Lockdown comes with specific difficulties when isolating in a house share. But what’s the best way to handle tension when you and your housemates disagree on how strictly to follow the social distancing rules?
We’ve been under lockdown for over two months, during which we’ve repeatedly been told the same message: “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives”.
During the first seven weeks of lockdown, we socialised only with those in our households, and stayed mostly at home, leaving the house just once a day for our government-mandated exercise or to pick up essential supplies. We were unable to see our friends, family and partners, ironically at a time when a hug from one of our loved ones could have made all the difference to how we’ve been feeling.
Then, just over two weeks ago, Boris Johnson laid out his roadmap of getting the UK economy back up and running, which included easing some of the hardest lockdown measures.
Following some initial confusion around what exactly the new rules were, the government published a list of guidance, giving us permission to socialise with one person from another household, as long as we maintain social distancing guidelines and remain two metres apart. It also gave us permission to leave the house as many times as we wish, and to relax in parks and drive to visit beauty spots.
This meant the possibility of meeting up with people outside of our household suddenly became an option again.
However, as anyone who has gone to a supermarket during lockdown will know, keeping two metres apart from every single person outside is a near impossible feat, especially for those of us who live in cities. And while the thought of sitting in a park with a friend is appealing (especially for those of us without the luxury of outdoor space), how can we be sure that we’re two metres apart from everyone else? How can we maintain social distancing if everyone flocks to the parks for a picnic in the sun?
Talk of meeting up with people obviously increased since the new rules were announced, and many of us are likely to be feeling under pressure to meet up with others. This is particularly difficult for those living with housemates who are either friends or people found on SpareRoom, and are unlikely to be making the decision to see other people as a unit.
It’s likely that this topic of conversation has already come up at least once in most houseshares, with 23% of people already admitting to breaking lockdown rules to see a partner, according to new research from sex and intimacy brand LELO. Similarly, figures from the National Police Chief’s Council show there were 9,176 lockdown fines issued between 27 March and 27 April, with 9% of people shown to be resisting lockdown during this time.
Sharing a house can be difficult at the best of times, but breaking lockdown rules if your housemates don’t want you to goes beyond the usual petty squabbles over whose turn it is to buy loo roll. If you have a housemate who is determined to break the rules, it feels like there is little you can do to stop them.
So how do you broach the difficult question or whether or not to socialise with people outside of your household with your housemates? What do you say if your housemate wants to visit their partner this weekend, and you’re uncomfortable with that decision, or vice versa?
“Go in with an understanding of their viewpoint on the matter and be willing to come out of the conversation with a compromise,” advises Holly*.
“Make sure you make a judgement on when it’s best to talk things through,” adds Marie*. “Some days can be draining and we’re all handling the background anxiety brought on by a pandemic, so aim for a relaxed and level moment in the day, when you’re both in a place to talk things over in a calm and constructive way.”
Below, three women share their stories of living with housemates during lockdown, and their advice for others in the same situation.
“I wanted to break lockdown for a hookup, but my housemates talked me out of it”
“I live with three other women and we’re all really good friends, which is amazing but also sometimes makes having difficult conversations more intimidating,” says Jazmin. “We have such a good thing going that sometimes we get scared to burst our happy little bubble. We’ve had to check in with each other quite regularly during lockdown – myself in particular as I’ve reached breaking point and very nearly (a few wines down) left the house for a hookup.
“The way we’ve gotten through it is being really straightforward about how we’re feeling and why. Obviously, they told me not to go, and I know better than to put the people I care about at risk. But I had to be honest about it being something that was on my mind and it actually made it less of a dirty secret and reduced some of my stress. They know I’m struggling and are supporting me where they can, and equally I know that we’re all on the same page.
“Although it’s still a frustrating situation, it’s the lockdown itself that’s hard – there’s no tension between us.”
“My housemates are coming back after eight weeks away, and I’m worried about how it will affect my mental health”
“When lockdown was announced, two out of three of my housemates left to go back home to their parents,” says Chloe. “That means it’s been 10 weeks of just two of us in the house. I’ve been working in one of my housemate’s bedrooms that has a desk, while my other housemate has made the living room/kitchen her haven to work out and work on her side hustle.
“Now the others want to return and I’m freaking out, not just about the transference of germs but also with concerns for my mental health. Where will I go to work? How will I deal with the noise of two other people in the house? What if they don’t follow the rules (after all, they’re already breaking them by coming home…)
“I know they have as much right to be here as I do as equal rent payers, but when they have other houses to be in and no work to do I can’t help but think that them coming home is a little… annoying. I honestly have no solution about what to do. I’ve lightheartedly aired my worries about space but they’ve laughed them off and said they’ll find a solution. I’m not so convinced.
“I know I can’t control their actions but I’m going to have to talk to them again to make sure they realise the whole house needs to be considered before they make decisions about socialising.”
“My housemate already broke the lockdown rules – how many more times will it happen?”
“Lockdown was going really smoothly in my house until my housemate suddenly made the decision to go and spend the night with her boyfriend, without discussing it with me first,” says Katie*. “When she came back the following morning I was furious. Not only had she put her and her boyfriend’s health at risk, but she was also risking mine. Now that the lockdown rules have eased slightly I’m worried about what other rules will be broken.
“I think the best way to tackle it is to have a really straightforward and frank discussion – it won’t be easy, but it could be life saving.”
*Names have been changed