Enlisting a roommate, in large part, entails swearing an unwritten oath—that a life in close proximity is inevitable, and that a person’s day-to-day will probably impact that of their companions.
It can be challenging in normal times. Imagine a life in constant close proximity to others—in some cases, former strangers—amid a global pandemic.
Curbed Atlanta reached out to readers, aiming to paint a microcosmic picture of what living with roommates looks like for Atlanta millennials and others right now. People, that is, who might never have intended to spend so much time together, unlike Atlanta families, but who are finding ways to make the best of it.
Right now, across the city, roommates are reconciling matters that might otherwise be infuriating—inappropriate music-blaring, unruly guest-visits, lackluster dish-doing—and seeking out ways to make forced isolation that much more palatable.
Personally, I find myself largely in the “blessed” category, locked in a lease with two roommates who take this pandemic seriously—one of whom won’t let me forget the casualty count that COVID-19 has caused. It’s a delicate dance, discussing and debating the most hopeful and dire possible impacts of the outbreak, all the time.
Some folks, of course, have been drinking themselves toward serenity, a fleeting balm for their anxieties and boredom as the precarious nature of the crisis continues. Others are devouring books, movies, television shows, and uplifting mundanities, like made-from-scratch pastries.
Chris Richards, an Atlantan with one roommate, shared that, all things considered, “We’re having a pretty happy time of it,” adding that she’s welcomed “lots of pop-ins from friends during their daily walks (they stay on the street while we’re up on the porch).”
While Richards has been laid off during the pandemic, her roommate works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “so she’s pretty busy working from home.”
Gabe Austin, who “recently moved to Gresham Park with two strangers,” is making do with about 1,300 square feet.
“We’re not exactly on top of each,” he told Curbed in an email. “I still spend lots of time outside to keep distance, which I like regardless. I could still use even more of that, though, to be frank.”
Austin said he’s bickered with his roommates, but it hasn’t been anything they couldn’t overcome.
Then there’s Allison Burnette, another Atlantan who unpacked her bags with two complete strangers “one week into quarantine.”
She’s one of the few who’s found solace amid so much uncertainty.
“My former roommate, who also happens to be my sister and dearest friend, was fortunate enough to get married just before coronavirus swept the nation,” Burnette wrote in an email to Curbed. “After a whirlwind wedding weekend, a week of self-quarantine and a dozen FaceTime calls to weigh my options, I bit the bullet and moved. With my life in boxes and a few great friends to carry it all, I settled in with the girls who would become my community in the midst of social distancing.”
She described the early stages of the arrangement as “an awkward dance.”
Exactly how distant are we to be? When—if at all—might visits from friends be permitted?
“Thankfully, their seriousness around COVID-19 matched my own, putting us all at ease,” she wrote. “In the days to come, we made a concerted effort to learn as much as we could about each other. Suddenly our rhythms, families, hobbies, and Netflix preferences were critical links in finding common ground.”
Just a few weeks into their “new, temporary normal,” Burnette said, “we make time to write letters to faraway friends.”
“When a day is more stressful than it should be, we set out for a hike on the trails near our house, or gather in the living room to read in shared silence,” she noted. “We’re all scared—of getting sick, of economic fallout, of being far from those we love—and that simple fact inspires us to make home as delightful as possible.”
On Friday, Burnette celebrated one roommate’s 30th birthday, attempting to recreate her cancelled Savannah trip with a festive, socially distant celebration within their apartment complex.
On Easter, they dressed up in their Sunday best and downed mimosas before retiring to their respective rooms to for live-streams of services from their respective churches.
Even in these bewildering, unfortunate times, Burnette has discovered optimism.
“It’s all just a week at a time, finding bright spots where we can and creating them ourselves when we can’t see any up ahead,” she said. “In strange times, it turns out strangers may be the very best antidote. Our collective experience [was] forging a quick closeness, one I hope humanity finds on a larger scale.”