Living in Isolation When You Have Flatmates

It’s my sixth week of working from home. During the past six weeks, I’ve moved apartment and started living with new flatmates.

In a way, I’m glad this pandemic has happened now and not when I was in my final year of university. I was living by myself and only kept sane while doing my dissertation by relocating to my local café everyday between 10am and 5pm.

If I was still in Liverpool, I would either have to choose between staying in my apartment by myself for the foreseeable or moving back home with my mum and dad. I think I probably would have developed cabin fever after day three if I had to move home, stuck in the middle of the countryside with nothing to see or do and only my cats for company.

I used to get angsty when I spent two days straight in my house in Ireland, feeling trapped and claustrophobic. The plus-side would obviously be home-cooked meals, my mum and dad being there and not having to spend money on food for myself.

But I like my own company and my freedom, and would probably have gotten a lot more work done in my flat in Liverpool. Thankfully, I don’t have to think about finishing a degree remotely. I have to think about finishing my contract with a company in New York in my New Jersey flat with 80 other interns.

PERSONAL SPACE

If you don’t know much about the program that I’m on (read more here) then you won’t know how the flat system works. Before the pandemic, we were in flats of five with three bedrooms – one single room, one large double and one small double.

Those in the large and small doubles share rooms. It’s part of the experience here in New York and since we don’t pay rent, we don’t mind so much. It’s something typical of American dorm rooms, which would be the equivalent of UK university halls.

This means that unless you have the single room, you don’t tend to get much alone time. This was quite a change for me since I spent the previous year living in a flat by myself, to moving to the US, gaining four new flatmates and a roommate too.

I enjoy having the company and there always being someone around to talk to, but I do like to have my own ‘me-time’. It got to the point where I was waking up in my flat of five, commuting to work with two other interns, spending an entire working day in an office with one of the interns, going back to my flat of five people, going to sleep with another intern in the room, waking up and repeating all over again.

It often got a little much, so I would take my lunch hour and go to a café to read for an hour instead. This hour was the only time of the day when I would be apart from another intern on the program. I was able to get my head showered for a bit – I think that may be an Irish term, which basically means to clear your head.

So with isolation and having been in quarantine for two of the six weeks, there hasn’t been much room for personal space. I don’t mind as much now as I’ve gotten quite used to being around people 24/7. But when it’s a nice day, and when I can, I like to go down to the pier where it’s quiet and read my book, while having the view of Manhattan right in front of me.

Since the isolation started and 15 or so interns headed home to isolate back in the UK, we’ve been able to space out in the flats. Most flats now hold 3 or 4 people instead of 5. I’m still sharing a large double with my roommate, but there is only one person occupying the small double now.

I love my new flat as we all have the same working schedule, like to go to bed late at night and be as social as we can. I don’t need my personal space as much as I try to get out for a walk at least once every day.

If you’re living with flatmates and need your personal space, take it when you can. It might be a walk, some alone time in your bedroom or a quiet evening in the living room. Set boundaries if you need to and communicate with the people that you live with. I would recommend face-to-face over a Whatsapp group.

YOUR NEW OFFICE COLLEAGUES

In your work office, you were used to employees of the same company sat around you, often working in the same team as you and on the same projects.

Now you’re more than likely surrounded by people that work for different companies, with different jobs and very different ways of working.

In my situation, my three flatmates all work for the same large bank, but in different functions. In fact, the majority of interns that I am in contact with and that visit our flat on a regular basis, all work for the same banking corporation.

They do like to often chat about work, but they help each other out most of the time as quite a few of them have been switched to new teams due to increases in re-mortgaging. It’s a busy environment but it’s a lot better in all of us slouching around, having nothing to do.

The only tricky thing is when we have calls, which I and my flatmates have a lot of the time. We aren’t on the same calendar, so don’t know when each of us has meetings or video calls. It can often be that we’ll have music blasting from the TV, people over for tea and coffee and the next thing you know, you have an incoming call from your Director.

It’s tough, but we make it work. We try to take our calls in our bedrooms, where it’s quieter, but in my case, I have quite a lot of video calls and so need the dining table for height and the bay window for light. Again, communicate to strike the balance of how you want the work environment to be.

I get a lot done in the mornings as most of my flatmates stick to their bedrooms to work. By afternoon, we’re all singing along to a musical, kicking a football around or taking turns to make tea and coffee.

MAKE THE MOST OF THIS TIME TO BOND

You will be spending a lot more time with your flatmates than you had ever imagined. What went from maybe bumping into them in the morning before work, to cooking and chilling with them in the evenings, has turned into spending every breathing minute with them.

Which is a lot.

But use this time to get to know them better. Instead of a ‘how are you?’ and a ‘how was work?’ conversation started, start asking deeper questions.

I have a flatmate from India, one from Greece and another from London. I’ve been learning a lot about cooking from my Indian flatmate – he’s incredible. I’m pretty sure I’m going to come out of isolation with a Michelin star at this rate.

One thing I love about my roommate is that she asks a lot of questions. But I don’t mean in an irritating way. She wants to get to know everyone a lot better, but by asking about where they grew up, about their families, about their interests, their favourite places, their favourite foods etc. There are no top-level questions with her.

But I’ve learnt a lot about the people that we live with and even other interns because she asks these deeper questions. It’s something I’m not very good at and often don’t take the time to ask, so I’m glad that she’s encouraging that type of conversation.

If you have flatmates, why don’t you try to use this time to get to know them better? Ask the weird and wonderful questions. Find out their dreams and ambitions, what weird habits they have, where they want to go most in the world and about their background.

This all helps foster deeper connections and helps build friendships that are going to last longer than the time on your lease.

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