DULUTH, Minn. — Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce and Corinne Castro sat in their hatchbacks bundled up in blankets. Dinner, music, a fire, the perfect date — from 6 feet away. The couple had been quarantining in separate homes, in separate cities, for six weeks.

Pearce is at a higher risk of infection of the coronavirus as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, so they kept their social distance as a safety measure. And that called for creative thinking and planning.

“It’s hard to be close to somebody you love and not be able to close the gap,” Pearce said.

On social media, Pearce posted images of the pair sitting at opposite ends of a bonfire, picnicking several feet apart. Along with “tail-dating,” the two sat safely apart around a campfire. They each held one end of a 10-foot stick — a safe way for hand-holding. They’ve kissed goodbye through a car window.

Picnicking around a campfire, from more than 6 feet away, is a technology-free way to connect when you're quarantining in separate homes. Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce" (left) and Corinne Castro have been dating since September, and they were looking at apartments together when the pandemic hit. Pearce works as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, so they're maintaining space as a safety measure and creating a new normal, they said. (Submitted photo)
Picnicking around a campfire, from more than 6 feet away, is a technology-free way to connect when you're quarantining in separate homes. Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce" (left) and Corinne Castro have been dating since September, and they were looking at apartments together when the pandemic hit. Pearce works as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, so they're maintaining space as a safety measure and creating a new normal, they said. (Submitted photo)

The social distancing dates were something to look forward to and bittersweet. It’s like “being a diabetic in a doughnut shop,” Pearce said.

What helped is they started out in a long-distance relationship, Pearce in Duluth and Castro in Minneapolis. It was difficult to accept that this was the new normal, they said. And they regretted they hadn’t had “a more sustainable goodbye.”

They’d last seen each other at the start of the outbreak. “I didn’t realize we wouldn’t see each other for six weeks,” Castro said.

At work the next morning, when Pearce understood that they’d have to practice social distancing, she started crying, she recalled.

Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce of Duluth and Corinne Castro (left) of Minneapolis are reunited after six weeks quarantining apart due to the pandemic. They were able to nix their social distancing when Pearce completed a 14-day quarantine after her last hospital shift. When she goes back to work as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, they don't know when they'll reconnect in person. (Submitted photo)
Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce of Duluth and Corinne Castro (left) of Minneapolis are reunited after six weeks quarantining apart due to the pandemic. They were able to nix their social distancing when Pearce completed a 14-day quarantine after her last hospital shift. When she goes back to work as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, they don't know when they'll reconnect in person. (Submitted photo)

“Even though I might not be sick, it was having a direct impact on my sense of comfort and surroundings and normalcy. That, and I didn’t know when the next time was that I’d be able to be close.”

Castro and Pearce matched on a dating app in September, they met each other’s families in December, and before the pandemic, they were looking at apartments together. They’d also booked a trip to Italy in June.

Today, their plans came to a “screeching halt,” and everything is up in the air, Castro said.

But they’re getting creative.

They watch Netflix shows, and read to each other. They’re practicing collaborative storytelling, sending one sentence each, back and forth. They’ve gone to a virtual concert, participated in a drawing class. They exercise together.

“Once,” added Castro.

Kissing through a car window is one way this Minnesota couple is able to show affection during social distancing. Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce (right) works as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, and she said she needs to protect her partner, Corinne Castro of Minneapolis, and secure her ability to stay connected to others during the pandemic. (Submitted photo)
Kissing through a car window is one way this Minnesota couple is able to show affection during social distancing. Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce (right) works as an emergency medicine nurse practitioner, and she said she needs to protect her partner, Corinne Castro of Minneapolis, and secure her ability to stay connected to others during the pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Without knowing it, they bought pillowcases with each other’s faces on them.

It is a tough time to be away from your person, including added stress with the pandemic, job uncertainty and an unclear future, Castro said.

Be flexible to spend time together in ways that suit where you’re at.

One day a painting class might be really connecting, a couple days later, it’s not where your head is, Castro said. It helps to have a variety of ideas to choose from that will match what you’re up for, and find ways to connect that don’t involve technology.

“Zoom fatigue is a real thing,” Castro said.

Not being able to read body language is also a challenge. It’s sometimes hard not to misinterpret or take things personally, added Pearce.

“We’ve had to figure out how to greet each other differently, but also, have more grace with one another,” Castro said.

When a reporter caught up with them, they were playing a game of cribbage in the woods. “In a little tiny house, which is even more symbolic of emphasizing the lack of social distancing for us at the moment,” Pearce said.

They were able to nix their social distancing when Pearce completed a 14-day quarantine after her last hospital shift.

Without knowing it, Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce (right) and Corinne Castro both had pillowcases of the other one made. The couple are quarantining away from each other during the pandemic, but are finding creative ways to spend time together and connect, with and without technology. (Submitted photo)
Without knowing it, Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce (right) and Corinne Castro both had pillowcases of the other one made. The couple are quarantining away from each other during the pandemic, but are finding creative ways to spend time together and connect, with and without technology. (Submitted photo)

When they reunited, it was the first real hug Pearce had since things started shutting down. “It’s really nice to see what a thing you take for granted, just to feel the embrace of the other person’s arms and to feel like it was safe,” she said.

Castro was nervous. “We were almost doing so well figuring out how to connect. Now, switching our relationship, I was anxious about how we would transition to in-person again. It took us a good 24 hours to readjust,” she said.

But they’re creating their new normal again, Pearce said.

The clock would restart when Pearce returned to work, but at that moment, the couple was beginning a mini vacation. They were ready for Yahtzee, guitar around the campfire, crafts and a hammock, “Things that don’t involve having to be far from each other or on our phones,” Pearce said.

They didn’t know when they’d be able to be together like this again; it could be a month, or a couple months.

You wonder how long this can continue. There may just be a point where we have to have an acceptable risk. Pearce said she hopes one day they’ll look back and remember this not as a rift in their relationship, but an opportunity that brought them closer: “If we can get through this, we can get through anything.”