Christmas is less than six weeks away and, instead of saving to buy presents for my loved ones, I’ve dropped an obscene amount of money on a flight to reunite with my husband before it’s no longer possible.
I am a UK citizen, and met my husband, a New Yorker born and raised, while studying in America in 2015. We met at a party and, as the cliché goes, there was an instant connection – forged by our sense of humour, values and a love of each other’s accents. After chatting for most of the night I, with some new-found confidence, put my number in his phone. Neither of us were looking for anything but it found us anyway. Despite the fact that I was set to leave New York the next year we decided to go for it – he was my boyfriend a month later, and the romance made my studying abroad experience even sweeter.
He applied to study at my home university in England and we spent a second year together, falling more in love as we travelled Europe. We both graduated, got jobs in our respective countries, and have been in a long-distance relationship ever since. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done: dealing with time zones, missing birthdays and special occasions, saving money and annual leave days to see each other as often as possible, and being terrified the spark will have disappeared (spoiler: it never has).
He proposed in February 2020, and finally there was light at the end of the tunnel. We immediately started planning a legal marriage ceremony and celebrations in London and New York – having fought so hard to be together we were determined to celebrate with the friends and family who dealt with us moping along the way.
The ultimate goal of submitting my visa application and eventually moving in together was in our sights - but I’m sure you can see where this is going.
In March 2020 the world changed dramatically and, like many other couples our plans went out the window, but we were 3000 miles apart at the time. President Trump declared no one from the UK would be allowed into America, and both countries went into lockdown. We had no choice but to cancel not only all the visits we had planned for the year, but also our wedding plans.
Totally heartbroken, we spent a difficult six months apart, the longest we have ever gone without seeing each other. We relied on Animal Crossing dates and video calls (with a frustratingly poor Wi-Fi connection) but, with much perseverance, we did manage to get married in the madness that was 2020.
While investigating countries that would allow us both to enter to see each other, we booked a trip to St Lucia, and with two hotel staff members as our witnesses and the Petit Piton as our backdrop, we said our vows and tied the knot.
It was five years since we’d first met, and while we were incredibly happy, it was bittersweet to not have anyone to celebrate with. We were fortunate to have our parents’ full support – agreeing that if this was the only way it could happen, then all that mattered was that it happened. We spent the evening drinking champagne on FaceTime with them and enjoyed a magical week, until we said goodbye at the hotel back in August. I haven’t seen him since.
Until this year I wasn’t aware of the number of people in the same situation as us, but a couple in St Lucia (one from America, one from Germany) told me about the Love Is Not Tourism movement, which started in response to Covid-19 travel restrictions. It has become a community, offering advice and support when the rest of the world, even our closest friends and family, can’t understand the lonely, hopeless reality we are facing. Through Love Is Not Tourism’s amazing work, some countries have introduced exemptions to allow couples to reunite safely – but there are still those who have not seen each other this year and are facing the holiday season apart, with no end in sight.
In my case, we’ve spent the last three months long-distance, surviving on nightly video calls and constantly checking our immigration case status, the only real change being my surname. We are hoping to have wedding parties in both our home countries over the next two years but were mostly focussed on seeing each other for the first time since we got married.
Spouses of US citizens are exempt from the current travel ban but, until my visa is approved, we are bound by tourist restrictions on the amount of time I can be in the country and how often. I was due to travel to NY in early December for Christmas, until Boris announced a new national lockdown that banned international travel, with the only exemption being for work.
After a couple of stressful days, I got on a flight the day before lockdown started. By the time you will get to read this I will have arrived but as I write I am anxious about border security and strict quarantine requirements, but above all excited to spend proper time with my husband.
We’ll be together for more than two weeks for the first time in nearly three years so it will be intense, but worth it to wake up together on Christmas morning – there are many couples who won’t be so lucky.