A mother vacuums every day – just after dawn.
A couple, newly broken up, are now confined in their tiny apartment.
And a woman rejoicing that her partner has finally moved in: “All it took was worldwide quarantine for him to finally commit.”
All are slices of life under lockdown, submitted by strangers anonymously to The Social Distance Project: an online community documenting the everyday, domestic dramas sparked by a pandemic.
Inspired by the popular PostSecret blog, it is an irresistible look through the keyhole into other people’s quarantines, from the woman who decided to quarantine with her boyfriend – and his mother – after only three dates; to the college student and long-time knitter, irate that her mom’s new “quarantine hobby” of making pom-poms is using up all her best yarn: “God help us all get out of this fast.”
The project came about through a tweet. Midway through March Meg Zukin, a writer in Los Angeles, had realised the toll that quarantining would likely take on her own relationship. She tweeted: “if u live with a significant other and think all the co-quarantining will cause u to break up, email me … i’m not writing a story im just messy and love drama.”
“I’d really been thinking about how this will have such a profound effect on people’s personal lives, and that isn’t being talked about in the news because there are more important things going on on the macro scale,” Zukin says now.
“But if you break up with a partner during this – or because of this – that’s still a major life adjustment.”
Zukin’s tweet went viral, and her inbox was flooded with messages from people wanting to confide in a stranger about how their personal lives had been changed by coronavirus. Whether it was heartbreaking or petty, there was a sense of relief to having been asked, she says.
One woman wrote a seven-page “essay” about the difficulties she was experiencing with her husband. “She was just so thankful that someone was opening up a space to talk about relationship issues during quarantine,” says Zukin. “People were definitely looking for a place to vent.”
Another woman, a teacher, wrote that her husband was so worried about contracting coronavirus from her, he had moved in with his mother. “The impact on people’s personal lives – it’s almost overwhelming to think about,” says Zukin.
“I feel like a lot of people feel as though their personal anxieties or fights with their partner or family member are not important and they should just be grateful that they have a place to live – but it’s not nothing, just because it’s not top-billed news.”
In that first flood following her tweet, Zukin received some 500 messages. When her friends started asking for the juiciest stories she’d been told, she realised that there was a market for them.
With permission, Zukin brought together their stories anonymously in a Google document – then requested a small donation in exchange for the link to access it.
From an average donation of US $1, she has raised almost $9,000 for food banks, housing support and Covid-19 relief.
Though the rate of giving has slowed, Zukin continues to be sent slices of life from strangers in lockdown, which she shares on The Social Distance’s website and Instagram account, which now has 15,000 followers. “I don’t really see the project slowing down, as long as we’re still in isolation,” she says.
One man, while browsing the “wonderful project”, realised he was reading about his own infidelity – then submitted his own follow-up, about sharing “a break-up cake” with his now ex-girlfriend.
Zukin’s aim now is to create a sense of community, in spite of quarantine – “just reminding people they’re not alone during this”. Plus, Zukin points out: shut in our homes, away from our friends and coworkers, we might be feeling a little starved of gossip right now.
“I think we’re all fascinated by other people’s business … When not much is going on in your day, there’s only so much to say or do.”
But it has not been just the drama that has registered. A 68-year-old woman wrote this week about how her husband of almost 50 years had come across their old love letters. “For the next hour or so he would run in with another letter, I would read it, and we would laugh and reminisce about how young and in love we were,” she wrote, of the “moment of togetherness, caused by the Covid-19 shutdown”.
Zukin says readers have responded well to such positive stories. “At first I was thinking that misery loves company, but … it’s about feeling connected when we are physically isolated.”