Single and stuck right where I am for the summer.
I want a cute cabin getaway. I have a hot one-bedroom apartment. An east-facing concrete tagine that slowly roasts my epidermis and emotions to perfection, tempered only by my ceiling a/c unit that reminds me with each sputter and whirr how much my electric bill will be this month. What I also have is an iPhone, aka a portal into the fabulous lives of couples, both the ones I know and the ones I started following for some reason. And it seems like this summer, all of them are getting the fuck out.
Have you noticed? It seems like every time I check my phone another couple has jaunted off to a family farm, a woodsy escape, or just somewhere that isn’t the trash-lined city I’m still walking through for groceries only. Pandemic summer is a bitch, and not just because the virus that kills people isn’t dead yet—but because it’s making me, as a single person, acutely aware of how much easier it is to escape in pairs.
To be clear, I love my apartment. I find myself pausing almost daily to appreciate the beauty of this space and how lucky I am to live in it. It has a dishwasher for fucks sake. A year ago I tired of climbing four flights of stairs and doing battle with swarms of fruit flies each summer and made a difficult but ultimately beneficial move three neighborhoods over. To think of what my pandemic would be like if I hadn’t moved. I’d rather not. This place, with its elevator and my ability to actually see sky, is a far more comfortable and superior place to ride out the end of the world. That being said, my feat haven’t touched grass in 2020.
I want a break. I want to go somewhere that has trees that don’t grow out of concrete. I want to open a window and hear nature sounds not sirens. But the reality is that as a single woman living alone, alone more now than I’ve ever been, I am kind of stuck exactly where I am. It’s a new kind of stuck that has jolted me into reevaluation, into an analysis of where I chose to live and why that I didn’t anticipate showing up for at least another three New York years. I don’t like feeling stuck and isolated in a city that everyone (who’s privileged to be able to) flees when there’s trouble. I don’t know guys, for the first time in my life I can see the merits of a backyard.
But this is where I am. Circumstances both viral and financial have dictated to me that during Bummer Summer 2020, I’m going to be exactly where I currently am. At my kitchen table, with a Zak! mug of iced coffee, biding my time until I have to switch from pajama pants to bike shorts because it’s just too godammned hot in here. And every time I see a couple pop out to the Catskills or the English seaside or to a family-owned piece of land of some kind, I get a little sad, a little anxious, and I feel a little more stuck.
The couple across the hall from me hasn’t been home since March. I know this because the Amazon packages are littering my hallway. Every couple I know with children peaced out entirely, either permanently relocating back to their hometowns or becoming a pack of nomads rotating between friends and relations with available square footage. In fact, I think the number of people I know personally where I live has been reduced by 2/3.
But those are the big moves, the life-altering changes that I’ve known from pandemic Day One I wasn’t going to make. The mental leap between living alone for the last decade in big cities and moving into my parents’ guest room in Fort Worth, Texas was too terrifying to ever be entertained. Also, my mother hates cats.
What I’m talking about here is the unique ability of couples to stage an escape. A weekend jaunt, a sneaky road trip somewhere, a beachside rental or a cabin for two. The vacationing abilities of couples have never been more clear or jealousy-inducing to me than during a time where the safety of single people’s health and a bank accounts have never been in greater danger.
Couplehood is life’s little trap door. The instant out, the built-in backup plan. The act of escaping and going somewhere else right now is a logistical and financial Jenga tower that, no matter how much you love and appreciate your single life, is simply exhausting if not overwhelming to do alone. There’s a fucking pandemic out there, and it’s changed everything. And now it’s harder to take a break alone, it just is.
In The Before, when I needed to de-stress, recalibrate, or just not be working for a week heaven forbid, I’d get on a flight, pop into a reasonably priced hotel, dash over to a restaurant, no problem. But now, all of those activities are either actually, legally impossible, or fucking dangerous. That leaves me, as a single person, with the favored option during a pandemic: renting a more residential space to escape to, assuming there are both spaces available within safe travel distance of me (there aren’t), and accessible ways for me to get there (good luck). Let’s evaluate.
First, renting a place. Do you know of rentable vacation homes designed for single people? (Getaway is sold out, look it up, also it’s like…one thing.) Or is everything specifically built for two or more people if not a full family reunion? As a single person, shall I pay for space I don’t need? Or try to convince enough people to join me during a global pandemic and HOPE none of us have been exposed? Do I even have enough people left? I’ve counted and y’all…I don’t.
Next, renting a car. Setting aside the fact that I haven’t driven in seven years, renting a car scares me. Driving alone to a place I don’t know during a pandemic I don’t want to catch is terrifying. What if I get a flat tire? Or get in an accident? Or get really, really lost? Are they even cleaning gas pumps properly? My troubleshooting skills are honed but they’re not germ-proof! There are certainly trains going in directions I enjoy but once there, I’m there. I can’t get groceries or like…leave the rental property without help. How reliable is Lyft out in the sticks? You tell me.
After that, supplies. Not just acquiring them, but getting them from the store to my home to my rental car place into my rental car and into whatever place I have rented. Stocking the kitchen with food, the bathroom with essentials, packing my own linens because I trust no one—the physical effort required to get away on my own amounts to a mini-move. There’s also stress there, the knowledge that I have zero help with any of this. No one to share chores, responsibilities, or emotional support that human beings need when they’re dealing with scary circumstances. And this is supposed to be a vacation! Honestly setting up a baby pool in my kitchen is sounding better and better all the time.
And friend, we haven’t talked about money yet. Single people, without our split rents, split bills, split emotional labor of paying to live—escaping isn’t as easy, or as possible for us. Certainly not vacation-style escaping anyway. I have several single girlfriends that have made semi-permanent moves back to their parents’ homes in lieu of riding this thing out alone and I respect that. But for those of us who are single and just want a break from all of this, we might not be able to have one.
So how do we summer? Where can single people living alone in the time of COVID find respite from the day to day scaries of simply existing right now? I can sit on my roof, that’s an option. I can also melt into a puddle of myself in the heat on my roof, that’s an option as well. I can fill my bathtub with cold water and splash about in it while watching standup comedy and eating cherries. That is actually a thing that has happened. I can also ask a very select echelon of friends if I can just stay at their place for a night or a weekend, both to vary scenery and company, provided we’re all healthy… as far as we know. I can staycation, renting a hotel room for a night or however long I can afford it, in an attempt to pretend I’ve traveled. But honestly that option just sounds like throwing a lot of money at a nice try. The options aren’t amazing, but neither is 2020, so I’ll make do.
If this year is teaching us anything, it’s to count our blessings. That a/c unit is a money sucking air demon, but it’s there. That bathtub is a shoddy excuse for a swimming pool, but it’s there. My roof is an outdoor oven, but it’s there. And all of the “there”s are going to have to be enough for my lack of a teammate I can tag in when I’m feeling scared, or anxious, or stuck. Those happy little jaunts might not happen to me this summer, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen every summer. And if I need a break from the stress and fear that this year just won’t stop dolling out, I’ll have to find a way to do it that works for me. I’ll let you know when I find it, but for now, I’ll send you a postcard from the bath.