Over the past few years, I’ve become something resembling an extrovert. I was more of a homebody during middle and early high school, but my social life got more active toward the end of high school. When I got to Hopkins two years ago, I moved into a double in AMR II and quickly became close friends with my roommate and other people in the dorm.
I loved how I could see my friends all the time, since we lived only steps away from each other. I really took advantage of it, always sparking up conversation with my roommate or knocking on other people’s doors to hang out with them.
I had become so used to always having someone around me that when my friends picked up more obligations second semester, I felt uncomfortable with the greater amount of time I was subsequently spending alone. I missed the frequent, grounding presence of another person when I was stressed while doing homework, and it wasn’t as fun to keep only myself occupied when I had free time but no one else did. I would sometimes just sit there and feel sad, anxious or restless, with a weird tightness in my chest. I felt trapped in the place that had previously felt so homey and vibrant. That semester became really difficult for me, for this and other reasons.
Last year, that discomfort ebbed and flowed but never fully dissipated. I lived in a quad in Commons with my freshman-year roommate and two other friends. Having four of us meant it wasn’t often that only one of us was at home, so I rarely had to confront that discomfort.
The three of them are all living together this year, but I was supposed to study abroad this semester, so I had bowed out of living with them and put off house-hunting, thinking I’d just find a sublet right before the spring. But then a pandemic happened, study abroad was cancelled and my house hunt was back on. My other friends had buddied up and figured things out. I saw lots of sublets on Facebook, but mostly in shared apartments, and living with randos now seemed risky in a pandemic. What if we hated each other but were stuck in quarantine together? What if they weren’t social distancing?
I found a furnished studio apartment that I could sign a short-term lease on — in case I went abroad in the spring — and it seemed too convenient to pass up, so I signed it. Even once the University announced that campus would remain closed, I still wanted to come back to Baltimore. I knew being here wouldn’t be normal exactly, but I felt confident I could conduct myself safely and happily enough.
So suddenly the thing I’d never really thought I would do — never wanted to do — during college was about to happen. I was about to live alone, about to spend the vast majority of my time in that studio apartment because of quarantine and online classes.
I didn’t really know how to feel about that. I was grateful to get away from home, to be back by campus and to see friends distantly. Logically, I knew this was the most cautious choice I could make. But what would it feel like to be on my own after living with others all my life? After being in a house with my parents almost 24/7 the past few months of quarantine? How would I feel about my old roommates — my closest friends and now my pod — all living together again while I was somewhere else? Would I be able to cope with that, especially considering how I feared being alone the last couple years?
But then I also got excited about some things. I got excited about decorating and not having to coordinate with anyone else’s style. I got excited about the meals I could cook for myself. I got excited about having my own wifi and about not dealing with people making noise in the other room. I did not get excited about having to kill bugs instead of being able to pawn it off on someone else, but I figured there were worse things.
Those things continued to be exciting when I got here, and I found more joys. It’s nice to have independent control of my living condition: the cleanliness, my sleep schedule, what meals I make, the music I blast on my speaker. It’s nice not to have domestic squabbles over chores or errands. I remember to talk to my family more often, which makes me feel more connected to them than I normally do at school, and that’s nice too.
I felt overly badass after I exterminated my first centipede. I feel more centered when it comes to schoolwork and taking care of myself. It’s not that my roommates were bad or distracting to live with; it’s just easier to focus on yourself when you’re the only personality in the room. And it’s nice to only engage with others when I want to, whether I text them or call them or go see them (safely) in person. I want it surprisingly less often than I thought; I no longer feel that pressing need to always be around people.
I don’t know what exactly sparked this change, what made me stop equating “alone” with “lonely” — sometimes I do feel lonely, but not overwhelmingly so.
Maybe it’s just the change of pace from being home with my parents. Maybe my inner control freak is happy to have everything my way. Maybe it was the rise of Zoom and digital socialization making me realize there’s always a way to feel somewhat connected, even when someone else isn’t physically around. Maybe it’s just hard to feel a sense of emptiness in a space that’s clearly designed for one. Maybe fearing loneliness so much was just a symptom of my previous emotional state and that’s just not where I’m at right now. Maybe I’m growing into an independent adult.
Maybe the novelty of living by myself will soon wear off, but it feels sustainable, and I predict it won’t, at least not for a while. That’s not to say I want to live alone forever; I do want to live with friends and family again, and, one day, a romantic partner. Sharing space and making a home with someone is a lovely, intimate thing. But for now I can be my own best friend, my own caretaker, my own roommate — and I can feel at home within myself.