Tyler Krell’s ideal pandemic-safe date with his partner, Luna Parra, is something outdoors.
“Like a hike, and then picking up food and having a picnic,” Krell wrote in an email.
And with Valentine’s Day approaching, teen couples need all the date ideas they can get. No more $5 candy grams to have delivered to each other during school, or going to the movies and sharing popcorn.
This year is about isolation, taking precautions to protect loved ones and having much more distance from partners than usual.
Krell and Parra have been in a relationship for over a year, having just started dating a few months before the pandemic reached New Mexico last spring.
“The first month(ish) of quarantine was difficult due to not being able to see each other and only being able to connect over text/call,” Parra wrote.
Parra and Krell are both sophomores at Santa Fe High School and learning online, like many teens in New Mexico. Among other disadvantages and missed experiences students have endured during the pandemic, many high school sweethearts are having to navigate challenges through their relationships.
While social isolation can create hurdles in romance, in some ways, it has brought some couples closer and created trust between partners. With teens continuing to struggle with anxiety and depression during isolation, a way to cope is having someone to share a connection with.
The experience of overcoming adversity has made some relationships even stronger. Parra said she is thankful to be in a relationship with Krell, giving her a person to talk to and provide comfort.
“If I'm being completely honest, I am grateful for quarantine for bringing Tyler and I closer; and if I'm taking it a step further, I would even say that I owe my relationship to the coronavirus and quarantine.”
And he agreed — the intense circumstances they’ve had to overcome have been made easier with companionship.
“I think because of COVID, our relationship is much stronger than it would have been without it,” Krell wrote. “… Having someone to talk to and see has made me feel less isolated and lonely, and as a result has helped my mental health a lot.”
Juli Bray-Morris, a counselor and club sponsor of Relationship Allies at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, said she has found that teens are making more meaningful connections amid isolation.
“It has brought to the surface how interconnected [teens] are,” Bray-Morris says. “[The pandemic] has really helped us realize how much we miss in our pre-pandemic life.”
Anika Rodrigez, a sophomore at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, can attest to the positive impact of having a meaningful connection during the pandemic.
“[My partner is] like my outlet and what helps me be able to smile during these hard times,” she wrote in an email.
A relationship may be a source of positivity during the pandemic, but it can also create some conflict with family and friends. In virtual counseling sessions during the pandemic, Bray-Morris has found that romantic relationships can influence friendships and social circles.
“They may impact the bubbles made with friends and won’t feel safe around a new person,” Bray-Morris says.
Krell said initially he kept his relationship a secret from family members to avoid conflict. His parents were strict with taking precautions.
“After the first month," he wrote, "I defied my mom and saw Luna anyway, which helped the relationship but ended up affecting both Luna and I’s relationship with my mom when she found out a few months later.”
With parents wanting their kids to stay inside more frequently, a higher level of communication can emerge as partners find ways to stay in touch with each other.
“Everybody has different levels of risks [teens] are willing to take during relationships,” Bray-Morris adds.
Many high school couples may benefit from negotiating with their parents about what is allowed and not allowed regarding physical contact and seeing their significant other in person during the pandemic.
Bray-Morris recommends discussing comfort levels and boundaries, given this is different for every family.
“Quarantining for 14 days and then allowing teens to hang out is something to think about,” she said.
Open discussions and emotional effort is what Parra said she has learned is necessary to keep a relationship going.
“Advice I would give, if any, is to see each other in person at least twice a week and have ‘check-ins’ at least once every two weeks,” Parra wrote.
By having only cellphones as a dominant form of communication, many teens believe the pandemic has provided opportunities for couples to discuss boundaries and overcome challenges through communication.
“Communication is key when it comes to relationships and due to this we are able to listen and be listened to,” Rodrigez wrote. “A relationship is like a gears that turn and when a rock comes between those gears you have to work it out to get moving smoothly again.”
In other cases, the pandemic has created challenges that led couples to break up. One teen, who wished to remain anonymous, faced a breakup, writing in an email that having a relationship during the pandemic affected her mental health in a negative way.
“For me, it was more of a relief than a heartbreak solely because I realized that the strain to maintain the relationship was overpowering and didn't allow spontaneity and fun,” she wrote. “… It also brought negative effects on my mental health because there was a certain aspect of commitment that was hard to maintain when the pandemic made it so in-person connection was limited.”
While being in a relationship means caring for someone else besides yourself, Bray-Morris said it's important not to forget your own mental health.
“We all need to take our M.E.D.S.,” Bray-Morris said, the abbreviation standing for meditation/mindfulness, exercise, diet and sleep. She said these are the things people need to look out for, especially while in a relationship or coping with a breakup.
Successful or not, through their relationships, many teens have found a personal outlet to share a connection. Many say they have learned how important connection is in their lives during the pandemic, not just with significant others, but with friends and family, too.
“This has certainly taught me to be more grateful for what I do have and the value of more aspects of my life,” Rodriguez wrote.