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It was the recycling bin that broke him.
It’s been less than two weeks since S.’s new roommate moved into the San Francisco apartment, where the 27-year-old has lived for four years, and he’s already wondering if he made a mistake.
“Yesterday, she was taking out the garbage, and she was like, ‘I don’t have to take out the recycling because it’s not full yet,’” S. said of his new roommate. “And I just, like, stared at her, like, I don’t know what to tell you. [If I were you] I would take it out because you’re going down there.”
“In some ways she is very considerate, but I was like, What are you asking me?” he continued. “I was so confused, like, Do you want my permission to not do that? I don’t know why you’re even asking that.” (S. is only being identified by his first initial in order to freely talk shit about his roommate.)
Whether or not to take out a half-full recycling bin may not seem like the most serious of roommate squabbles, but things have been pretty tense lately for those living in cramped quarters. Over the past few weeks, an ever-increasing number of cities and countries around the world have been directing citizens to quarantine in their homes and socialize with those only in the household in the hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. In many cases, people are remaining indoors indefinitely, only leaving for the occasional essential activities, such as grocery shopping and laundry.
As people around the world hunker down with their partners, children, and friends, there are many who are facing the exceptional weirdness of getting a brand-new roommate right before the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing them to quarantine with someone who’s practically a stranger.
“I call it forced companionship,” S. said. “It feels like we’re being forced into a situation like we’ve lived together for years, and it’s only been weeks.”
S.’s new roommate moved in March 14. Just two days later, the city ordered its residents to shelter in place, prompting their third roommate to immediately leave and quarantine with her boyfriend. That has left S. and the new roommate to live, cook, clean, and work from home together indefinitely, just feet away from each other, with little opportunity for escape beyond their own bedrooms.
“I feel myself becoming less and less nice,” S. said. “Like last night, when she asked if she should bring out the recycling…my brain just broke.”
The roommate is probably only driving him crazy because they’re two strangers stuck together, S. acknowledges, but he can’t help it. He’s thinking of packing his things and going to stay in his brother’s San Francisco apartment, which is empty while he quarantines with his girlfriend.
“It’s a stressful period for me right now, and I presume everyone,” he said. “I just don’t have a lot of emotional energy to give to her.”
Even worse, some people have to contend with new roommates who aren’t taking quarantine seriously enough.
Alissa, a 26-year-old in Detroit, is worried she was exposed to the coronavirus after her brand-new roommate continued going out amid the spread of the virus.
“As I start to work from home [on March 13], we have a casual discussion about how serious this is getting,” Alissa told BuzzFeed News. “And she continues to go out — coffee shops, libraries, doing whatever it is that she does during the day.” (Alissa also asked to be identified by just her first name.)
Four days later, it was St. Patrick’s Day. Alissa said her roommate left for the bars at noon, all dressed up in green, and didn’t come back till the next morning.
“Shocker. She gets sick. Cough, fever, aches, the whole nine,” Alissa said.
Alissa said both she and her roommate are mostly better, with just lingering coughs, and do not know for sure whether they had the coronavirus.
Still, Alissa said she’s grateful that Michigan ordered its residents to shelter in place on Monday, in the hopes it will stop her roommate from spreading the possible disease further.
“I will forever include a pandemic clause in any sublease going forward,” she said.
While quarantining with a new roommate has been tortuous for some, for others, it’s been a surprisingly pleasant — and expedited — way to bond.
Blandine, a 27-year-old in Rennes, France, told BuzzFeed News she moved into a new apartment with four roommates on March 17 — the same day President Emmanuel Macron ordered citizens to begin quarantining.
“I arrived on Tuesday morning with my massive backpack, ready to settle and isolate with a bunch of strangers that I knew would become my housemates for months,” Blandine said. “The situation is very unusual — it almost felt like I [was on] a TV reality show.”
The five roommates have been getting along great, and have even had quite a bit of fun amid the stress of the situation.
“Even though we spend lots of time in our respective rooms, obviously we meet in the kitchen, or the [living] room, [and] share the occasional meal, drink, cigarette, or the three of those things at the same time,” she said.
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In Brooklyn, Sara Koda, 31, just moved in with Hannah Freedman, 29, on March 11. Koda moved from Ireland, and this is her first time living in New York.
The two have become fast friends, establishing all sorts of routines and ways to stay entertained. They’ve done yoga together at lunchtime, drunk wine, and are watching Little Fires Everywhere.
“It was truly, ‘Hi, welcome to New York, I’m your only friend and the only person you see,’” Koda said of her new roommate.
They’re also working on a puzzle together, Freedman said.
“It’s a street scene with people on it, so it’s future New York — or past New York,” Freedman said.
Blandine, the French woman, said she thinks the bizarre circumstances have helped her bond with her new roommates at an accelerated pace — “kind of like a friendship that condensed the first steps in a very short amount of time,” she said.
“I feel that there’s a kind of unsaid solidarity that emanates from the whole situation,” she said. “We’re in a context of major crisis, we are stressed and afraid, but we are together.”
“From strangers to friends, partners in isolation, in no time,” she added.