The New Normal It's a Rollercoaster: 8 Women Share the Ups and Downs of Living Alone During a Pandemic
woman alone at home

8 Women Share the Ups and Downs of Living Alone During a Pandemic

The lowest moments to the most illuminating lessons.

When the global pandemic led to stay-at-home orders being issued across the nation earlier this year, we entered into an unprecedented period. For six months and counting, many of us have spent more time at home than we ever have. And while we all share that in common, the levels of connectedness and community we’ve each been able to experience during this time greatly varies. Those who live under the same roof as family members or a significant other haven’t missed a beat when it comes to social interaction. But for those who live alone, it’s been a bit different. When Zoom calls and FaceTime check-ins become the main lifeline to your inner circle, living in social isolation can prove to be an emotional rollercoaster.

We checked in with seven women to find out what it’s really been like living alone during a worldwide health crisis. As they reflected on being a solo-dweller amidst a pandemic, they shared with us remarks that were incredibly thoughtful, emotional, and candid. From their most trying moments to the most illuminating lessons they’ve learned in isolation, these women bared it all. Ahead, read how a fashion editor, professor, and more have been coping with living alone during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Gabrielle, 30

On living alone during quarantine...

"I moved into my studio apartment last year, and it was my first apartment without a roommate since I moved to the city. When lockdown started back in March, my first thought was I’m so happy I don’t have to share a space with anyone else. Quarantine has put us through the wringer emotionally and I was really glad I wasn’t stuck in a confined space with someone else. I don’t know how couples did it."

On the highs and lows...

"This summer has been filled with a lot of low moments. It really feels like the hits keep coming and each one is knocking us down a little harder than the last. On top of the racial injustices we have to witness weekly, people are acting like the pandemic is over. The amount of people living their lives like its completely normal—having summers and going on vacations—is wild to me. But, the lowest point for me was probably the last week in May and the beginning of June when George Floyd was murdered. I really felt like each morning I woke up and the news was worse than when I went to sleep. I wanted to do something, but COVID-19 was still a very real threat. It was hard to handle and I felt like I needed to just get out of the city so I went to stay with a friend in Cape Cod for a few weeks and that really helped. 

"The happiest I felt was on the Cape, as well as on my 30th birthday. I love to make a huge deal about my birthday and I was upset I had to celebrate my 30th in quarantine. But when the day came, I was really happy and felt very loved."

woman doing yoga
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"I think this has made everyone see we can all live with a lot less, and we really need to take time for ourselves. With no real separation of work from life anymore, I’ve realized I need to prioritize myself. We wake up and start working because our homes are our offices. Taking vacation days looks different now, but just because we can’t (and shouldn’t) go anywhere, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time off." 

On coping...

"I’m really lucky my parents live so close, so I’ve been able to see them and my dog pretty much every weekend. We’ve been socially distanced, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I still need my mom and dad—even if they can’t give me a hug. I’ve also been able to hang out with my best friend from high school most weekends. Our families have formed a quarantine pod, and while we all practice social distancing, it’s nice to feel like you’re still social and have that sense of normalcy."

Keri, 64

On living alone during quarantine...

"In the beginning, I had people doing renovations on my home. Where I live in rural Virginia, COVID-19 was not as prominent as it is in urban areas. So, it was a little less scary to have people around the outside of my house, and it was helpful to be able to talk with people during the day."

On the highs and lows...

"The lowest point was not being able to see my friends. I was not able to see local people. I was able to connect more with my friends far away, but I haven’t been able to see anyone up close. That lack of connection is hard. A lot of people I know don’t live alone, so they don’t feel that need to connect quite as much.

"I did, however, rescue a new dog. It’s going great and I’m very excited to add somebody to the family. I’m excited to spend time training her and acclimating her to her new life."

woman in house
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"I found that I can take living alone better than some people. I have another friend who is really having a hard time with it. But, for the most part, I am okay and I think it’s because I get to have bits and pieces of connection. But I don’t get to see my family because they’re all in New York, so that’s sad. I’m used to traveling a lot and being able to go places, so that’s something I definitely miss."

On coping...

"I’ve been able to focus on stuff around the house. I garden a lot and I have been doing a lot of work on my house, so that’s been really helpful. My book club and yoga have helped too. First, we were just Zooming but now we’re meeting outside. I do an outdoor yoga class on Sundays, but I also have a dedicated yoga spot in my house so that I can do it all the time."

Star, 26

On living alone during quarantine...

"Living alone in quarantine has been all about getting back in touch with my needs and feelings. Every day I work hard to understand what it is I really want and what will make me feel good at that moment. Although the FOMO is at times extremely real (read: I'm a social media editor), I feel like I am getting closer and closer to being content with the life I’ve built.

On the highs and lows...

"The lowest moment I’ve experienced was moving into a new apartment and going through a breakup during all of this. The highest moment I’ve experienced was feeling settled in my new apartment."

woman on grass
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"I’m understanding myself and my needs more every day. It’s wild how you can get acquainted with yourself once your life slows down. I’ve learned alone time recharges me, and although I can be really flakey, taking the time to hang out with friends and set up phone calls is imperative to me."

On coping...

"In the past, my mother and I haven’t been very close. But during isolation, we’ve been able to talk on the phone every morning. She is currently in India and the time difference allows us an hour or so of conversation before I start work and she has dinner. Hearing firsthand about how it's very similar on her side of the world has been very comforting. I also never miss a phone session with my therapist, and I’m way better for it."

Alix, 30

On living alone during quarantine...

"My ex and I broke up the last week of February, so I was dealing with a lot of sadness and resentment around that, then I got COVID-19 at the beginning of March. Being sick and newly single and unsure how long the lockdown was going to last sent me into a dark place, so I decided to go home to my parents in California. I stayed there for two months before returning to New York on June 1, where I've been living alone since. At the beginning of all this, I was crying myself to sleep most nights, but I started feeling better and moving on from the breakup in May, and now the overriding emotion I have is general exhaustion that never goes away. It feels like Groundhog Day every morning. 

"I've been on antidepressants for five years and they have been life-changing. I know I would be in a much worse place mentally during this time if I wasn't medicated. There is still a stigma around admitting to needing them—people sometimes ask when I think I'll be "ready" to go off them, and my answer is I hope I never have to. They don't numb my emotions, they just soften the blow of low periods and allow me to get out of bed, stop crying, do work, and not obsess over a single thought."

On the highs and lows...

"My ex and I were still sending long, emotional texts back and forth for a couple of weeks after the breakup, going over every good and bad memory, being sad and apologetic one day and mean the next, and that was not good for my mental health. He told his mom I was sick and sad, and she was texting me one night asking how I was doing and saying it must be so hard for me to be alone. I knew it was coming from a good place, but I felt like he and his whole family pitied me and I got really upset he was sharing private things with his family. 

"In May, there were these beautiful, bright blue bioluminescent waves along the California coast. My best friend and I went swimming in them after dark and I'll always remember how young and wild and carefree we felt. I'm sure I would never have done that if restaurants and bars were open. I’ve spent a lot of healing time in nature in the last few months."

table setting
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"Surprisingly, I've had no desire during this time to use beauty as self-care. I've been so immersed in beauty for so long, this was my first opportunity to take a break from it all and it felt really amazing to forgo the pressure. I saw my Botox and fillers fully wear off for the first time in years and I didn't feel the urge to run to a dermatologist immediately. Quarantine has made me much less neurotic about what I wear and how I look, which I appreciate. And it's so cliché, but I've really learned to value my friendships and relationships and prioritize people who make me feel good while letting go of those who weigh on me."

On coping...

I take long walks in Central Park, I've gotten into Sweat with Bec workouts (I thought I only liked running and spin until I tried her classes), and I love cooking dinner with a bottle of wine and a good podcast versus ordering takeout. All those things have really helped to center me when things get stressful and overwhelming. Most importantly, Taylor Swift surprise-dropping Folklore on us felt like a gift from the universe—that was my therapy."

Nicole, 35

On living alone during quarantine...

"All things considered, it really hasn't been that bad. It's made me even more grateful for the many good things I have in my life: healthy parents, sweet friends, wonderful co-workers (and a job), and an apartment I love. I acknowledge I have a lot of privilege, which has made living alone sustainable and possible. I don't take for granted that I haven't had to worry about rent, food, health insurance, or feeling safe in my own skin.

"The situations that have been the most emotional had less to do with being alone than with current events—hearing ambulance sirens more frequently than usual and watching the death toll rise in New York, then the constant whir of helicopters after George Floyd's murder and watching so many videos of police brutality during peaceful protests.

"I haven't witnessed anti-Asian racism in person (frankly, I just am not outside that much) but have to recognize that many people who look like me have experienced that harassment because of a racist President. The work of many Asian American organizations and individuals in the fight for Black lives reminds me that none of us are equal until all of us are equal."

On the highs and lows...

"In mid-April, I was on a Zoom call for a really close friend's birthday, and seeing her friends and family in their Zoom squares, with their own families and partners, hit me in a way I wasn't expecting. I had been so used to only seeing one face per screen and this reminded me how long it'd been since I had someone next to me, squeezing into the frame. I promptly started crying, hard, and had to turn my camera off for the rest of the call.

"There've been a lot of high moments; usually, just little things that make me laugh, like watching my friend's husband swoop their sleep sack-wearing baby in and out of a doorframe and making noises like she was a ghost, and teaching my parents how to use video chat. I've kept up my weekly routine of going to the farmers' market, and watching it go from nearly empty of visitors in March to flourishing again with mask-wearing shoppers now has been really exciting."

woman with flowers
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci 

On the lessons...

"I'm an only child, so I've always been pretty comfortable being alone and keeping myself entertained. This won't surprise anyone who knows me but leaning into routine and organization has helped me stay emotionally healthy. I've lived in NYC for almost 13 years and as much as we're on pause with things I love (namely, theatre), I still love it. Watching how so many have pivoted and creatively turned their talents into support for their communities reminds me how resilient the city is and why I'm so lucky to live here.

"Soon after Broadway shut down, SiriusXM host Seth Rudetsky and his husband, producer James Wesley created Stars in the House, a daily livestream to support The Actors Fund. They've raised over $452,000 to date, which supports people who work in all aspects of the arts and entertainment. I've been a fan of Seth's for years, and watching him banter with actors and work tirelessly to raise these critical funds really kept my spirits up in the early days."

On coping...

"At the end of March, I started a weekly Zoom hang with a bunch of my friends who are also single women living in New York. We'd chat and then watch a bad movie together on Netflix Party. It petered off eventually, but it was really fun having that standing date and seeing them regularly.

"Routine has been big for me, especially with my yoga practice and exercise. I do a short practice on weekday mornings on Glo, replay a live class from Kula Yoga on Saturdays, and sign in to a Zoom on Sundays with Amy Wolfe. Being in a live class and getting verbal adjustments and hearing the names of regulars makes me feel a sense of community that I miss. After work, I do a 305 Fitness class on Youtube or a live HIIT class with Amy, and on Saturdays, I usually sign into dancer and choreographer Mitchell Wayne's cardio dance class.

"I really enjoy cooking and have continued to meal plan and prep like I always have. I've been cooking more Chinese food these past few months and have found that to be really comforting.

"I talk to my parents every day. They're really cute and I miss them a lot, but I don't want to do anything that could potentially risk their health. Thank goodness for video chat."

Aemilia, 29

On living alone during quarantine...

"Every day is different and I try not to hold myself to any strict expectations. I'd consider myself an introvert. I recharge when I'm alone and get exhausted by big groups. But, I'm still a very social person and put a lot of energy into relationships, so being cut off was pretty isolating—especially at the beginning of quarantine when New York was empty and every night was punctuated by the sound of ambulances driving by. At the time, I sat and stewed over everything, stuck in my 300 square foot apartment all day, and I'd start to feel like there was a weight on my chest. Facing those panic attacks solo was difficult and so lonely. But, there have been so many times I'm grateful for my space and have learned to appreciate small things. During some of the darker times, I was trying to write down five things every day that brought me joy—things as simple as the sunlight that hits my bedroom in the afternoon. 

On the highs and lows...

"My lowest moment was a Monday morning in May when I got a phone call that one of my parents was in the hospital (for a non-COVID emergency). My family lives in California so to be scared and isolated was a devastating feeling. I scrambled to buy a plane ticket for early the next morning but spent the day in a dazed panic. The weight on my chest felt unbearably heavy and I tried to work as I sporadically burst into tears. At the time it felt like the world was ending, but I'm so grateful my parent is okay, and in some ways, it was a blessing in disguise. I was able to go home and spend time with my family. I don't think I realized until I got there and finished my two weeks of quarantine how much I had missed the comfort and touch of other people. 

"The highs during this time were small and not necessarily a single moment I can call out. I took time to pause and appreciate what was around me and it was an important part of surviving this time. I'm so grateful to have a safe space that is all my own and that I have food, employment, and savings—all things I acknowledge I'm privileged to have. Though the solitude can sometimes be weary, I think I can in my own head at times, it's also allowed for a lot of reflection and centering. There's also something empowering about knowing even in difficult times I am able to take care of myself."

woman on balcony
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"My time alone has reconfirmed my resilience and independence. But, I think it has also reminded me as much as I value my time alone, I think life feels a little flat when you aren't sharing experiences with others or creating memories together. The pandemic has really slowed the pace of my life for the first time in many years. There are no trips, no meetings, or work dinners. I've had a lot of time to sit with myself and ask myself if I'm leading the life I want and what improvements I can make. I started therapy again which is something I'm very proud of."

On coping...

"Going back to therapy has been a huge help for me. Even though it takes time to ramp back up, getting started has been a big wake up call—jolting me out of my head and negative thought spirals. Running and getting outside on walks has also been important for me. I'm always more relaxed when I'm enjoying the outdoors and running can clear my mind when I'm feeling anxious. It's funny because while I've been alone, I haven't had any alcohol. I enjoy a drink or two socially, but I find when I'm alone it tends to make me more anxious, so I just don't do it. Also, I'm also very close with my family, so our group text chain and face times are such a relief."

Lauren, 32

On living alone during quarantine...

"Living alone during the pandemic has been an interesting experience. Right before we went into mandatory quarantine, I went home to New Jersey to be with my parents, sister, and nephew. I only expected to be there for a couple of weeks, but that quickly turned into two months. When I finally came back home, the city was eerily empty and I didn't see anyone but my partner for more than a month. I'm an introvert, but it was hard to be in a 400-square-foot studio apartment with no end in sight. I'd oscillate between being happy to be by myself and feeling lonely and looking forward to the weeks when my partner would be able to come quarantine with me."

On the highs and lows...

"Right as coronavirus hit, my mom had to have emergency surgery. I wasn't allowed to see her right away because I had been in Paris for Fashion Week. A few weeks later when I was home, one of her post-op machines failed in the middle of the night, and because the hospitals were overbooked, her nurses had to walk my dad and I through removing it over the phone at 4 a.m. If we hadn't been in the middle of a pandemic, I'm sure we'd have had the support we needed to help her faster. That was a definite low. Losing my full-time job mid-pandemic wasn't exactly fun, either, but it's opened me up to a whole host of new opportunities. 

"The high point has been getting to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my partner—I don't think we'd have been able to learn so much about each other if it were normal circumstances."

man on roof
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"As someone who had never lived alone before, I learned I'm a definite introvert, a qualifier that I suspected defined me but was unsure about. I also learned quite a bit about my relationships: It's possible to remain close and foster new friendships from afar."

On coping...

"I don't think I've called anyone in months, we all exclusively FaceTime. I also make time to workout or go for walks, whether it's on my own or with friends."

Maura, 25

On living alone during quarantine...

"Living alone has been extremely grounding. Although I've lived alone before, this is the longest I've ever spent in isolation. I've felt so many things during quarantine—freedom, loneliness, closeness to self."

On the highs and lows...

"The lowest moment I've experienced has been sitting in moments of sadness or loss by myself. My dad was in a motorcycle accident early during the quarantine and although he was fine, feeling like I was unable to be with him was difficult. I've had random high moments where I'll just throw on some music and dance around my space. I'm grateful to have health and provisions."

woman on roof
Unsplash/Design by Cristina Cianci

On the lessons...

"I've learned that although I deeply value my solo time, I am most energized by other energy. It doesn't have to be energy directly interacting with me, but just like sharing space with other energy is needed for me to be at my best."

On coping...

"A pretty simple routine has helped me cope with living alone during this time. Whether it's working out with Katie Cakes four to six times a week, to meal prepping and watching HBO on Sundays, having things on my schedule has greatly helped me cope. 

Related Stories