How One Married Couple Is Surviving The Lockdown In A 300-Square-Foot Apartment

We’re coming up on a month in quarantine, and I’m ignoring my husband, Dan. He’s ignoring me, too, and staring at his laptop at the dining table. We’re not arguing or angry at each other. We’re having “quiet hours” — something he desperately needs as an introvert.

Even before sheltering in place began in San Francisco on March 17, most of the fights during our five-and-a-half-year relationship revolved around space. Our tiny in-law apartment spans approximately 300-square-feet, which is challenging in the best of circumstances. In a sign that opposites do indeed attract, I’m an extrovert who could strike up a lively conversation with a brick wall, while Dan is an introvert who needs his alone time, preferably the kind of quiet that only exists when no one else is in the apartment.

Courtesy of Fiona Lee

Our situation, while not uncommon in San Francisco, has been exacerbated by our area’s exorbitant cost of living. A one-bedroom apartment can often run more than $3,000 per month, outstripping our modest salaries as a writer and journalist (me), and a music school administrator (Dan). We did, however, luck out with our place, which is small but mighty, and far below market rate—thanks to the kindness of our landlords, who live upstairs.

Before the shutdown, we managed our situation with a membership for me to Croissant, a service that acts as a ClassPass for coworking places, but that option is no longer available during the pandemic. So we stay inside our wee apartment and try not to drive each other mad now that we’re forced to be at home all day.

Courtesy of Fiona Lee

Now during quiet hours, we each focus on our work. I’m freelancing and looking for a new full-time role, while Dan continues to work for his school. In our voluminous spare time, he’s also taking programming classes through our local community college, and I’m working on that romance novel that I swear I’m going to finish. Still, in the long days of our new normal, time blurs and lengthens, leaving us plenty of time to stare at each other.

Space was always at a premium here. We do have a door between the kitchen and our bedroom, and that helps. It’s a time to be grateful for even the smallest things, right? We also usually take our daily government-approved walks separately, which has the added advantage of making it easier to dodge other pedestrians, joggers and dog walkers. Dan also does most of the grocery shopping for us without me, since we don’t want to overcrowd our supermarkets; I also have asthma, and leaving our home does have a slightly higher risk that makes me nervous. Those things buy us each a little bit of alone time at home.

But the thing that has really helped to keep our marriage running smoothly is a small, brown fold-out couch, wedged into an area underneath a desk and a window. We originally bought it in case one of us came down with COVID-19 — meant to provide a way for us to not infect each other in our tight quarters — but it’s quickly become Dan’s makeshift mini man cave. It’s incredibly comfortable, and he can spend most of the day nestled within its cozy foam, taking programming classes or playing video games with his noise-canceling headphones for a little privacy.

Courtesy of Fiona Lee

This isn’t to say that we spend all of our time social distancing inside our apartment. I’ve had to depend on him, more than ever, for my social needs, at a time when we’re not able to go out and visit friends, though I try to give him a break by scheduling Zoom happy hours with friends in and out of San Francisco. He’s adapting to having me around all the time — and to his credit, he hasn’t complained about it once.

Yet even as I long to reunite with my friends in person at an overpriced coffee shop and catch up on our lives, Dan and I are finding new fun rituals. Our date night, which usually involved going out to a neighborhood restaurant before the pandemic, now involves snuggling on our bed (it doubles as our couch) as we watch a double feature of “The Masked Singer” and “Lego Master,” both surrealist masterpieces of reality television. He’s also teaching me, a true latecomer to video games, to play Super Mario Brothers on the Switch, where I’m regularly setting new records for fastest deaths and game overs. And Dan is entertaining me with his idea for a pandemic romance novel that would involve two people on a one-night stand that end up quarantined together in a very small apartment. He’s got the whole thing plotted out. (Title: Contagion of the Heart. Tagline: Love is infectious.)

Courtesy of Fiona Lee

When I reflect on it, I’m actually grateful that we have this time together, just the two of us, where all we can do in this pandemic is to stay at home and focus on each other. We were married back in November 2019, a day that feels like several lifetimes ago, and we didn’t have a honeymoon. First came the holidays, and then, when we thought of going to Taiwan and Hong Kong to visit my family there, the pandemic began to spread across Asia. Now COVID-19 is here, and our travels are limited to our neighborhood. Our honeymoon is officially a staycation.

Joseph Kohn of IQ Photo

It’s a welcome break from the madness that was our normal workdays before, when I still had a job, and I was completely obsessed with work. In my own quiet time, I have the privilege of staying at home, reflecting on what’s important in my life, and thinking about what our next chapter will look like. (Spoiler: I have no idea.)

So far we’re managing far better than either of us would have predicted: We haven’t had a single fight about space since this whole thing began. I’m actually starting to enjoy our quiet hours. In the Great Pause, I’m appreciating just what I have: silence, our tiny apartment and Dan.

Courtesy of Fiona Lee