One night in late March, on a newly-instituted nightly family Zoom, my dad cracked a mischievous smile.
“Hey,” he interjected. “I heard something really funny this morning. Michael [friend] told me that all the kids are moving home. Can you believe it?”
We were a couple of weeks into the pandemic and his statement really pissed me off. My parents live in Teaneck, NJ, an original epicenter of the coronavirus here in the US. At the time they were still taking leisurely walks, going to the grocery store, having cocktails with friends and generally being quite laissez-faire for two smart people in their mid-sixties.
I, meanwhile, was cooped up on the sixth floor of my apartment building in Brooklyn, weeks from eye contact—let alone physical contact—with another individual.
Many of my peers had retreated to their childhood homes so I knew very well of the phenomenon to which he was referring. To me it represented the gravity of the situation at hand, and being clueless to it represented a disregard for that gravity.
I seized the opportunity to chastise my parents for their irresponsible attitude and let the comment itself go.
But as we approach our sixth week in quarantine—and evidence suggests we have months if not years of this ahead—I’ve started thinking about that conversation again.
“All the kids are moving home…”
Today I got a text from a number I don’t have saved. “Remember me?”
It was from a guy I’d started talking to the weekend life changed forever in New York City. We had loose plans to hang out in the week ahead but by Sunday he’d seen the writing on the wall and hopped a flight to Dallas to shack up with his parents. We texted for a week or so—he sent me pictures of his family’s pool while I replied with probably psycho pictures of empty, cold New York streets from the roof of my building—and eventually our conversation fell flat.
In just the month since he and I last spoke the world of online courting has revolutionized. Without the freedom to go anywhere, singles in New York City have taken to meeting on FaceTime, dating on Zoom, and the sad reality that Sunday, March 15th might have been our last IRL swoon of 2020.
And while I’ll admit there was a novelty to the FaceTime date it has most certainly worn off. At the same time, I have to sacrifice seeing every person I know and love in this world—so I’m not yet at the point I’ll risk my life for a walk with a Hinge date. I publicly renounced the walking date years ago, anyway.
Here are some facts: Early data shows that 50% of Americans under 45 have lost work as a result of the coronavirus. Here in NYC, where the pandemic is its worst, we are all renters. We live (rent) here because we desperately love it and for better or worse our people are the ones who live here too.
So what happens when the city and its people are closed for love? And you have rent to pay and there’s a 50% chance you don’t have a job? Or you do have a job but can do it from somewhere you don’t have to pay nearly as much (to stay inside)? And you can maybe actually go outside there? And you’re encountering the second economic disaster since you started your career? And the opportunity presents to save some money for the first time in your life?
If you are a Millennial who lives with a partner, shares the rent, has a need to maintain your privacy and the existence you’ve built—chances are, nothing happens.
But if you are a single Millennial, fending for yourself, stripped of the magical playground that is New York and its dating scene—what happens is you might consider leaving. Perhaps even to your parents’.
Not all of us—and for the love of God I hope not me—but some of us will. The longer isolation lasts the stronger the appeal will be. Leases will come up, roommates will navigate vastly different circumstances than anticipated, the hammer and dance to the finality of the pandemic will be inconspicuously at work.
And, quite frankly, we will be different. History has shown that experiences like this pandemic make people more present-minded—less forward-thinking and more engaged with the here and now. The same history shows that experiences like this make people fearful of connection, specifically close physical contact with people outside their established circles. The type of contact with others that is simply inherent to life—and dating—in New York City.
So while this is not a future I wish upon any of us, it is one that is likelier than I care to admit. And for the hundreds of thousands of single people — who pay rent alone, sleep (often) alone, and for the last six weeks and counting have spent every waking minute alone — leaving the city behind may start to look like not the worst idea in the world.