Relationships

Coronavirus Diaries: A Quarantine Fling With My Roommate Has Me Questioning My Sexuality

The loneliness of isolation has meant that identity is less important than intimacy.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here. If you have a story we should tell, please email coronavirusdiaries@slate.com.

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As I ran my hands through my roommate’s chest hair, it hit me that I hadn’t had sex with a man in three years. That was the length of time that had passed since I’d fallen in love with a new friend on a backpacking trip to Europe and subsequently realized I was more attracted to women. Even after that relationship fizzled, I started hanging out at lesbian bars, continued dating women, and even came out to mother. In my life, the chapter on heterosexual romance, I thought, was closed. But times are different now. Anything is possible in a pandemic. I held up my hands as he lifted my sweater over my head. My desire was strong and surprising.

I moved into my house in Brooklyn a year ago. I had looked past the threadbare qualities of my new place—a wobbly banister, skid marks on the wall, and splotches of mold on the bathroom ceiling—for the luxury of cheap privacy. My bedroom was three times the size of my previous rooms in shared apartments, and I rarely, if ever, saw my housemates. There were three of us living there (and there was one kitchen and two bathrooms), but we crossed paths only a few times a month. It’s easy to share a space with strangers in New York City and live completely separate lives without learning anything about one another, even in your own home. For a while, that’s how I liked it.

But when the real severity of the coronavirus outbreak pummeled through the city, I started to panic about my house situation. What if we’re quarantined for months? Will we still hang out in our rooms alone, the once-welcome isolation now suddenly sad? What if we get sick? At 28, the virus didn’t seem like a looming threat, but, due to my history of asthma, I was growing more insecure about the lack of support around me. So I texted my roommate and asked him if he wanted to have a few drinks in our living room.

Dressed in stained sweatpants, I pulled my stringy hair away from my face with a clip. I had downed two glasses of wine already; the news that all the restaurants in the city were ordered to close had filled my feed, as had the skyrocketing death toll in Italy. The world was changing every hour, and for the worse. I struggled to locate myself in the midst of chaos and fear.

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He showed up with a bottle of wine and a smile. We sunk down on opposite ends of the couch, offloading our anxieties about the pandemic. Why had I never noticed his mop of curly hair? His almond-shaped eyes? After a bottle of wine, our feet accidentally touched. I yanked them back. We drank another bottle. I could feel his eyes on me, but I couldn’t return his gaze. He reached for my hand and asked in a hushed tone if he could kiss me.

For a sliver of a second, I wondered if he’d hurt me if I said no. But that worry was eclipsed by my desire—my ache for touch and spontaneity during a time when the chances for both were rapidly diminishing. Once we kissed, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t feel the dread I felt before with men. I didn’t feel the pressure to feign pleasure. I wanted him. For real.

When he went back to his room, I jumped in the shower. Whatever the hookup meant about my identity (was I bi now? Was I succumbing all over again to the rom-com fantasies of my youth?), I couldn’t help but smile at the possibility of a quarantine romance. But the next day when he didn’t text me or come out of his room, I started to panic. Would we go back to being strangers after this? Each hour my phone remained still, I felt used and more ridiculous for imagining that we could have a relationship.

At around 5 o’clock, he texted me to hang out. We drank again. We talked. It became clear through the fog of my fantasy that he wasn’t interested in or emotionally capable of having an end-of-the-world romance but did want to hang out and have sex with me at night. I thought about it. Would I be OK with having sex with my roommate without developing a relationship? Would the desire for men he’d rekindled seem somehow false, post-isolation, out in the fresh air? I wasn’t sure—about the future, about what to do now. But then he ran his hands up my leg.

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For more on the coronavirus, listen to this week’s episode of What Next: TBD.

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