This Just In: Love Is Actually Not Tourism

Separated since March by COVID travel bans, international couples are now starting to break up, cancelling their entire future, in large part due to the incompetence, indifference and / or laziness of the people in power.

They say ‘Love knows no borders’. Yet 2020 reminded us that, unfortunately, it still very much does.

The picture above is the first one ever taken of me and my wife. She’s an American from Denver. I’m a Frenchman from Paris. This photo was taken in April 2007, at a bar in Manhattan a few days before I flew back to France. She and I first met in July 2005 in front of an NYU dorm, a few days before I flew back to France. We only really got together in February 2009, you guessed it, only a few days before I flew back to France. Yes, international love is a complicated thing.

During our first year together, we did the extra-long-distance relationship thing, visiting each other’s countries every three months or so. And I can’t help but think that if COVID had appeared on Earth at that moment, there’s a very decent chance our two children wouldn’t be here today.

France has always prided itself on being the Country of Love and the United States the Leader of the Free World. Yet in this unprecedented time of crisis, when these grand self-declarations were tested, none of this turned out to be true.

Since March, the COVID travel ban has separated countless unmarried binational couples all around the world. You can find their stories online under the banner #loveisnottourism. And on December 26th, these couples are trying to raise awareness of their unique situation by creating one of those special online days that celebrate random things like donuts or puzzles. Don’t look for previous editions, this day didn’t exist last year.

The movement Love Is Not Tourism really took off back in June, when separated couples around the world started to find similar stories to theirs online and united to beg governments to allow them to see each other. Some countries eventually responded to that call, by creating a special travel authorization in July. But that response, like almost everything our governments are doing these days, was a little late at best, completely inadequate for most and entirely nonexistant for the rest.

France has always prided itself on being the Country of Love and the United States the Leader of the Free World. Yet in this unprecedented time of crisis, when these grand self-declarations were tested, none of this turned out to be true.

France’s institutional definition of love was unbearably restrictive: a travel authorization (for which applications only became available in September) required common invoices or bank statements that could demonstrate a relationship of at least 6 months prior to the March lockdown and proof of a previous trip to France from the foreign partner. My wife and I had absolutely NONE of those things back in 2009. I understand the logic, yet let me ask you this: how hard could it be in this digital age to “investigate” whether a couple is a couple? A one-minute scroll on any social media profile, even a quick printout of a personal email thread with a date stamp, and you’ve got your answer. This would of course require a personal, human, case-based approach to every situation. Not something government bureaucracy apparently can afford, no matter how much taxes their citizens pay or how unusual the circumstances are. Because let’s be clear, we’re also not talking about hundreds of thousands of people here.

What about the United States? Of course, there was no special travel authorization because of course, there was no interest in this love-based plea: no votes or dollars to gain in that international trade deal. And by failing to get the virus under control in the spring, the U.S. completely isolated itself from the rest of the Free World, entirely crushing the short window of opportunity some couples had to reunite over the summer.

The stories of these couples are warning us about the dangers of the virtual-first world some are now predicting / pushing as the new normal. They’re the living proof that if people can only connect online, they will eventually disconnect.

We’re now in December and, as one would expect, many of these couples are breaking up. And I can tell you from my own experience that this has nothing to do with love or commitment at this point. So now, all these futures are getting cancelled, and that is almost exclusively because of the incompetence, indifference and laziness of people in power. And there’s something truly infuriating about that. Because it really wasn’t that hard — countries like Germany did it.

This year, unmarried, binational couples like the one my wife and I once were, have seen their intimate love life — the most important source of support in such awful times — entirely destroyed against their will, on top of everything else. And why exactly? French people were eating at restaurants and drinking until dawn pretty much from May to November (I would know, I was there in August) while Americans were going to gyms, diners, political rallies, and are now packing airports for the holidays.

I know it’s easy to dismiss these rather unique situations. After all, 2020 was hard for everyone. Yet if we’re really going to keep playing Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love With You at every wedding, we probably should put our support where our musical choices are. Our culture has grown increasingly cynical toward the idea of soulmates. Maybe it’s because we saw too many average romantic comedies. Maybe it’s what our society needed in order to accept that the dating experience was starting to look more and more (much like everything else in our lives) like an online shopping cart. Or maybe it’s because we’ve come to the conclusion that the concept that there’s only one person out there who we’re meant to be with is a stressful premise that doesn’t necessarily add up statistically. Yet, no matter what we believe, it’s hard to dispute that meeting one of them is rarer than finding gold in a river stream. That’s why whenever it happens, wherever it happens, whoever it happens to, we should all relentlessly root for it. And with the expansion of cheap airfares and study abroad programs, it‘s almost guaranteed it will continue to happen more and more often outside of people’s home countries. This is a gift: binational couples are bringing cultures together in a way no politician or multi-national company ever will. This is what made America great in the first place.

The other reason we should pay serious attention to the stories of these couple is this: they’re warning us. They’re warning us about the dangers of the virtual-first world some are now predicting / pushing as the new normal. These couples are the living proof that if people can only connect online, they will eventually disconnect.

On December 26th, post the picture of someone you love with the hashtag #loveisnottourism. As a way to show the ONLY group of people in love this year who have not been able to see each other, hold each other, have sex with each other, that we hear them and we feel for them. I really do.

Matthieu Silberstein is a filmmaker, an author, a French immigrant and a father. matthieusilberstein.com

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