During my freshman year of college, I lived in a dormitory with an old high school friend. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him “Jeremy”. Jeremy was an all-around solid dude. Sure, he never gave me any free wontons or egg rolls despite being the son of local Chinese restauranteurs; and yeah, he made one too many unprompted, anachronistic fat jokes (*which is my job*). But still, in the broader pool of prospective living partners, we both figured we could do a lot worse than each other.
And in the end, this proved to be a relatively accurate assessment, as we managed to get along fairly well throughout most of our first year at UW-Madison. We played basketball almost every night with a group of other guys from the dorm, where he would proceed to consistently dazzle me with his shockingly strong hook shot and elbow-intensive driving ability. We would hang out and drink with other like-minded Wisconsinites in our dorm-room, where I would dazzle *him* with the sort of inhuman tolerance for alcohol that only manifests itself in those who started suffocating their emotions with ethanol from a very young age. And most importantly, he would look the other way (with nary a wry remark) when I would come home on Tuesday nights with $15 of Taco Bell for individual consumption.
Now, while we did not end up living together during our sophomore year, we did manage to stay friends throughout (and beyond!) the grueling process of freshman collegiate boarding. We still message each other a few times a year, stalk each other’s Instagram stories religiously, and occasionally screenshot a Facebook memory from 10 years ago to laugh at in united solidarity. He’s actually a doctor now, which is great since I’m really hoping that someday he can treat my inevitable diabetes and liver cirrhosis.
That being said, I resented almost *every moment* of living with him.
To be clear, this had absolutely nothing to do with any shortcomings on his end. Sure, it *was* deeply rooted in the fact that he was a “Mentally and emotionally stable young adult with normal living habits” and I was very much not that. But that feels hardly fair to blame on him. The crux of the matter is that this is entirely my fault, and I simply shouldn’t live with other people.
I wish I could help it, but I’ve simply found myself incapable of doing so. The way that crafty, dastardly bastard would sit at his desk, obnoxiously shoveling food into his mouth, smacking his lips, and scraping the tines of his fork gratingly across the edge of his porcelain plate was enough to get my tell-tale heart pumping spasmodically. The manner in which this wicked, vile fiend would get up *quietly and unobtrusively* in the middle of the night to play mind games with my already wrought sleeping schedule made me grip my bedposts in fists of impotent rage. And those few fraught occasions when he would politely invite other damned and depraved dorm denizens over to our room to “have fun” while I was caught square in the middle of a period of self-imposed mental isolation and disassociation was just not something I could sit idly by and let happen (*note, for the most part he did in fact sit idly by and let this happen*).
Of course, since I like to think of myself as a moderately self-aware person, I realized pretty quickly in my adult life that new roommates were likely not in my future. As such, I’ve been living alone now for the past 6 years. And many of the annoyances that I had trouble dealing with in my youth (like other people breathing and existing) have become nothing more than a fading memory. I want to go to bed early? Great, lights out by 8 pm. I want to ignore a leaky sink for 12-84 business days? Lovely, just make sure to close the door so the dripping sound doesn’t keep you up at night. I want to make cookies at 2 in the morning to cope with my insomnia? Maybe not the healthiest way to deal with that, but go nuts – just don’t skimp on the chocolate chips, or there’ll be hell to pay in the morning.
That being said, living alone isn’t all “social withdrawal and self-isolation”. There are some negative aspects to it as well. And I’ve become acutely aware of them over the last few months, while I attempt to re-engage with society after 15 months of pandemic bliss. Primarily, there are just so many things that I’ve become used to doing in the comfort of my own apartment, that despite now being deeply rooted in my daily habits, will simply not fly in general, genteel society.
Let’s examine a few:
Eating: You know, the thing I’ve primarily done standing up over the sink for the better part of 2020. Some may consider shredded cheese from a bag to be something used primarily as an ingredient in more refined culinary pursuits. Personally, I consider a few handfuls of that dank mozzarella to be the perfect breakfast, lunch, or 2 am pick me up as my chocolate chip cookies are in the oven. And the best part? That beautiful kitchen sink fixture is always there to catch any stray strands of mozzarella that thought they could escape my grasping claws. You’d be shocked at the mental effort I must exude when visiting a friend’s home to not reach straight for the bag of Colby Jack, and instead divert my focus to the infinitely more boring “Chips and salsa”.
Additionally, most of my friends consider it standard habit to sit down while eating (either at a table, or in front of the television). Some even set themselves a placemat with silverware! (*Swoons appreciatively for their quarter-life sophistication*) I personally have not sat down to eat at home in years. I attribute this to either a) A deep-seated biological appreciation for the danger a wild animal might pose to the tribe at any given moment, and a need to stand at the ready to fight or escape it or b) An understanding that one can’t “Sit” over the kitchen sink. Either way, I didn’t *intend* to draw stares while I stood lurking in the doorway behind my otherwise seated friends. It was just a force of habit…
Human Conversation: The fact of the matter is, that I can go an entire weekend literally without saying a single word to another living person. And honestly, I think that can do weird things to a human psyche. I’ve started watching YouTube videos, not because I enjoy the content, but because it makes me feel as though I’m part of a conversation. Additionally, I’ll replay entire conversations in my head from prior moments of fun and frivolity, and alter my words and contributions until I’m satisfied with how the conversation *Should have gone*. It gets to the point where I’ll completely forget what actually happened and find myself shocked that nobody can remember that witty and impeccably timed retort that I made to the bartender serving me my drink. Honestly, I no longer feel like I even know what to say to people in social settings. “Hey guys….how’s your…lawn doing? Looking mighty verdant if I do say so myself”. I’ve considered getting a dog to rectify this, but fear that this might lead to the opposite of the intended results (“Hey there Sparky….how’s your…fur doing? Looking mighty lush if I do say so myself”).
Decorations: My living aesthetics can best be defined as “Millennial gothic librarian with a penchant for blankets”. Books? I have three shelves full of them. Candles? Every spare surface is covered with them. “But Tom, do the scents at least meld with one another in a pleasing and aromatic way?” Sure don’t. It takes a truly mad artist to combine lavender and bourbon, but I have a *flare* for the original, and my furniture is my canvass. Dim lighting? Have it in spades! Hell, I’ve had an inoperable ceiling fan for over a year, and two lamps burnt out since Christmas – But *This* *Is* *What* *Candles* *Are* *For*. “Okay, sure – but what’s with the blankets?” Well, to be fair I think this is less about having a lot of them, and more to do with simply not knowing what to do with them. Seriously, what does one *do* with blankets? For now, I’ve just decided to stack them atop one another on my couch. Does this make it look like my primary living-room fixture double functions as a sick bed? Sure does. But those velvety bastards keep finding a way to add themselves to my collection, and refuse to go quietly to a cupboard or closet…
In summary, I’m no longer sure I can live with another human, even if I *really* tried. Some of these habits just don’t die easy, and I haven’t met many people comfortable with a living environment reliant almost entirely on candlelight. Imagine having a live-in girlfriend who walks into the kitchen to see me eating a whole rotisserie chicken over the kitchen sink. Try to wrap your head around a starry-eyed new roommate discovering that the lamp over yonder is “just for show, and hey – here’s some matches. The citrus vanilla is unlit.” There’s just no happy ending here.
So, for now, I’ll continue to pace restlessly through the (admittedly) dark hallways of my apartment, yearning desperately for the touch of another human as I shovel a 3 cheese Mexican blend down my gullet. Maybe someday my need to be a more connected node within the broader skein of the human experience will drive me to develop more….normal…living habits. But until then? I’ve got a rotisserie chicken to pick up.