Without the aid of physical touch, it falls to culture to serve as the baseline for long-distance relationships.
At the start of quarantine, during those few weeks wherein I did nothing but endlessly scroll social media in search of something to fill my sudden free time, I remember seeing a friend post on Instagram about her and her boyfriend’s Covid-19 movie night. That got me thinking about just how normalised the concept already was to me – as someone who has been in long-distance relationships (LDR for short) for the better part of the last few years, cracking open my laptop, and whiling away the hours with my partner’s voice coming through the speakers rather than from beside me on the couch had become a comforting routine rather than a disconcerting special circumstance.
Being able to engage with my partner despite the physical distance between us is something made possible only by the endless wonders of modern technology. Nowadays, there’s a wealth of activities available to the both of us, with some of them more similar to real-life experiences than someone lucky enough to have their partner closer than a plane-ride away might think. And, in turn, almost all of the things I can do with my other half exist due to cultural cornerstones.
As cheesy as it is, my Spotify is filled with exchanged playlists that I’ve cried over a few times. If either of us were more of the chef type, I’m sure we’d be exchanging recipes – instead, we’re more prone to making fun of each other’s cuisines than the more wholesome alternative. And, though a functioning attention-span eludes me to the point where binge-watching movies or TV shows isn’t viable, I know that for many they’re a staple of the LDR experience. Nevertheless, everything we do together can be linked back to the arts in some way – even if we were sending handwritten letters by carrier pigeon, whatever poetic sentiment I would have spun like a Victorian courter upon their pages would’ve all been thanks to my cultural exposure.
Overall, though, we find ourselves playing video games most often. Being able to actively engage with each other in a space that even slightly mimics the physical world is definitely a consolation. Final Fantasy 14 (FFXIV), Square Enix’s MMORPG title, is currently our poison of choice. As silly as it may seem on the outside, going on adventures in a crazy fantasy universe with our own avatars feels almost real sometimes, even if a coffee shop date is in no way comparable to beating up monsters in instanced dungeons.
FFXIV itself must be keenly aware of the couples who enjoy it together, considering it offers its players the ability to get married in-game. You can also occasionally spot pairs of avatars with matching last names loitering around in city hubs, positioned noticeably too close to each other. I don’t think I’ll ever reach that level of in-game relationship dedication, but I can’t lie and say it isn’t even a little bit cute. It warms my heart to see how many people use the game in the same way I do – to strengthen bonds between themselves and their loved ones, despite being so far away from them in real life. It’s not limited to just romantic love, either; I play with my friends, and I know tons of people use the game to keep in touch with their families too.
The other night, I hopped onto my account to take pictures of me and my partner’s characters at the beach. Looking back on those photos makes me smile. It reminds me that, even though we may be physically distant, there’s still ways for us to enjoy our time together, and gives me butterflies thinking of the possibility that in the future we’ll be able to take a sickly sweet walk down the beach together in real life. I’m deeply thankful, then, to all those illustrative artisans and authors over hundreds of years of human history whose life’s work has culminated in a Japanese role-playing game about catgirls and fighting ancient gods for me and my other half to enjoy on a perhaps more atypical date night.