The last time a virus forced Americans indoors, women did not go inside alone.
When the 1918 flu pandemic started to spread, the average American woman got married at 21. Most went straight from their parents’ home to their husband’s; others spent a few years at a boardinghouse full of women their age, working in shops and factories as they awaited their proposals. A woman rarely made enough money to live by herself.
The novel coronavirus has confined many women to a very different living situation: Today approximately 23.5 million American women live alone, more than ever before. That’s largely because we’re staying single longer. The average woman now waits until she’s 28 to get married. More women are getting divorced or opting out of marriage altogether.
The Lily asked to hear from women who are self-quarantined alone. We received almost 1,300 responses.
Some are living alone for the first time; others have been alone a lifetime.
Maria Salinas lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Boston
‘I told her, “Mom, I’m going nuts.”’
Maria’s depression and PTSD began to flare up almost as soon as her graduate school canceled in-person classes. She recognized the red flags right away: not showering, barely leaving the house, not bothering to take the few steps from her couch to her bed when she was ready to sleep. Her mom has been calling every morning at exactly 8, nudging her daughter to get up and start her day.
Gina Fernandes lives in a studio apartment in Washington, D.C
‘At my age, everybody is coupled up, like Noah’s Ark. Here we are at the end of the world, and I am in my apartment for one.’
Gina has been avoiding the regular game nights and movie nights that her college friends have been hosting on Zoom. Almost all of them are in relationships. It’s hard to see partners sitting together on the couch, hands on knees, arms draped over shoulders. Kids wander on and off the screen, tugging on wrists, climbing over legs. Gina hasn’t touched anyone in weeks.
Jennifer Jachym lives in a three-story house in Philadelphia
‘I don’t think, “I can’t wait to hug my sister” or “I can’t wait to pat my dad on the back.” Nope, my mind goes right down to the gutter.’
For Jennifer, self-quarantine feels like puberty: She can’t stop thinking about how much she’d like to have sex. She was supposed to be in Costa Rica right now, wading into the waves with her 25-year-old surf instructor turned love interest. Instead, she’s at home, doing what she can to wring out the frustration. Talking to the surf instructor helps a little. Porn helps more. As soon as restrictions lift, she plans to book a flight to Costa Rica.
Joi Cardwell lives in a beach bungalow in West Palm Beach, Fla.
‘It’s not like, I don’t know what day it is, and I’m in despair. It’s like, I don’t know what day it is, and I don’t care.’
It’s easy to be “in despair” right now, Joi says: Sometimes she fantasizes about the next time she’ll hug another person. But she won’t allow herself to dwell on the negative. To get through self-quarantine, she has been turning her music up loud, dancing barefoot to songs that transport her to a pool party in Ibiza. She’ll stand up close to her pulsating speaker and sip a glass of rosé.
Irma Villarreal lives on the top floor of a Victorian house in Evanston, Ill.
‘He was my life.’
Irma has been talking to her late husband more often since self-quarantine began. He died suddenly 18 months ago. On Saturday mornings, she’ll take her breakfast into her sunroom and look up at his urn. “I really miss you,” she’ll say. “This is a really hard time.” If he was still around, she knows he’d tell her to stop worrying. Everything is fine, he’d say: “We’re together.”
Hazel Feldman lives in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City
‘The news keeps saying, “People are coming together.” They might be coming together, but not here. Not in these types of buildings.’
Hazel would rather get a root canal than ask for help, but she has no choice: She’s had a cough for the last 10 days and can’t go out for groceries. While she recognizes a lot of people who live in her apartment building, where she’s lived for 40 years, she’s not really friends with anyone. She knows she has to ask a neighbor to shop for her. It takes her days to work up the courage.
Bettye Barclay lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, Calif.
‘If I should die from either covid-19 or something else during this time, I die alone.’
Bettye used to be scared of dying alone, but she’s been trying to make peace with the idea. She takes a little time each day to sit quietly, eyes closed, paying attention to her fears and why she has them. She imagines lying in the hospital, her family safe and healthy somewhere else, wishing her well. Being alone wouldn’t really be so bad.
A quick, curated list of Team Lily’s go-to content this week.