We’ve survived the normal things every couple faces, along with the serious challenges life throws at you. But now we are being kept apart by Covid-19.
I am in New York City. Marco is in Italy.
We haven’t seen each other in six months.
On July 1st, the European Union effectively banned Americans from traveling there.
Spouses of EU citizens are an exception and allowed in, but unmarried partners aren’t.
Since we are not legally married, an ocean separates me and my partner indefinitely.
Thousands of unmarried couples all over the world have been impacted and have joined forces to gain attention with the group “Love is not tourism” and the hashtags #Loveisnottourism and #Loveisessential.
Indeed, this is certainly not about tourism. I don’t want to go to Italy to see the Colosseum or go to the Vatican. I want to be with my other half. I want to be with my other half; the person with whom I’ve shared life changing moments.
I met Marco on sabbatical in Italy after the loss of my parents. He helped me back from the grief and nurtured me through some difficult days early in our relationship.
We’ve gone through my breast cancer diagnosis, radiation treatment and, then just when we were about to start our life together full time in Italy, our most difficult hurdle.
I had given up my career as a journalist in New York City in 2008 to permanently join Marco in Italy, where I planned to freelance, but then everything came to a devastating stop.
Because of my breast cancer diagnosis, I was getting annual checkups. During one of my routine follow ups, I was diagnosed with leukemia, which was later confirmed to be linked to my volunteer work at Ground Zero. I was there days after the 9/11 attack serving food to first responders as they searched for survivors.
The diagnosis was absolutely shattering.
I put plans to move full time on hold, and together Marco and I navigated the stress and uncertainty of a life-threatening illness.
We accepted that we would have to be in a long distance relationship for a good part of 2008, and I found amazing doctors in New York City for whom I’m so grateful.
My health and survival came first.
So for the past decade I have traveled back and forth between NYC and Italy, returning to see my hematologist and receive treatment from the World Trade Center Health Program.
It’s not always easy. There have been too many visits to emergency rooms in Italy, and the travel is fatiguing because of the chemotherapy medication I must take.
But through it all, Marco and I have managed to make our relationship work and grow even stronger. It’s not traditional, but we have committed to a life together.
I truly believe that the beauty and wonderful people of Italy have also helped keep me going. Not to mention the spaghetti and gelato.
So in January, after another wonderful Christmas stay in Tuscany, I returned to New York as usual for my medical visits.
And then the Coronavirus stopped the world in its tracks. My April flight back to Rome was canceled. And then my July flight as well.
And there is no sign I will be allowed back in any time soon.
Yes, I am not legally married. I never signed a piece of paper, but Marco and I have definitely been together in sickness and health.
This is my story, but it’s just one story. The campaign to bring more awareness to this issue has highlighted the struggles, for example, of expectant moms separated from their partners and couples working in different countries.
A few EU countries — at the time of writing, not including Italy — have now agreed to allow nonmarried partners in, so there is some hope.
So, to my dear Italy: Please let me come back to you.
I will take a Covid-19 test. I will quarantine. I know you believe in love; You practically invented it.
L’amore è amore.