One Year of Solitude: Everything We Figured Out and Learned to Embrace (or Not) During Quarantine

Natalie Finn
·16 min read

If you're reading this, then you're here. And we don't point that out lightly.

Because it has been a year. Full stop. Also, more specifically, it's been one year since the World Health Organization declared that there was a pandemic due to the novel coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19. It had sprung up on one side of the world and swiftly made it to the other, affecting a large swath of space in between.

People had been talking about it for awhile (not including government officials, who had apparently been talking about it long before that), and you had already seen the occasional mask or pair of gloves on a fellow shopper at the supermarket. Maybe the hosts of that bridal shower you were set to attend in a few weeks had sent out an email advising that anyone who felt sick should feel more than free to stay home. There were rumors of longer-than-usual lines at stores, which were said to be running out of...wait, this can't be right... toilet paper? Whatever for?!

But March 11, 2020, was the day. Hours after the WHO announcement, the NBA suspended its season when a player tested positive (two days earlier he'd made light of contagion concerns by touching all the microphones in the press room), hammering the severity home for sports fans. At practically the same time, news rang out from Australia that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had COVID and were in quarantine, basically confirming that, truly, no one was safe.

And it was all so much the tip of the Titanic-scale iceberg.

Teachers' Acts of Kindness During Coronavirus

There really were barren shelves where the paper products used to be. School children-of-all-ages were stuck at home. Restaurant dining rooms closed and theaters went dark. Musical artists first postponed, then canceled, their tours. Vacations were nonstarters. We were advised against seeing anyone we didn't already live with in person. And if you had to see someone, you needed to stay at least six feet apart. Prices of PPE shot up like it was 1970s-era gasoline. We learned what PPE meant. We all started misusing the term "quarantine."

Even if you're a hermit by nature, the option to go out was always there, until it wasn't.

In so many ways, the year would only get more insane. Not to mention sadder, scarier, more frustrating, more anger-inducing and far more fraught, as all those people stuck inside—or, alternately, risking their health to go to work everyday—had way too much time to do the opposite of what humans are meant to do.

Which is congregate. Be together. Mingle. Worship. Learn. Hug. Date. Get married in front of more than two people. Cheer for your team. Eat inside a restaurant because it's cold or too hot outside. Share bags of popcorn in a dark theater. Get grotesquely sweaty at music festivals, where it ceases to matter how much of that sweat isn't yours.

Oh, the concert spittle that we never used to think all that much about before...

Couples Married During COVID-19

At the same time, though, amid everything that was decisively bad (in whatever 2020-is-trash-and-wow-so-is-2021 way comes to mind), there were game-changing, uplifting moments: People all over the world opening their windows to cheer for frontline workers. Musicians toting their instruments outside for neighborhood concerts. Dancers, singers, actors, comedians, fitness instructors, et al. taking their talents to Zoom (which has become the Kleenex of video chat—there are other brands, but we call it all Zoom). Countless acts of kindness, because without them, we'd be nowhere.

We already sort of knew it but now we really know that heroes don't wear capes. They wear scrubs and masks, and they take care of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. They keep us safe and put out fires. They stock and ring up our groceries, make and deliver our food. They teach, coach and otherwise keep our kids busy and protected. They do everything we generally take for granted that actually makes the world go round.

Meanwhile, all that time, the time that wasn't spent congregating...it was spent doing a lot of other things. Working, cooking, reading, watching, exercising, online shopping, going through the motions, meditating, zoning out, giving a damn, not giving a damn, being brave, being scared, waiting, wondering, weeping, laughing, losing it, keeping it together.

Stars With Coronavirus

And, for better or worse, we've had plenty of time to think.

As one colleague shared about this past year, "I learned to stop waiting for the 'right time.' I always told myself I'd start dating or go on vacations when things 'settled down.' I'd try to make plans for things and set these goals for myself that were like five-to-10-years out. But I realized that if I continue to live like that, there's a good chance I'll just keep pushing it off.

"At some point, you just have to say screw it and do it anyways—even if your friends don't want to do it with you. And it doesn't have to be big, nor do you need anyone's approval. I've started cutting my hair on my own and I used to be so nervous about small things like that. Then I just did it one day and I realized it wasn't a big deal."

Proof that even if the world around us grinds to a halt, there are plenty of ways to keep moving forward.

Is It Good or Is It Quarantine?

Whether you've been sticking it out as the sole member of your household or precious moments to yourself are few and far between, we've all had to figure out ways to occupy ourselves. Home offices are now the thing. Shows have been binged, bread has been baked, Instagram workouts have been sweated through. Journals have been filled, puzzles put together, calls made to that friend you hadn't talked to in ages.

And that was just in the first two weeks!

Did it turn out that you do care about sports? (Or at least the 1997-98 Bulls?) Do you care about nothing but sports, and those desolate months without them were the worst? Do you watch episodes of TV in any quantity fewer than five? Do you agree that love really is blind? Did you finally finish The Wire? How many masks do you now own? How much "athleisure" wear have you acquired? Have you stayed put the whole time or did you manage to safely steal away for a change of scene at some point?

Pets Who Found Their Forever Homes During COVID-19

Maybe you finally wrote that book. Maybe you read a book. Maybe you just arranged your books. The point being, it doesn't matter what you did or didn't do over these past 12 months (what does "productivity" really mean, anyway?), because you're here. Which is a win.

So, with many rumored sightings of flickers of light at the end of this tunnel having been reported, we're taking stock of how we managed and what we learned—about ourselves, about humanity, about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle—in the process:

The Great British Baking Show, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry
The Great British Baking Show, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry

"British procedurals, reality shows and other series are better than American. Love Island, Great British Bake Off and all that got me through the year." —Cydney Contreras

"Over the past year, I learned to have more gratitude, slow down and embrace the simple pleasures in life. Exploring nature's wonders, gardening or watching the sunset was just as satisfying as binging Schitt's Creek and Succession. Comfort was key, whether it was baking in the kitchen or listening to my Calm app. Less was more when it came to makeup, clothes and material things as my appreciation for our healthcare and essential workers grew immensely."

Melissa Herwitt

"Quarantine has given me even more appreciation for the essential worker. From grocery store employees and UPS drivers to teachers and nurses, it's the ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things day after day who deserve credit, praise and respect. When life goes back to normal, I hope we never forget our neighbors who risked their lives each and every day for friends and strangers alike. They are true heroes."

Mike Vulpo

The Official Ranking of The Real Housewives

"The Real Housewives franchise can be for anyone! As weeks turned to months at home during the coronavirus pandemic, I found myself watching countless hours of television. This, of course, led to a burnout that made it so any new show (particularly dramas) seemed too daunting. Not wanting to shut off TV altogether, I turned to the Real Housewives, old seasons of Real Housewives of New York to be specific. Before long, my fiancé and I powered through numerous seasons of RHONY—and loved every minute of it. We debated who was in the wrong on Scary Island, if Leah McSweeney was a perfect addition and more."

Alyssa Ray

Leah McSweeney, Tinsley Mortimer, Sonja Morgan, RHONY, Real Housewives of New York, season 12
Leah McSweeney, Tinsley Mortimer, Sonja Morgan, RHONY, Real Housewives of New York, season 12

"I have learned this past year that cooking at home can actually be fun, I have to workout every day or I'm in a bad mood, and quality time with friends and family can never be taken advantage of again. Oh, and that binge-watching every season of every Housewives franchise is OK during a pandemic."

Amanda Williams

"You can watch the same show over and over... and over again and not get tired of it. Most likely it's my pandemic brain not having the attention span for new shows and movies, but I have watched so many shows so many times this year, and I have found new love for them."

Jamie Blynn

"I found myself playing an old childhood favorite game The Sims early in quarantine and enjoyed it as much as I did when I was pre-teen."

—Taylor Bryant

"I am serious but it may sound funny: I am a much worse cook than I thought...Like, it's bad. I was burning chicken on the regular because I was terrified of undercooking it and poisoning myself."

Beth Sobol

"I'm sure many people have mentioned TikTok. For me in particular, I definitely learned a lot of interesting hacks, especially food and cleaning hacks. I'm not ashamed to say that the Crunchwrap Supreme recipe and tortilla wrap hack were life-changing."

Lindsay Scheinberg

Eddie Murphy, Shari Headley, Coming 2 America
Eddie Murphy, Shari Headley, Coming 2 America

"I've been reminded how much I cherish communal entertainment and particularly going to a movie theater. (Also popcorn is my favorite food, so it's been rough.) I'm someone who would often go to see two movies in a theater each week, but this has become a total dead movie year for me because it's hard to process the idea of not having the theatrical experience. I'm a big fan of high-concept studio comedies, so movies that I would 100 percent typically see opening weekend, like [the Borat sequel] or Coming 2 America, I haven't seen and don't feel as motivated as I would, and certainly action movies like The Old Guard or Power or Mulan, which I would typically see in theaters just to be part of the cultural conversation, I haven't bothered with either. I typically pride myself in having seen all, or close to all, of the Best Pic-nominated movies before the Oscar noms are announced, but this year, I'll be shocked if I've seen a single one."

Ryan Gajewski

Most Casually Dressed Stars at the 2021 Golden Globes

"I've learned that a day spent in the kitchen working on a loaf of homemade sourdough is an excellent way to quiet the mind and sharpen your focus on one thing that's entirely in your control. Even better is that you have something delicious to eat when you're done."

—Billy Nilles

"This past year has led me to come up with new, creative ways to connect with friends and family who are far away. Whether it's starting an email chain with my aunts and cousins to exchange comfort food recipes or launching a virtual movie club with my pals to get ready for award show season, I've enjoyed finding different methods for staying in touch and exploring shared interests—and I think they've liked it, too!"

—Elyse Dupre

"The biggest thing I've discovered this past year is that I actually love exercising. Before lockdown, I viewed fitness as a chore or a task that needed to be checked off my to-do list. However, it's been the one thing I look forward to now, especially when I want a moment to myself. It's also helped me get through many stressful and overwhelming days—and let's be real, there've been plenty of those. Just setting aside time, even if it's 20 or 30 minutes, to take care of my physical and mental health has been a real game-changer."

Alyssa Morin

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry

"I realized how important it is to pay attention to how things are going for other people and to listen. Making an effort to understand what other people are going through has changed my perspective on their stories and any problems in my own life. In regard to pop culture, I realized how addictive home organization shows can be (The Home Edit and Tidying Up With Marie Kondo are favorites), how fascinating the royal family is, and that I will never run out of TV shows to watch."

—Marenah Dobin

"I've learned to take the gains with the losses. I lost some family members but I found pandemic love and gained a boyfriend. I lost some weight and gained almost all of it back (I'm human, what can I say?). I lost the joy of interacting with my colleagues, my friends and my family, but I gained some peace of mind. And most importantly, the U.K. lost Prince Harry and Meghan Markle but I gained the potential that I could run into them one day here in Southern California when life resumes. So, I'm just here trying to keep hope alive in any way I can."

—Alli Rosenbloom

"Charlie Puth remains my soul mate, he just doesn't know it yet."

Jamie Blynn

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"I've always been obsessed with interior design, but that obsession reached new levels in quarantine. Before, my apartment was constantly evolving and never 'done' but I've only now realized how closely tied my space is to my ability to function. I've never been prouder of my home or felt more myself and I haven't even posted a single picture of it on Instagram.

"On the other hand, I also cannot express how much going outside, even briefly, changes my entire mood for the day. I don't think my mental health would have survived this past year if I didn't live in a place like L.A., and I'm beyond grateful for that.

"I also learned something about myself when Grey's Anatomy came back, and I cried out of happiness even while Meredith was nearly dying of COVID. Or when WandaVision was airing and I re-watched all of the Marvel movies, and it was the happiest I've felt in a year. Some shows or movies are such a comfort to me in a way I never fully realized before."

Lauren Piester

WandaVision
WandaVision

"You can go back home! I know I'm not alone in making the move back to my childhood bedroom. It was a weird adjustment living under my mom's roof again, but once we figured out our routine, it definitely had its perks (dinner made for you every night!) Plus, when else was I going to have time to clean out my closet once and for all—and try on all my old prom dresses?"

Jamie Blynn

"This year I learned how much I truly [heart] New York. The city really got s--t on this year. ('Such a ghost town! It's over! Everyone's leaving!') But for me the city really showed itself in 2020. Back in March and April, the streets were empty and the ambulance sirens were constant, but every day at 7 p.m., neighbors (most of whom I've never met) stood on their balconies and leaned out their windows to clap, scream and beat the crap out of all manner of pots and pans. Someone even had an air horn.

"Those moments solidified how much I love this damn city that can, at times, be so hard to live in: The people are resilient and kind in a way they're not appreciated for and really come together when it counts. If ever there would have been a time to consider moving, it would have been this year when stuck in our tiny apartment 24/7 with a destructive toddler. But 600 square feet doesn't feel all that small when you actually like the people you're trapped inside with, and it's totally worth it to live in the greatest city in the world. Though that last part might be 15 years' worth of Stockholm Syndrome, to be honest."

—Sarah Grossbart

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"In a sentence? Don’t save the sequins and get the damn whipped cream sometimes. I learned we all tend to focus on the big moments when it’s really the little things that can bring the most joy, yet we take them for granted. In the past year, I’ve discovered the seemingly most mundane activities brought the most: a long, leisurely walk with a friend, changing my nephew’s diaper, small talk with my favorite barista, perfecting my pancake flip and deciding to wear my favorite sequined skirt on a random Wednesday to get coffee—and yes, I did add the whip, which I never use to do, thank you very much—because every day is worth celebrating."

—Tierney Bricker

Beyonce, Homecoming
Beyonce, Homecoming

"I've learned a lot about friendships and those people I kept in my life out of convenience versus the ones I actually wanted to be there. Friendship is a whole different ballgame when you're no longer seeing them socially, in the office, etc. I've also been able to see who wanted to keep me in their life in the past year—which friends I could lean on for support and felt they could do the same."

—Hillary Bautch

"Over the past year I've discovered the upside to embracing change (for example, leaving L.A. to live in three separate states I never previously considered even visiting), and when all else fails Beyoncé's Homecoming album is there to save you."

—McKenna Aiello

"After this past year, I've learned I can pretty much overcome anything."

—Samantha Schnurr

Words to live by, indeed.