I Started Living Alone for the First Time During New York City’s Lockdown

published Apr 29, 2020
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Credit: Laura Hoerner

My hand was shaking when I signed the lease for my first studio apartment in February. I think it was from a combination of nervousness, excitement, and dread. I’d never lived by myself before, let alone in New York City, and I was torturing myself deciding if it was the right move. What if I lost my job and suddenly couldn’t afford rent? What if I got lonely without having someone there to chat with in the evenings?

“It’s only for a year,” my mum reassured me during a panicked phone call.

At the time, that seemed like a great point, so I stopped fretting about the rightness of my decision. Of course, I could’ve never predicted I’d be forced to spend the first time living on my own in complete isolation. It’s been me, myself, and I, in just under 300 square feet in Brooklyn for over a month now.

. . . 

I moved to New York in 2019 with my boyfriend of eight years. I’d been living in Boston for almost seven of those years, and sharing an apartment with him for two. We decided we’d try out a new city, but after a few months in, we broke things off—and then we broke our brand-new lease. A gobbled-up security deposit and several painful weeks later, I found myself subletting a room in a four-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. As charming as the place was, it cemented my initial concern that living with three other people is perhaps a few too many—and that storing all of my food in the crisper drawer of a shared fridge isn’t exactly sustainable.

An uncrowded kitchen and a bathroom I didn’t have to wait to use sounded downright dreamy. I’d always fantasized about living by myself, but it seemed impossible in a city like New York. I surfed apartment listings anyway, and stumbled across a reasonably priced studio. After crunching the numbers I realized, for the first time in my life, that I’d be able to swing it. I was terribly afraid I wasn’t ready for such solitude, but I took the plunge.

So on March 15, right as things started to get scary, I began living with zero other people. There is a lot about this sudden 180-degree change that is darkly funny. From sharing a home with a longtime partner to a gaggle of girls, I’m now spending every hour of every day alone in a former hospital. That’s right—my apartment complex was converted from a hospital into residences in the 1980s. The irony is not lost on me.

An unexpected part of all of this, though, is that I’m actually okay.

There are a lot of upsides, as you can imagine. I’ve been lucky enough to spend my time carefully—maybe too carefully—figuring out how I want my petite pad to look. I’m extremely grateful that I haven’t lost my job (love u, Apartment Therapy) and was able to make a smooth transition to working from home. I have a spacious bathroom that is only for me (!) with a sparkling clean tub in which I can take baths whenever I please. And if you can believe it, I also have my own refrigerator. There’s so much space in there.

I try not to think about the downsides as much, especially when I’m scrolling through my neighborhood’s Facebook group and see that people in my building are showing symptoms. Am I worried I’ll contract the virus and faint from a high fever, only to suffer a fatal head wound and lay undiscovered for weeks? Sure. Will not being able to hug another human for months have lasting effects on my health? Maybe. Will I continue to get worked up every time I have to step beyond my door, even after this is all over? It’s very possible. Will my family members fall ill, leaving no way for me to help them? Also very possible. 

Even with Zoom calls, stacks of books, Netflix parties, and vases of fresh tulips, I do get lonely. But I clearly recognize I have it pretty darn good in my small, controlled environment. The pandemic has been merely annoying for me so far, yet life-altering for others. Some people are frustrated with their roommates or family members, others have lost their livelihoods, many would give anything to be able to stand beside their loved ones’ hospital beds, and I just feel pangs of sadness when someone doesn’t pick up my phone call.

For those who haven’t felt reverberations of acute suffering yet, I think there is camaraderie in a big group of us being inconvenienced together. Staying home feels a whole lot easier when you’re reminded that it’s for the benefit of everyone.

Like others, I’ll emerge from this time with a newfound appreciation for a lot of average things when it’s safe for me to leave my apartment again. Now I know living alone wasn’t what was scaring me—it was taking the next step forward after a rocky year that felt so terrifying. I’m learning and growing and resting and healing within the confines of my tiny, tiny home, and I’ll keep doing it for as long we need to.