'Support is always near': ups and downs of being locked down with others

Lockdown has forced many people to spend an unprecedented amount of time at home. But what happens when you share that home with people you barely saw before lockdown? Or multiple generations of your family are stuck inside together? Four people speak about whether lockdown was make-or-break for the relationships with those they live with.

For 27-year-old Pinja Saarikoski, the experience has been a positive one. She and three other women had been living together in London for around two years when the pandemic began, but were not especially close.

“None of us knew each other before we moved into this house,” she said. “We got along quite well from the beginning. We did do stuff together, but maybe more once a month go for a drink. But now it’s hard to imagine what life will be like when we’re not spending 12 hours a day together.”

Saarikoski said it was “astonishing” to see how close they had all grown, describing them as a “little family”.

“Support is always near, we’re much more honest and voice our feelings to one another, and most of all have taken care to plan things together into our week to ensure we can keep each other’s mood up,” she said. “At the beginning of lockdown, we organised a themed dinner for every Saturday evening; Mexican and margaritas, Italian, tapas, cheese and wine night …” They’ve even redecorated the house.

“In the beginning, I think everyone was worried it was going to get tough, but ultimately everyone has been really supporting each other. Because you’re not able to see anyone else, you have to rely on each other.”

Also in London, three generations of Damien Conrad’s family have been living together during the pandemic, with ages ranging from 23 to 87. He said the lockdown had brought them even closer together.

“Four of us worked remotely round the dining room table. It was fun, apart from Zooms where we were all on headsets running all over the house to get out of each other’s airspace,” he said.

Conrad’s parents, Paula and Mike, took up languages and art and spent much time harvesting vegetables on their allotment. At weekends the family played cards together, and they took turns cooking. They even took up family yoga hosted by 73-year-old Auntie Sue.

Outside, the regular claps for the NHS morphed into drinks and chats with neighbours. “We’re all now good mates,” Conrad said.

“We’ve always been a close family, but we really had to share duties. It’s been a lovely time, and the WhatsApp group outside in the road has been great as well. We didn’t know anyone beforehand, and now we’re egg-sharing from chickens [on the street].”

The experience hasn’t been positive for everyone. “I moved into a house share when I moved to a new city thinking that it didn’t matter if I didn’t get on with them as I would be out of the house for a lot of the time,” said Louise, who is in her 20s and lives in the north-west. “Then lockdown happened and suddenly these were the only people I was able to see for months. We got on reasonably well before, but they didn’t seem to think that following the new laws was important like I did.”

During the lockdown, Louise’s housemates continued to see people outside their household, and in the summer months they even hosted parties. “The first time we were allowed to see people again, I’d gone out, seen some friends and felt relaxed for the first time in months,” she said. “I came back home and they were having a house party. They started having parties again every weekend and I spent the last few months locked in my room to work, eat and sleep.”

Louise eventually had to move for her job, and she chose to live alone. “Although lockdown alone has also been hard, it’s better than how unsafe I felt then,” she said.

In Scotland, two of Sam’s* living situations buckled under the weight of lockdown. He had been living happily in a house share with two others for several years, but the “nature of the lockdown led to tensions arising over the tiniest and [most] meaningless of things. There were things there that you maybe don’t notice or appreciate when you’re out working most of the time.”

Like Louise, Sam also felt tension in the house over their approach to the lockdown rules. Sam continued to see his girlfriend, who lived very close by, with the other housemates’ consent, but it eventually caused friction. He decided to move into a flat with his girlfriend, but the pair had only become a couple shortly before lockdown, and the move “contributed to the end of our relationship”. “Too much, too fast and far too intense,” he said.

Now Sam, who is in his 30s, is living alone. While he described it as “one of the best decisions I’ve made”, he has found the loneliness difficult. “Over the winter period there was a two- or three-week period where I have probably never felt as depressed,” he said. “Social contact is such a salve.”

*Names have been changed.

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