only is it strange for our every day lives, it’s also a really strange time for dating and relationships. Couples have rushed to move in together, people are going on first dates via FaceTime, and the state of New York has deemed sex with yourself is the safest sex you can have. While almost every expert has suggestions on how to navigate casual dating or quarantining together during the COVID-19 pandemic, not many have talked about what this situation means for couples who are now in an involuntary long-distance relationships.
To give us some clarity and answer our questions, we enlisted the help of sexual health & consent educator and relationship expert, Samantha Bitty.
In your expertise, do you believe sexual intimacy is a key factor in maintaining a healthy relationship?
Short answer: Yes. It certainly is, though, not to erase folks who are asexual, demi-sexual, or exist on the sexuality spectrum as not having the desire for sexual intimacy in a physical way.
Long Answer: If sexual intimacy is something that is important to you, then it’s going to be a key factor in a relationship that is accomplishing what you want to accomplish, both as individuals and partners.
When physical contact is not an option, like right now, what can couples do to fill the physical intimacy void?
We’re in such an unprecedented time. We can learn about physical intimacy at a distance from folks who have been in long distance relationships for long periods of time, even though, in this situation, there is the added anxiety of not knowing when we will once again be together.
I think there is a lot of innovation that has happened in our time around this. Things like, weighted blankets, body pillows, and remote control vibrators. There are sex toys, like the We-Vibe Chorus, that have apps where you can access the device from anywhere in the world! You can still have that almost physical connection.
Can anything really replace someones touch or smell? No. But, you can use the same laundry detergent. A weighted blanket may not actually be your man, but it could smell like him and activate that scent memory.
With the current situation, where these is no concrete end-date, how can long-distance couples stay positive?
Couples in traditional long-distance relationships always have the visit or end-date to look forward to. Right now, in this sitatuion, we have no end-date. We have to take it one day at a time. Everything is manageable if we’re not living in the unknowns of the future or replaying the past. With partnership, you also have to remember that you are in it together. You can still create milestones and schedules – whatever will help you get through. You have to tap into your individual learning style and understand what is going to work for you.
We’re going to learn a lot about our partners that we may not have learned, should this situation have not occurred. Do you see this as a positive?
I really do see this as a positive. My practice is rooted in the pillars of emotional intelligence. I thin k it is the foundation of a ‘successful’ or ‘healthy’ relationship. A lot of the time, as a culture, we try to avoid as much friction, as we can. This situation is pushing us to be really present to ourselves. We are now understanding our strengths and areas that we also need to work on. It is also showing us the same about our partners. Space and communication are very real issues in relationships. What we know about communication, is that it’s only as affective as our ability to understand others and have empathy. This is a really great opportunity for people to develop a common language. We need to learn to be on the same frequency as each other. I see people emerging from this with more emotional range, emotional capacity, and empathy, and this is only going to happen through the pain.
What are the opportunities for gains in emotional intelligence and intimacy?
Emotional Intelligence: The four pillars of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relationship management. Everybody, whether they are present to their emotional intelligence or not, has it. It’s like any other skill. The current situation is unprecedented in every possible way. As it relates to an individual relationship, chances are, you’ve never had to communicate your needs this way, let alone be aware of your needs and wants. This requires a lot of flexibility, endurance, self-love, and non-judgement of yourself and others. We are all going to have to hold conflicting ideas and emotions together. That’s where the growth in emotional intelligence is going to come from.
Intimacy: The ways that partners were communicating before are not going to be sufficient to withstand this situation. How do we honour and practice boundaries in way s that we’ve never had to before? People are going to have to learn a different language to assess what’s going on with them, and keep their interactions healthy. The growth and transformation that comes from overcoming something like this, with someone else, there really is nothing like it.
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