The new apartment. An empty space, away from the prying eyes and curfews of mom and dad or college Residence Life. For many young adults, this apartment is small, ordinary; the view is dismal, the kitchen has barely just enough room to walk around, and the living room is smaller than their childhood bedroom. It’s a space that balances freedom and fear – the thrill and terror of having no one around to watch over you.
For many people, these apartments are also the home of a roommate, or roommates. Whether they love their roommates or can’t wait to finish their lease, they’re a familiar face, someone to bang around in the kitchen in the afternoon or play music muffled by the walls of their bedroom while studying. But for others, like me, the apartment has just one, lonely bedroom – a small issue in normal times, but in quarantine, the potential for disaster.
When my school decided to go online, nearly all my senior friends found apartments in the area. The couples, of course, moved in together, but even the single people managed to find places that could accommodate more than one of them. By the time I’d decided to do the same, with the clock ticking down as more and more students crowded an already tight housing market, I had to take what I could get: a cute, three-room unit in a neighboring town. Even then, I’d had my worries about living alone.
Before quarantine, living alone wasn’t a huge issue. Several of my friends have cars; lots of them would love to drop by. But my living room is tiny, with only a single couch and one armchair, so there’s not much room for social distancing. The small porch in the front of my house is...well, small. And with many public meeting spaces closed, the weather growing ever colder, and with the looming threat of a difficult COVID winter coming, there’s an increasing hesitance for us to meet inside. My online classes necessitate that I stay home, where I can guarantee quiet, privacy, a charging port, and a good internet connection; much of my online work requires the same. Sometimes, aside from the errands I run to get groceries or shampoo, I’m inside my house for days on end. For my friends, this means they get to cook with each other, watch TV together, and even consider getting a dog. For me, it means that I don’t speak to another person face to face until we decide to do something together again.
There are perks, of course, as there always are to living alone, but it still feels like one more level of isolation on top of everything else going on. I find ways to make it better – getting groceries from a farmer’s market has always been a domestic dream of mine, and I buy bouquets of snapdragons to brighten up the living room. A Chinese evergreen named Julian, the low-light plant my friends got for me upon finding out I had almost no natural light, sits on my coffee table, and I frequently do my classes out on the porch, weather permitting, where the changing leaves blow in the wind. But the cold weather and the seasonal depression that hits nearly everyone in New England during the winter months is coming all too soon, and I’m worried that without the steady routine we used to fall into – meeting up in our snow gear to walk to dinner, doing work in each other’s rooms late at night, going to each other’s tutoring drop-in hours just to keep each other company – my living situation will contribute to the growing distance between me and the people I love. I’m already recognized as the most social person in the group. How will I find social interaction when the threat of COVID combines with the 10-degree weather to create an utterly inhospitable winter?
I’m not the only one wondering. Most young adults don’t live alone, but I’ve seen friends who had to live on-campus asking how they’re supposed to see people when they’re confined to single rooms on underfilled hallways. Elderly people, many of whom suffered from difficulty maintaining a social life before they became an at-risk population for COVID-19, will probably suffer the worst effects of the coming winter.
Edited by Jenna Fults