It’s almost been a year since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in China. Since then schools around the world have shut down, entire industries have faced incredible hardship, and multiple international borders have been closed. When borders began closing worldwide, there were a lot of cancelled plans, but also quite a few broken hearts as unmarried long distance couples were no longer legally allowed to travel to see their loved ones.
When Belgian Eva met her Israeli boyfriend in 2018, she happened to be in Tel Aviv for one of her friends’ birthdays and certainly didn’t expect to meet anyone when she was there. But when she orchestrated a birthday celebration at a local bar, she just clicked with one of the guys who worked there.
Three days later, he joined Eva and her friends in Jordan for the last leg of their trip, and three weeks after that, Eva was back in Israel to spend even more time with him. It’s been over two years since then, and Eva and her boyfriend have been traveling back and forth to see each other ever since.
But when COVID-19 led to border closures around the globe, Eva didn’t see her boyfriend for over 6 months. Though Eva and her boyfriend were in a serious relationship, today, most countries only allow permanent residents like married couples and blood-related family members to cross borders to be reunited. For the thousands of couples who haven’t gotten married yet either because they haven’t had the chance or never planned to, they are out of luck.
So in June, Eva created a Facebook page called Love is Not Tourism, a space to provide support and information for international couples who couldn’t see each other due to COVID-19. Eva wanted to create a global platform that local initiatives could show their local government to prove these suffering couples weren’t alone. Some were mothers who had to give birth without their baby’s father. Others were couples who struggled with their mental health when separated from their loved ones. There were canceled flights, visas, and plans.
Within two weeks, the group had 5,000 members; today, it has grown to have over 39,000. I initially joined the group after being separated from my French boyfriend. My boyfriend and I have been in a long-distance relationship before, but we managed to see each other almost every month and always knew the next time we would be together. This time was different.
When I returned to the U.S. in mid-September, I didn’t know if I would see him again. Leaving, I didn’t know when American borders would open up to Europeans and vice versa. With the second wave putting some countries, like France, back in a strict lockdown, I really didn’t—and still don’t—know when borders would open back up again. How long could we last before the distance got too tough?
But luckily, countries started creating exceptions for particular unmarried couples to see each other. To reunite in Belgium, you originally had to prove you were dating your significant other for over two years and that you had spent 40 days together in real life to get the documentation to have your significant other come to Belgium. Eventually, thanks to Eva’s Belgian initiative, couples now only have to be together for one year. In France, you have to prove you’ve been dating for at least six months before the borders closed in March to get a laissez-passer, a document that would allow a non-French person to cross the closed borders. The problem is proving it.
For Thomas and me, the French wanted administrative proof like joint bank accounts, a lease with both of our names on it, or hotel reservations booked under both of our names, none of which we had. Instead, I sent in the two visas I used to live in France for the past two years, my stamped passport that showed I entered France, Thomas’ stamped passport from when he visited the U.S. with me, and then a few time-stamped photos, and hoped for the best.
The application also required photos of our IDs and a written request that stated when our relationship began. I sent in my application, and three weeks later, I received a document that would allow me to stay in France for up to three months. But not everyone is so lucky. My friend, Lily, and her boyfriend Étienne had only been dating for a few months before the borders closed. Even though they’ve now been dating for almost a year, unfortunately, it will never be long enough for the French government.
So far, 11 different European countries including Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland have created ways for unmarried couples to see each other again, but other countries around the world, including the United States, are slow to follow. When I posted in the “Love is Not Tourism” page looking to get to know some other separated couples’ stories, my post and DMs were flooded with messages from people who couldn’t see the people they loved.
Amy, a travel nurse, met her Moroccan boyfriend, Amine, when she was in Montreal for a week with friends last November. Amy lived in New Hampshire, which was only a three-hour drive away from Montreal, where Amine is a permanent resident, so they made the distance work. But, when the border closed back in March, things got a little more complicated because they couldn’t see each other anymore. Since then, many Canadian-American couples have been able to see each other, but since Amine had to renew his permanent residency during the pandemic, he hasn’t been able to leave Canada. Finally, through one of the support pages for separated couples, Amy learned that there was a place where she and Amine could meet right on the border. So, in mid-October, they gave it a go. It wasn’t the same as really being together, but Amy and Amine are hoping to see each other — and really be together — soon.
Stories like this one made me frustrated for people like Amy and Amine, but there were also many stories of couples reuniting after months of not seeing one another. Swedish Jonathan and his Puerto Rican girlfriend, Paola, met when they were both in The Netherlands. They were finally able to reunite after more than 10 months apart. Fernanda from Mexico met her Moroccan boyfriend when they were both cast members at Disney World, but after 11 months apart she was finally able to move to Morocco where her and her boyfriend just got married. It’s hard being away from my boyfriend, but I’m hopeful after reading through the stories of other successful reunions. As humans, we’re going through a time that nobody could’ve been prepared for, so I’m just trying to hope for the best.