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It’s challenging enough dealing with the physical limitations of a government or work-imposed quarantine, but for couples who are dating, the current social distancing restrictions have put a strain on relationships too. As much of the country heads into its third month of stay-at-home orders, couples who aren’t quarantining together are having to seek out new ways to keep their relationships fresh — and flourishing.
“The pandemic is the great amplifier for couples, especially for those quarantining apart,” says Libby Payne, an Austin-based relationship coach and and co-founder of TheArtofLove.com. “Any preexisting challenges or dynamics have grown so loud that they can’t be ignored, and at the same time, we aren’t taking our partners for granted as much and appreciating them more as well.”
For couples who are doing the long distance thing, relationship experts say there are a number of things besides FaceTime that they can use to stay connected. We’ve rounded up seven ways for couples to chat, date and even get intimate, virtually. It may not be ideal, but a little creativity could go a long way.
“If both people are committed to the relationship, they will be willing to make the effort to invest in their partner,” says Jennifer Wexler, a dating and relationship coach in Beverly Hills and founder of Find Real Love After 40. “The goal is to get creative, be authentic and have fun so you can both develop a deeper connection”
1. Use Video Calling Rather Than Voice Calling
“Couples can stay connected even while physically quarantining apart by setting designated time to connect with each other,” says Wexler. Rather than just chatting on the phone, Wexler says scheduling daily video chats are more meaningful.
“While on the video chat, try to go deeper,” she says. “Don’t just give the highlights or lowlights of your day; take this time to get to know your partner’s hopes, dreams and fears, as well as share your own.”
Another suggestion: “Has your partner dreamed of going to Europe? Thinking about going to New York for New Year’s Eve?” Wexler suggests planning a “virtual trip or presentation” via video. These thoughtful gestures could go a long way. Just remember to be present. “Don’t be watching TV or texting [while on video],” Wexler says. “Make eye contact.”
For crystal clear video chats, put down your phone and use a device like the Echo Show instead. This smart display features an eight-inch HD screen and crisp, stereo sound. You can also use it as a smart speaker to play music, watch video clips and ask Alexa to read the news, check the weather and more. New privacy settings mean you can disconnect the microphones and camera with the push of a button. There’s a built-in shutter to close the camera too.
2. Send Photos
“When you are thinking of your partner, let them know with a text, picture, meme, song or sweet voice message,” Payne says. “Spontaneous and authentic connection is something couples miss, apart from their scheduled times to connect.”
One way to send photos is through a WiFi-enabled frame, like this one from Nixplay. Use the Nixplay app or email to send photos from your computer, tablet or phone directly to your partner’s frame. He or she will see your images on a brilliant 1280 x 800 HD display, which can keep the same photo up or cycle through a playlist. A motion sensor turns the frame on automatically, so your partner can be reminded of you each time he or she walks into the room.
3. Set Up a Game Night
What’s your favorite game to play together? Whether it’s Yahtzee or Battleship, Wexler suggests ordering two versions of the game for each person to have, so you can play together while chatting on video. Invite another pair to the chat and make it a couples’ game night.
Trivia is always an easy game to play over video, and Rolling Stone has a music trivia game that tests your knowledge of everyone from The Beatles to Bon Iver. This set gets you 200 Q&A cards in total with questions that span genres, time periods and various artists. Shout, sing and hum your way to a win.
4. Make (and Eat) Dinner Together
You may not be able to dine out together just yet, but Wexler suggests setting a “virtual” dinner date by using a meal delivery service and cooking a meal together. “Let’s say you both love Italian food,” she says. “Get the ingredients to arrive to each separate house on the same night and you and your partner can cook together virtually and follow along with the recipe.”
We like HelloFresh, which lets you choose from 20 recipes each week (including Italian dishes!), and then sends pre-portioned ingredients for each meal, along with easy-to-follow recipe cards and serving suggestions.
5. Start a Book Club
Create your own book club. “Pick a book and commit to reading a certain amount and discuss it on each call,” Wexler says. She likes the book, 500 Couples Questions: The Fun Guide to Building Trust and Emotional Intimacy, which offers a ton of conversation starters to help you get to know your partner better. “It’s a great book where couples can build a deeper connection by asking each other a series of questions,” she says.
Prefer audiobooks? Get a free trial to Audible and stream or download a book to listen to together. Choose from recent releases, best-sellers or the classics. An Audible membership also gets you access to newspapers and magazines, and health and wellness meditations as well. Start your free trial here.
6. Start Planning For the Future
Payne recommends signing up for Lifebook, an online program that walks couples and individuals through tools and strategies to help them design — and achieve — their “dream” life. “The pandemic is such a perfect time to recenter and refocus your long term goals and plans together,” Payne explains.
The six-week course (which requires a commitment of about 3-4 hours a week) covers “12 dimensions” of life, including career, wealth, health, and relationships. Stream the course materials on your phone, laptop or tablet, and get access to training videos, reading materials and coaching calls. The goal: to be able to write your own “lifebook” by the time you’re finished, to set you and your relationship up for success.
“It’s stimulating, and helps to build deeps roots of connection together, even when you’re apart physically,” Payne says. “Couples who use this time wisely to plan their futures are not only giving themselves something to look forward to, but will be lightyears ahead when quarantine is over.”
Another suggestion: take an online language course together, like something from Rosetta Stone (which now offers live coaching), or choose from thousands of courses at Udemy, which offers everything from photoshop classes, to entrepreneurship programs, to courses for personal development. “Pick anything that sparks interest between the two of you that you’ve never had time to explore,” Payne says.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Intimate
You may be physically apart but that doesn’t mean you can’t share an intimate moment with your partner. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in couples seeking out teledildonics, a term used to describe interactive, internet-connected sex toys. From vibrators to plugs, these sex toys can all be controlled from a distance, thanks to new Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities.
One of the most popular devices is the OhMiBod Esca 2, which offers four different vibration patterns and three levels of intensity. While one partner wears the device, the other can send a vibration pattern through an easy-to-connect app. The company says the app and device work no matter where in the world you are; all you need is a WiFi signal.
Even if you haven’t used sex toys before, this is a great time to test them out from the confines — and comforts — of home. “When you incorporate a vibrator into sex with a partner, you’re still having sex with that partner, not with your vibrator,” offers Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., author of the how-to guide Becoming Cliterate and the resident “sexpert” for sex toy brand LELO. “Your connection is to the person, not the object you’re using with the person. This is akin to a couple swimming in a pool together,” she explains. “One gets on a raft to float around and the other hangs on the raft, talking, teasing, and kissing. The person on the raft is still swimming with the other person—she’s just using the raft to float.”
Sex toys also provide a much-needed sense of touch that you or your partner may be craving during this time apart. “The physical intimacy you’re used to is missing and your partner can easily get starved and frozen for touch, especially if they are quarantining all alone,” says Payne, who encourages the use of sex toys. “The body often can’t distinguish between touch from you or someone else,” she explains. “The sense receptors respond to the exact same data points — pressure, texture, temperature, etc. — no matter who or what is touching you. Touch is touch.”
Manufacturers have already coined a new term for this type of long distance play: virtual intimacy.
“With the rise in interest in virtual intimacy, we expect to see many more products enter the market, allowing couples to share intimate moments from near or far – even from the other side of the country,” says Tino Dietrich, CEO of adult toy company, Ella Paradis, which reports a more than 200% increase in sales since March. Dietrich says he expects more products to launch soon, including “virtual intimacy apps and devices that offer video chat functions while operating the toys if you want to. Virtual intimacy,” he says, “will be taken virtually to new heights.”
“Thanks to technology, couples can now keep a healthy sex life even if they are not quarantining together (or are just living apart generally),” adds Mintz. “During cybersex, couples can see one another’s bodies and talk to each other while they each pleasure themselves with their hands or sex toys in real-time. In short,” she says, “the use of technology can make long-distance sex not only accessible, but the next best thing to being in person.”
Ultimately, these toys and devices and meal delivery kits will only do so much for a relationship. Like any good partnership, the best way to confront challenges is to communicate. “Not getting to spend time with your partner can be challenging so be honest with your feelings,” says Wexler. “If you miss your partner, tell him or her; if you’re feeling lonely, share your thoughts. If you’re feeling frustrated because you miss doing activities together, speak up. Nothing builds connection and trust more than transparency and authenticity.”