REMOTELY: Love in The Time of Coronavirus

By Hana Oktavia A.
28th April 2020
This time in REMOTELY, we look into how love thrives to find its way to romance lives with gratitude, the graces of virtual weddings and online dating amidst the global pandemic.

In our effort to make social distancing less monotonous, REMOTELY is a special series from Manual Jakarta where we roll out comforting and practical articles to keep you company and motivated during this period of self-isolation.

Love and its romance take place differently in times when physical presence is limited. With imposed city-wide social restrictions in response to the global pandemic, prolonged isolation had us crave for connection, driving us to explore creative ways to fulfil our emotional satisfaction and needs in the face of the obstacle. Whether one is online dating or planning for the big day, love stories do not stop amidst coronavirus and in this feature, we speak to different individuals with stories that reveal yet another facet of love, this time under lockdown.


A pause to the wedding bells 

Bride-to-be Celsy Sabilla, whose big day was set for June, has decided to postpone her wedding date to the end of August, “As soon as [my fiancé and I] heard what was happening, the decision to delay our big day came quickly to us.” For the young couple and their families, the call was not a difficult one: they didn’t want their wedding to be known as “The wedding where someone was tested positive [for the virus],” and risking the health of their family and guests was definitely out of the question. 

The same situation puts another bride-to-be, Jeanne Malik, in a bind. Three months away from the ceremony, the pandemic has halted all the plans for her August wedding—or known as Indonesia’s peak “I Do” season. As her own wedding organiser, social restrictions have made it difficult to run all the checklists of wedding prep. “We’ve been pausing everything since nothing seems to be moving, so now we’re in the middle of renegotiating with our vendors for a wedding in December,” she admits.

The decision to delay one’s big day doesn’t come without consequences. For one, both women have cancelled their dress fittings, a pseudo-sacred occasion in any wedding planning. In fact, Jeanne has picked her gown fabrics via photos on WhatsApp with her vendor, something she confesses to be “freaking her out.” On the other hand, Celsy’s wedding preparations have been ongoing since last year, so the research has been done and the details are either postponed or done via WhatsApp updates. 

The rest is a waiting game since both brides are well-aware that in the middle of this pandemic, there’s little in their control. “It’s neither stressful or enjoyable,” Celsy says. Jeanne echoes: “Not exactly happy about it, but I guess I’m fine.”

For Jeanne, instead, the bigger challenge lies in overcoming her emotions. “I guess the main challenge is to not give in to my own fear,” expresses the bride-to-be. With everything on hold, the risk that comes with planning everything through phone calls and text messages have worried her from perfecting her big day. However, if conditions don’t improve, even a smaller intimate ceremony will do for the couple, “We are considering an intimate wedding instead, which I would be more than happy about.” 

For Celsy, the setback has opened the possibility for her own dream wedding. Being a Minangnese, her family expected a big and traditional wedding as often practised by their roots. With the situation seeing no end in sight, the bride-to-be secretly wishes that her family would eventually allow her to throw a simple ceremony, “Who knows, with this [pandemic], maybe my mum would allow an intimate ceremony, the way I have always imagined it to be!”

Amid the unpredictability and changes, there’s true power in acceptance and knowing one’s priorities. Jeanne says, “My relationship is more important, not the wedding. Wedding is just a party, what matters is that both he and I are peaceful and happy together,” she closes. Similarly, Celsy and her fiancé are kept closer yet apart under the semi-lockdown measures, prompting them to find ways to remain just as connected, “Reassuring that we’ve got one another feels comforting and I try to be hopeful of what’s to come.”


(New) Life under lockdown

With the situation at hand, postponing wedding dates might just be the right thing to do. And yet, for some when the time is right, nothing can stop lovers from saying their vows.  Under lockdown, some lovers have decided to go forth by making it official in a safe and considerate way.

Jakarta-based visual artist Muchlis ‘Muklay’ Fachri and his wife Ajeng Martia Saputri planned for their big day to be in Semarang, the bride’s hometown, but as the large scale social restrictions were announced, the two ended up celebrating a humble ceremony in the Office of Religious Affairs (K.U.A) on the eighth of April, with the virtual presence of their friends and families via Google Hangouts. 

At that moment, a shower of hugs and kisses by their families might be missing, but knowing that he will be spending the rest of his life with his wife—even if it means cutting down hours on video games—is already enough joy for Muklay: “Weddings aren’t all about the festivities. If there’s something to look forward to [about additional celebrations], I guess it might be a little party as the icing on the cake,” he says laughing.

Rumman Amanda, director of public relations at Four Seasons Jakarta, also threw a small celebration at the Office of Religious Affairs in Kebayoran Baru with her husband Wisnu Wardhana, on 18th of April. Through the web conference application Zoom, the newlyweds made the absence of their families a little more bearable. 

“We wanted our family and friends to be there with us, so we set up a concall with everyone. Their presence, even if it was virtual, meant the world to us,” she continues. “Our ceremony was quick, and it made us realise that the essence of a wedding is that and only that. Everything else is additional.”

Efforts done by these newlyweds to fill the physical gap is a testament to the ever-evolving technology in this digital age. With the existence of such modernity, in this case, video calls and web conferencing applications, distance seems near at hand, and the experience is as tangible as it gets.

Muklay and his wife Ajeng, who are both freelance visual artists, felt the tremendous repercussions of coronavirus to their work environment. Therefore, making their home a supportive space is a priority, “We always try to keep the situation [at home] pleasant and supportive, especially in a time like this. And to distract myself from boredom, I bought many video games. Although Ajeng can’t join me, at least she can watch me play!” he jokes. 

At the peak of her honeymoon phase, Rumman sees this pause as a chance to espouse intimacy between her and her husband. Unlike most newlyweds who have to put in extra effort to adjust into their married lives, Rumman believes that she and Wisnu are bestowed with the ample time on their hands to be together, “I feel so grateful that we can be together the whole time, I think that [the circumstances] are a blessing in disguise.”

On another bright side, Muklay admits that celebrating their wedding ceremony in the Office of Religious Affairs did save a lot of money, to which he is tempted to use for better spendings: “I can use the rest of my savings to buy us a house or take my wife travelling, anything to make her happy! I think that’s the most precious thing.”


Modern love

In search of a ‘quarantine date’ (as many call it), the trend of online dating apps has thrived worldwide.  According to Lucille McCart, associate director of Bumble, a momentous increase in app’s usage is seen globally since 27 March 2020, whereby more than 100 countries in the world had instituted a full or partial lockdown, confining millions of people to their homes. Following the significant increase, the application has taken a step forward by releasing a guide to dating during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Globally, we saw a 26 per cent increase in sent messages during the end of March, versus during the week ending on 13th March. Bumble is also seeing that one out of four chats is turning into something more meaningful, with a large number of messages exchanged!” 

The data disclosed by Lucille has proven that not only the interactions within the app have grown to be more frequent, but they have also become more intense as exchanged messages are noticeably longer. Their video call and voice call features have undergone a spiking increase as well, with a 56 per cent increase of their usage, lasting 21 minutes on average during that same period. “When a physical connection is limited, humans will seek for other means of communication, and video call is meeting that demand,” Lucille concludes.

Another staggering number, Bumble reports over 100,000 profile updates by users worldwide that mention they were quarantining, with as many mentioning the words ‘COVID-19’ and ‘coronavirus’. These changes of behaviours seen on Bumble is also felt by Samantha (real name disguised for privacy), a user of the app living in Jakarta. As someone who has “swiped” on Bumble for two years, Samantha reveals that her intention was mainly to find a casual companion, but with the seemingly endless isolation taking place, she glosses over the expectations and wants to see where these virtual meet-ups will take her.

“I definitely see a difference in these online interactions. For instance, now, conversations would start with ‘How’s the quarantine doing for you so far?’ while some are more straightforward with saying things like ‘I’m not looking for a relationship. I just need someone to talk to’, and that saves us more time,” she goes about how the isolation took its toll on many users, prompting them to seek meaningful conversations.

This collective seclusion is certainly something we can all empathise with, and with millions of people on the same boat, users in online dating applications have turned the anguish into something lighthearted by incorporating quarantine-related subjects on their bio, or coming up with witty, pandemic-related pick-up lines as a diverting reminder that we are facing this difficult time together. 

“People are less occupied now that they are in a more controlled environment, which is their own homes. They put more meaning into making connections in dating apps, and the interactions made are more thoughtful in regards to the pandemic,” Samantha deduces.

This endeavour to find a companion amidst the tide of online dating apps does not stop there. To some, the effort has led them to actual relationships, including Raga Bagaskara, or simply Adit, who has found himself a partner under this unusual time. “She was my only match when I went on Bumble during isolation. Now we are officially dating,” he continues, “We used to go to the same school, so this re-encounter definitely surprised us.”

Samantha shares the “blast from the past” experience as well when an old ‘match’ from many months ago struck a new conversation. “The conversation feels more natural than before,” she expresses. “I feel like people put more effort into making the conversation interesting, now that they have fewer distractions and more time to reflect. Many people around me have also developed a ‘think ahead’ process where they consider everything post-pandemic wise.”

Online interactions may not fully replace the appeal of in-person interactions. But in times where physical presence is unattainable, virtual ones have proved to become a successful aid in the battle. If there’s anything that the pandemic has taught us, it’s that it has re-evoked our compassion and made us confront the many ways we can express our affection. Most of all, it has given us the chance to fully become aware of the things that make a relationship valuable, and that love stops at nothing.