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How students' love and friendship persevered in isolation

Three unique stories about navigating relationships during COVID-19

These three stories represent a moment when COVID redefined both platonic and romantic relationships. The hope and the message in each of these stories is the ability to maintain positive human connection through one of the darkest moments in modern human history. To protect the anonymity of those represented in these stories, all names have been changed. 

  1. Jeanie, Harry and I 

This story is from the author's first-person perspective, detailing the foundation of a close friend's friendship and her relationship with her boyfriend. The common denominator — COVID-19 quarantine. 

It isn’t often that a friendship begins because someone gives you COVID-19. It also isn’t often that a romantic relationship begins through quarantine.

I’m standing in the corner of the patio of my home, a beat-up former fraternity house on Grady Ave. My good friend, third-year College student Jeanie Hamilton, and her boyfriend are taking pictures, preparing to attend her sorority formal. The blond pair are both slight in build. As I watch, they lean into one another — comfortable. 

I first became close with Jeanie in the fall of 2020, when we were sequestered into a life of solitude in our apartment building during our second year. At the beginning of the year her boyfriend, Harry, visited from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — where COVID-19 was beginning to run rampant due to the large number of students returning to campus. Unwillingly, Harry infected Jeanie with COVID-19, who then proceeded to pass it to me.

Luckily, none of us got too sick and and the spread of the disease remained fairly contained to our apartment. After testing positive, I moved into Jeanie and her roommates’ apartment, sleeping on an air mattress in their living room for 10 days as we all quarantined together. We watched movies, drank wine and even had poker nights. I was struck by how close the three of them were, and how willing they were to share in one another’s successes and failures. 

Jeanie and Harry had only begun their relationship a few months before that.

In high school, Harry was the best friend of Jeanie’s sister, Marissa. The idea of dating, Jeanie said, never even crossed their minds. She had a boyfriend, he had a girlfriend. They remained friendly as Harry went on to become a distinguished Morehead-Cain scholar at UNC. 

Jeanie thoroughly enjoyed her first six months at the University, making a good group of friends, joining a sorority and starting the coursework that would allow her to become a computer science and sociology major. She was often found loping across Grounds alongside her roommate. 

Then, the age-old tale of being sent home to quarantine. During a spring break trip to the Bahamas, Jeanie received the ominous email from University President Jim Ryan — she had to go home. Returning to Atlanta, she settled back into her home with her two parents, her sister, and their dog Cody, her favorite family member. Harry, meanwhile, has no siblings and was forced to quarantine alone with his parents. 

Throughout quarantine, Jeanie’s family allowed just two non-family visitors to come into their home — Marissa’s boyfriend, Zack, and Harry. In a TikTok that went viral, Jeanie showed Zack’s reaction to finally being allowed back into their home after a long period of isolation. Jeanie readily admits that this TikTok was staged — Zack had been allowed in their home for some time.

So, Jeanie and Harry were quite literally the only people outside of their own families whom each other spoke to for nearly three months. They had family game nights, played an exorbitant amount of pickleball and cooked dinner together as a group. 

“COVID of course has been a hideously detrimental pandemic that has ruined the lives of so many families,” Jeanie said. “But the world has been able to find little positives within their COVID experiences as a way of coping and forgetting.”

Once the pandemic restrictions lifted a bit, the pair of four — Jeanie, Marissa, Zack and Harry — went to the beach. One night, Jeanie and Harry ended up staying up until five in the morning, talking on the couch together.  They talked about everything from what they wanted to do with their lives to what their relationship with their parents was. She even recalled to me that they even laughed about the fact that he was much nicer to her than she was to him. 

They began dating shortly thereafter.

“Our budding relationship is just one example of — I’m sure — many types of relationships that strengthened through these tough times,” Jeanie said. 

According to Jeanie, the pandemic was one of the reasons their relationship worked. The online format of Zoom allowed the pair to travel frequently to visit each other, taking classes in Chapel Hill and Charlottesville. The lack of social gatherings allowed them to have more flexible weekend plans. 

The couple’s desire to stop the spread of COVID-19 did not work as well as they might have hoped. Despite my original apprehension towards Jeanie, particularly after she passed me the virus, I came to love her kind friendship, snarky comments and ability to always tell me when I was wrong. 

I can see the strength of Jeanie and Harry’s relationship in the way they rarely fight, if ever. Their attraction to one another is simple — built on the strength of having known each other for almost their entire lives.

In the months following our collective quarantine, the five of us — Jeanie, her two roommates and another close friend — became a collective group. After our experience quarantining together, we knew each other oh-so-well. Jeanie came to be someone whose guidance I relied upon and whose insistence on always being right annoyed, entertained and amazed me — because she often is.

So, I stand in the corner of the patio, watching as the pair lean into one another. I never thought a friendship would begin by someone giving me an infectious disease — but it did, just as Jeanie probably never thought that her relationship would begin because she got sent home due to a pandemic. 

  1. Not the Greatest Love Story

High school love isn’t always forever love — and, sometimes, it’s time to move on.

There’s a song John said always reminded him of their love story — “Greatest Love Story” by LANCO. 

“They said I was nothing but a troublemaker, 

Never up to no good,

You were the perfect all American girl, 

Wouldn't touch me even if you could.” 

She and John grew up together in North Carolina, going to a large high school in the city center of Charlotte. Their relationship was typical of a high school relationship from a cheesy movie. John was the archetypal bad boy and she was the stereotypical good girl. 

Her parents clearly disapproved. Her father, a successful businessman, made this opinion obvious with a silent demeanor and his harsh glances. 

Their relationship remained strong — until they broke up before going to college. It was their time to experience the world separately. John’s love for her, however, remained strong — and they visited one another at their respective schools throughout their first year.

“We didn't know any better

Didn't have a clue about life

But I was what you wanted, you were what I needed

And we could meet in between.” 

During the spring of her first year, her roommate introduced her to a new boy — someone who provided her with a sense of safety and comfort that John had not. He was equal parts kind and intelligent. Her parents even approved of the new boy. 

When they broke up in the fall of her second year, John came to visit Charlottesville. With COVID-19 forcing the school into lockdown, she thought he might provide an excitement to her seemingly bland life.

But it was weird for her to see someone who seemed so distant from her current life in her apartment, on Grounds, interacting with her friends — it felt like bringing a ghost back from the past. John’s deep Southern accent and tendency to lay on the couch at all hours of the day seemed out of place, no longer fitting in the life which she had made for herself. 

With the pandemic nearly over, she is in a new relationship with someone who combines the passion of her first relationship and the safety of her second. Still, John often sends her texts and messages, telling her he loves her. But she knows their story isn’t the one from the song.

  1. The Game of Love in COVID-19

This serendipitous tale details how Amara and Steven met via a quest-based computer game, during quarantine. 

When many of her friends returned to the University during the fall of 2020, second-year College student Amara remained at home in Portland, Oregon, in order to keep her friends and family safe. To pass the time, she began playing “Among Us,” with her friends. The virtual game features up ten players, and the crewmates must attempt to keep a ship from going down. The trick is that there is at least one impostor who tries to kill everyone on board. The game — like many other virtual platforms — soared in popularity during COVID-19. 

Amara happened to meet her boyfriend, Steven, through the game. Amara was invited to play with her high school friend alongside his college friends, all of whom went to the Georgia Institute of Technology. It just so happened that Steven was the one who assassinated Amara during that particular game session.

They started by chatting virtually while playing the games, Facetiming and talking on the phone. Through their long conversations, Amara developed feelings for Steven — admiring his intelligence, his witty sense of humor and their easy conversation. After talking for a few weeks, Amara confessed to Steven that she liked him. Much to her disappointment, he replied that he didn’t feel the same — he valued their friendship more than the prospect of a romantic relationship. 

This rejection didn’t stop their friendship. The pair continued talking for nearly a month — speaking at length, often long into the night. After spending more time with Amara, Steven realized that he returned her affections. 

The pair began going on virtual dates, Zooming or FaceTiming and talking about their mutual interests, families and friends. Amara found the dates to be fun and exciting, as she found it particularly endearing that the both of them were actively setting aside time to spend time with one another. The dates gave Amara something to look forward to in the monotony of quarantine.  

One date featured slideshows in which they presented their family histories, their close friendships and their lives at school. They brainstormed the ideas for the dates on their own and suggested them to one another.

The couple discovered mutual love and interests. Amara loves piano, and Steven has been trying to learn it for sometime. They also both love art, so they began drawing with one another. Sharing their nerdier interests was also important to Amara — she loves Harry Potter and crosswords, while he likes origami. 

While Amara returned to U.Va. later that spring, Steven remained at home in Virginia, attending school remotely. They entered into a relationship only after meeting one another when Amara returned to Virginia. 

Amara and Steven isolated themselves from their friends in order to be able to travel back and forth to see one another. The experience was difficult, especially considering the fact that the majority of her friends and roommates were back on Grounds in the fall. When she finally came back for the spring semester, Amara isolated from her friends in order to ensure their safety. Steven travelled from Northern Virginia to Charlottesville to see Amara frequently, though this meant that they had to take special care in quarantining and social distancing practices. 

Their relationship clearly required sacrifice. It all started with “Among Us,” a simple game— but COVID-19 necessitated their distance, their travel, and their isolation. Yet, they found a solace in one another which led them away from loneliness. They won the game in a way that neither of them anticipated. 


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