I’ve never lived alone. I grew up the oldest of several siblings, then college ushered in a series of roommates. Including my brief stint in the sorority house, I once estimated I lived with about 80 different people between the ages of 18-22, moving around as I did. After graduating college, I’ve either had roommates or been traveling in hostels or lived with family. But never ever alone with only my thoughts and my playlists and the farts I’m no longer holding in to listen to.
My move here to Hong Kong started out quite hectic – I wasn’t offered any relocation help, so literally googled “find a roommate in hong kong” and took up a situation quickly with zero advice. I had a Skype interview with my potential roommates, wired an extravagant sum of money, and ended up in a terrible situation for a few weeks. Three women, one live-in helper, one seemingly permanent male guest on the couch who took 45 minute showers, two disabled dogs, and a thousand cockroaches in the part of Hong Kong most akin to living in Times Square. I hated it. I was able to leave after a month, and reached out to my work community to see if there were any connections about. There was one. I went for it.
The night before a T10 typhoon struck Hong Kong, I somewhat stupidly wandered out, without a phone, as I didn’t know how to set one up, to meet with a girl named Suz. We connected instantly, both being single, American, Christian, working with kids, and cooler than ice cold. I was able to convince her to pick me, listing all my good qualities (I think I mentioned baking cookies, which I’ve done exactly two times) like some contestant on the Bachelor.
Suz and I have shared this two-bedroom, rooftop terrace, next door to a family of 50 and all their shoes in the hallway, no elevator six floor walk up apartment, in mostly harmonious good times for nearly two years now. I say “mostly” because I like the AC on FULL BLAST after living without one for three years and Suz is soft and needs long johns if it gets below 24 C.
But now my roomie has taken a two month sabbatical, which means I have been living alone for three weeks. I’ll admit, when she told me that this was happening, part of me was excited, part of me was scared. Excited because I would get to long-term experience living alone. Was it as magical as everyone said? Would I become a total slob or even more particular about cleaning things? Would I do anything differently? Would I come home with a cat on accident? Would I go mad without someone to talk to every night?
Because I’ve always been around people. I love being around people. I love sharing every thought and funny story and bit of food and space with someone else. Of course, sometimes, you do want a break. And life in Hong Kong, crowded as it is, seems to make a need for space and solitude even more pressing.
Sometimes you need a break from other people’s breathing, other people’s bathroom habits, other people’s version of a dish clean enough to put away. Of the somehow simultaneously monumental yet miniscule passive-aggressive discussions (or handwritten notes left on the fridge) about eating so-and-so’s leftovers, using the last roll of toilet paper, or what temperature is acceptable for the living room. Of reminders to pay bills, to clean out the fridge, of “could you turn that down a bit?”
But I love it. I have always loved someone to come home to and argue over whether or not we should get a dog (we shouldn’t but I still want to think about it!). I love swapping stories, comparing Tinder profiles across the couch (“Oh, girl, I matched with him, TOO!!!!”), projecting Youtube collections that “you just GOTTA watch!” and living room karaoke. Spontaneously making family dinners and eating with plates on our laps like our moms never let us. Collecting cheap bottles of wine to use as decorations for fairy lights or candle holders or bamboo planters.
I love that my roommates become family away from home – I know their food habits and sleep habits, and we orbit around each other naturally. And that precious moment when you realize you can pee with the door open and carry on your conversation with each other, or come in to use the toilet while they shower.
I love that I’ve seen some of them marry that boy they started dating while we lived together, get that job/dog/car/house they always wanted and we would talk about on those late nights with a big bowl of popcorn and Barefoot and making sure they knew all my favorite songs. I love cheering for their wins, and virtually crying over the lows, as we keep in touch through social media.
Some of the best nights are the ones where you get ready to go out. Sharing curling irons, running in and out of each other’s rooms with different outfits to crowdsource decisions, putting ice cubes in wine and turning the music up louder to be heard over the blow-dryer and text messaging and constant giggling.
Some of the best days are the Sundays nobody wants to do anything (probably connected to the nights we all went out). Staying in pajamas all day, ordering in, finding a hidden bag of chocolate-something to share, creating impromptu curtains so you can watch reruns all day and do nothing all together. Every once in a while, someone laughing and saying “remember when-” until you’re all laughing about hardly anything at all.
So here it is just me. And it’s okay. Besides having to care less about checking to see that my towel is in the bathroom or not when I step in to take a shower, not a whole lot about my habits have changed since flying solo for the last month. I get up, go to work, work out, come home, wish dinner would make itself, and then I sit and look at my phone. I miss having someone to chat about the daily with, to break the silence and monotony of it all, because who else is going to care about how well the aloe plant is doing, or that my homemade fruit fly traps are successful? Or that I sneezed so hard during class today a student asked me if I had barked?
I haven’t adopted any stray animals, but I do come home and say “oh, look at you!!!” to my aloe plant every day. Because it’s just nice to see one thing thriving in the inferno that is a Hong Kong summer.
I have been more active in texting my family and friends outside of Hong Kong. Which will surprise everyone I text, since I was already probably way too into the phone game (I just have a lot to say!). And I’ve noticed it’s harder to fall asleep at night – the noises seem louder, my thoughts seem swirlier, and there’s no one to make sure I don’t sleep through my alarm in the mornings.
But I’ve made it! I can get scared quite easily, and this was something I was worried about, but I’ve done it! I can check this off the list and officially say that living completely on your own is not an essential experience for me. I have done it, I can do it, but I don’t need it or want it. I get bored too easily and need something close by to worry about and a reason to put on pants and a conversation to keep me from taking the same online personality tests over and over to try and get better results.
Just three weeks stand between me and the summer. You never grow out of that waiting for summer, do you? I can’t wait for the end of the school year – to go home and see my dogs and eat real Mexican food. Fourth of July parades. Frozen Yogurt. And walk and walk and walk and not see anyone. And to go to Target with my Gma and have wine with Ma in the backyard and camp with Jenna and pub crawl and Trader Joes with Traci and all the other magical things that will fill my heart after a full year away from the bless-ed States.
So here’s looking forward to a summer with my parents and dogs as roommates, and remembering what the sounds of crickets are at night, and paws scratching at my door as my morning alarm, baseball on TV every afternoon, burritos for every meal, and one-story buildings.
And cheers to all the roommates that have shaped my life: Jenna (OG ROOMIE!), Drew, Sylvia, Corinna, Napthali, all of Alpha Phi, Hayley, Jenny, Meg, Claire, that one exchange student from France, Raven, Traci and Ry by proxy, Kristen, Jodi, Shannon, Kristin, Jenni and her bulldog Waldorf that I still think about a lot, Heather, Angela, Martine, Jessi, Megan, Justine, Jill, Megan, Leana, Rachel, Racheal, Anysia, Leana (the second time!), Rosie, Suz, Kelsey, Katie, Malcolm, Dana, Natasha, Liz, Jodi, Brooke, and anyone I forgot. I’ll never forget you. :)