It’s been three months since social distancing measures began in Minnesota and across the country. In that time, life during the pandemic has felt like it has both crawled along and sped by—as though, somehow, we’re caught in a whirlwind of both utter stasis and rapid change. We wanted to get a better sense of how the experience of social distancing has been going for others. Toward the end of May, we reached out to five different women to do just that.
Each of these women has different living arrangements—one is living alone, two are roommates living together, one is living with a blended family of six, and another is living with their partner. We hope that in a time which has a tendency to feel very lonely, reading through their thoughts and experiences will make you feel seen, and a little less alone.
This post was inspired by the work of Nicole Feest at NYLONSADDLE Photography, who started a photo series called “Distant Portraits” during the pandemic. Nicole is documenting the lives of Twin Cities residents through photography—outdoors and from a safe distance—and all of the photos within this post were taken as a part of this series.
I live with my partner, Zach Brose.
We live in a pretty small 650-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.
It really hasn’t been difficult for us to be in such close quarters during this time. We’ve been together for seven years and have lived together for 6.5 of them, and it’s safe to say we live together very well. We also both worked from home the majority of the time prior to the pandemic so this hasn’t been a big change for us in that way.
I will say, I have definitely grown more grateful for the ease we seem to have in sharing a space. We’re both musicians and I also work freelance in a variety of creative spaces; we tend to pick our respective workspaces and hunker down for the day, popping in to check in with each other, cook, and go on walks throughout the day.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself (or have been reminded of) is how much I care about the way my space makes me feel. I am a homebody through and through and it gives me so much joy to pay special attention to my home, how welcoming it feels, how it smells when you walk in the door, and all the delicious meals and pastries that are brought to life in the kitchen. I’ve been reminded that a sense of home is so important and making it feel just right is very therapeutic for me.
I’ve been reminded that a sense of home is so important and making it feel just right is very therapeutic for me. – Jessica
I’d say the thing I miss the most is hugging my family and friends. I miss spending time together and having long conversations over a good meal, or having drinks and playing a card game. I just miss being (physically) close to the people I love most. I really look forward to the day when we can do that again safely.
Jessica is on Instagram at @jessica_manning.
Our blended family of six. There’s my husband, me, an eighteen-year-old (who can’t wait for freshman year of college to start…fingers crossed), a thirteen-almost-fourteen-year-old wrapping up eighth grade, our first-grader, our three-year-old, and a shih tzu.
About 2,800 square feet, with a yard. God bless the suburbs.
It’s not the close quarters (honestly, 2,800 square feet? We each technically have our own studio apartment to ourselves), it’s the shift in time. We’re used to certain measures and markers: mom leaves for work, the kids leave for school, dad is at home with the little guy, dad picks everyone up and starts dinner, mom gets home! Dinner. Bathtime. T.V. with the big kids. Sleep. We—each of us—had some white space to ourselves. A commute or a nap time—something to signal that one part of our day was ending and the other beginning. Doing work and school and home all in one place means that none of them really ever begin and end. The boundaries are harder to see, and harder to draw. That’s what’s hard on the kids—if mom is home physically but mentally trying to be at work? How the heck should they act? Why is she yelling all the time???
I harbored no illusions that I would suddenly be a Pinterest mom, but I didn’t think I would turn out to be such a jerk. Kids absorb everything—hearing a three-year-old saying “When Corona is done can I hug Grandpa Jim?” Or our first-grader crying about how all he thinks about is death? That snaps it into focus for me real quick. What’s *hard* for me is nothing compared to being a small, helpless person watching the adults in their life realize just how small and helpless they are.
Let us all stop worshipping at the altar of productivity. Productivity is a lie we’ve been told and that we’ve perpetuated, that we are what we do and what we make and what we accomplish. Having lost my husband at age thirty-five, I can assure you that at the end of your life you will not be thinking about your to-do list or that passion project you finally got off the ground. The time you spend on the things of life—on bathing your kids or feeding yourself breakfast or just watching many seasons of RHONY—is not unproductive. It’s time. And none of it is wasted, except on reading internet comments. Cut that shit out.
Having lost my husband at age thirty-five, I can assure you that at the end of your life you will not be thinking about your to-do list or that passion project you finally got off the ground. The time you spend on the things of life—on bathing your kids or feeding yourself breakfast or just watching many seasons of RHONY—is not unproductive. – Nora
Browsing. I’m not a big shopper, or a big spender. But man oh man I like to wander and look and touch things. I like to sit in a crowded cafe and eavesdrop (if you see me anywhere, please know I am listening to every word you say and holding back from entering the conversation). I miss the presence of strangers more than anything else.
Nora is on Instagram at @noraborealis.
We live together! We’re both former designers at Wit & Delight turned roomies and this is our first apartment out of college.
We’re in a two-bedroom vintage apartment with a lot of charm (locals—it’s the quintessential Uptown apartment). If we had to guess, it’s around 700 square feet!
Francine: I don’t think it’s more difficult, just different. We’re both working from home so I think there was some adjusting to being more or less coworkers as well as roommates. We still try to cook every weeknight to keep up some sense of routine. But we now get takeout on Fridays and do a fend-for-yourself weekend meal situation. Both of us have been really open about our feelings, which has helped a ton in this time. We say when we’re “just having one of those days” or frustrated with the situation.
Raquel: For me, it’s much easier than expected. It’s definitely been a blessing have a roommate through all of this—I honestly don’t know how I would cope being alone (seriously, S/O to you if you are!). We’re lucky in that we are both designers so we’ve adapted our craft corner of the living room into a shared office. Working together came pretty naturally as well (maybe our shared late-night hours in school helped with that?)—headphones in means head-down work time, we coordinate who will be where for meetings, we collaborate on lunch, etc. As for after work, we’ll often bring snacks to the park nearby or window shop online (yes, we bought a disco ball to live with our plants in the living room window…). Francine has also turned me into a Bravo T.V. gal—so I’d say that’s been a necessary adaptation to fill some time.
Francine: I’ve gone back to doing a ton of baking, especially on the weekends. Getting off my computer for a few hours to make something tactile has been a huge coping mechanism for me. It forces me to be really present in my task and not overthink anything. Raquel is also trying to convert me, the homebody, to be more of an outdoorsy girl, so we’re doing a lot of park trips and hammocking. I use those moments as time to do nothing. I don’t have to be productive or creative or “on”—it’s just time to be bored in a good way. I never did that before quarantine.
We’re doing a lot of park trips and hammocking. I use those moments as time to do nothing. I don’t have to be productive or creative or “on”— it’s just time to be bored in a good way. I never did that before quarantine. – Francine
Raquel: Phew, it’s hard sometimes. I have good days and bad days—but generally, the better ones come after I remind myself to think in the present and not get sucked into the “I wonder what the future will look like” hole. For me, taking care of myself means getting outside—safely—whenever I can. I’ve been putting a lot of miles in on my bike and soaking up the fresh air with my hammock while rereading the entire Harry Potter series (it’s so familiar and safe feeling!). I’m looking forward to getting my stand-up paddleboard in the water when the temp is consistently in the upper seventies!
Francine: I miss the wandering. Just taking a day or even a few hours to do nothing but walk and wander around Uptown or around little shops. There wasn’t a huge sense of urgency or purpose every day before and I miss that. Now it feels like everything is scheduled to some extent or just takes way more energy than it used to. I also miss nights out with friends, of course. And spontaneous brunches. I miss the work/life balance that I was getting pretty good at. I miss seeing my coworkers in person and the energy of the office. I miss work outfits and going out outfits and all of the changes in between.
There’s a lot to miss about “before” but a lot I’m happy to leave there. Like excuses for not talking to friends and family as much, working when my brain is done for the day but it’s still the afternoon, etc.
Raquel: I really, really miss my friends’ real faces, laughs, and hugs. I miss patios and draft beer. And I guess, just generally, the freedom that usually comes with summer through random weekend day trips, lazy beach days, and campfires in the backyard. I know these next few months are going to be a lot different than summers past but I keep reminding myself that different ≠ bad. A part of me is actually looking forward to the new (and let’s be honest, innovative) activities that I might learn to love! Challenge accepted.
I am currently living by myself. Or mostly by myself, with a feline companion.
I live in a 600-square-foot (approximately) historic one-bedroom apartment. Complete with drafty older windows, creaky wood floors, and potentially ghosts.
It was much more difficult than expected. Prior to the shutdown, I had a very active social life and a busy work schedule that kept me away from my apartment except for sleeping most of the time. It was an abrupt stop to suddenly be working from home and to not have places to be. The first few weeks were difficult and loneliness/a loss of some sort was present; I allowed that grief for moments lost to sink in along with the rest of the world.
After many weeks, it’s a lifestyle I have come to prefer and probably won’t shift far from even as “normal” returns. Being alone for so many weeks has brought certain independence and self-responsibility into my life that will be hard to give up. – Elizabeth
Eventually, I stopped throwing a pity party for myself and started developing a better self-care schedule that helps balance out the pangs of feeling alone that still sometimes arise. After many weeks, it’s a lifestyle I have come to prefer and probably won’t shift far from even as “normal” returns. Being alone for so many weeks has brought certain independence and self-responsibility into my life that will be hard to give up.
The first is a predictable answer—walking around my neighborhood. It was a helpful habit that ensured I felt connected in this community and that reminded me everyone else was home too. There is a worldwide organization called Creative Mornings that started offering daily “Field Trips,” which were virtual classes on basically any topic someone offered to teach—how to make homemade corn tortillas, cognitive dynamics 101, how to create your own personal retreat day, etc. Those classes (and many more) gave me something to look forward to and things to learn that I wouldn’t have had the time or inspiration for before.
Other activities include baking (de-stress baking as I call it) and attempting to learn how to do the ballet (still a work in progress but I am great at standing on my tiptoes). I was really missing well-made cocktails one day—and was inspired by an “Italian Cocktails That Will Remind You of Traveling Italy” article—and I ended up perfecting the art of a Negroni. It makes me unsure if I will ever want to pay $15 for a cocktail again, and it’s allowed me to bring a taste of adventure into my own little world.
I miss escapism, my community (this is a broad term including people I know and don’t know), and freedom from the fear of one choice of mine affecting the health of others. There are so many things that are missed that incorporate a certain feeling—not having to prepare for a trip to the store like I am preparing for the worst (and the store expecting the worst), being able to see a loved one and not have to think twice about embracing them, being able to celebrate the passing of time and changing of seasons with large events in my community (such as May Day or the State Fair), going to see live music and feel the pulse of the band with a crowd, going to see a film in a movie theater and listening to your neighbors gasp and laugh at the same moments you do, celebrating a birthday with a community table full of people scooting closer together so we could squeeze one more person in. Not all of these things are lost and most of them can be enjoyed in parts, but not yet as a whole.
Elizabeth is on Instagram at @lagerlizz.
BY Jackie Saffert - June 23, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.