In early March, when Ethan Rasiel read that Italy was going into a nationwide lockdown because of the coronavirus, he had one overriding response: envy. When, in-mid March, Rasiel, the owner of a public relations firm in Maplewood, New Jersey, learned that the Bay Area had issued a similar directive, California started looking very good to him.
A week or so later, when New Jersey residents were instructed to quarantine, Rasiel, 47, went inside the four-bedroom house he shares with his wife and three young children, and has emerged only occasionally. Two months on, he couldn’t be happier.
“If I’m honest I don’t like leaving home anyway. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like going to the beach. That’s always been my personality,” said Rasiel. “I’m Zooming with people and that’s good enough for me.”
While most people desperately yearn for the moment it’s deemed safe for them to resume their former lives and all that goes with it — even traffic jams and endless meetings are bathed in the rosy glow of nostalgia — there are outliers who would like things to go on like this for a good long time. Not for them the mix of ennui and dread that characterizes sheltering in place.
They love sheltering in place.
They are, to a person, horrified by what the pandemic has wrought and are humbled by the sacrifices made by those on the front line. They do not, for a minute, minimize what it is going on. But they have, sometimes to their surprise, found contentment and peace in the situation that has been thrust upon them.
Some delight in how much more productive and energized they feel. Some are savoring their time in a house they worked long and hard to pay for but only rarely had time to enjoy. Others are thrilled that they no longer need come up with a convincing excuse for why they won’t be attending this or that networking event/birthday party/baby shower — although some of those activities have relocated to Zoom, thus presenting a challenge to even the most wily liars.
“Many people have been living lives that if they could have half of what they’ve got going on, it would be great,” said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College. “It’s fine work, but it’s too much work. It’s fine socializing, but it’s too much, and the pandemic has been a forced respite. It’s a guilt-free release from the pressures of some work and social and family obligations.”
Of course, this couldn’t be a better situation for introverts who have long found the world to be too much with them. “Obviously, we all have various strengths and weaknesses and it’s great if you can choose a life that plays to your strengths and minimizes the struggles you have,” said Dr. Saltz.
“For some people, sheltering in place may play to their strengths,” she added. “They may be more introverted but their work life requires extroversion which means they’ve had to suck it up until now.”
But thanks to a mandatory quarantine, even the more outgoing are discovering a fondness for their own company. They’re the ones who in the normal course of events are governed by a fear of missing out.
“I’m an extrovert, like in the biggest way possible,” said Michael Volpatt, 48, the owner of the restaurant Big Bottom Market in Guerneville, California. When the stay-at-home orders that were issued in March made it clear to Volpatt that he wouldn’t be seeing people for quite some time, he was initially filled with anxiety. He responded by making his mother’s marinara sauce and has since done some 50 live cooking shows on his restaurant’s Facebook page.
“Being forced to spend time with myself has taught me to like spending time with myself,” said Volpatt, who lives in a gated town house community near the Russian River. “I’ve gotten acquainted with my couch and I started going to the river with a glass of wine at the end of the day. I’ve lived here since 2009 and I had never done that.”
He said that a friend recently asked if he missed going out to bars. “I don’t,” said Volpatt, who recently completed a book, “Cooking in Place,” which he is self-publishing in June. “Sheltering in place has spawned my creativity in ways I never thought could happen.”
Others can identify. With few of the distractions that are part and parcel of a day at the office, they’re far better focused, they say, and able to get more done.
Pre-pandemic, Chris Messina-Boyer’s commute to her consulting job at a public relations and marketing agency took 90 minutes out of her day. Now, Messina-Boyer commutes to the dining room of her home in Alexandria, Virginia; it has recently been outfitted with a high-top cocktail table, a $50 purchase on Amazon, that she uses as a standing desk.
“Here in my home with all the things I love around me, I’m much calmer and I think it makes me work better and makes me more effective with my clients,” said Messina-Boyer.
“We’ve been extremely busy at work,” she added. “But there are things that happen in an office that take you away from your concentration. At home, it’s easier to get things done.”
And for Messina-Boyer, easier to lose weight. She’s shed 17 pounds so far. It’s far more simple to fit exercise into the day and to do portion control now that she and her husband, David, are eating every meal at home. “There’s a certain tension and stress in the office that makes me look for a piece of chocolate or a salty snack,” Messina-Boyer said. “I don’t need that at home at all.”
But some have found that the benefits of sheltering in place are as much psychological as physical.
Lori Buckley, an administrative coordinator at the Center for Gender, Race and Area Studies at Clark University, likes her job just fine. She likes the staff, she likes the students. “But I find being with people at work very draining. I feel I have to be constantly on. I know how to do it and I’m fairly good at it, but it’s exhausting,” said Buckley, 51, who for the last two months has been quarantining with her husband, James, at their Cape Cod-style home in Leicester, Massachusetts.
“Because of the pandemic, a lot of people are depressed and suffering a lot of anxiety and I’m thriving,” she continued. “I know I’m a freak, but to not have to have physical interaction and worry about colleagues’ emotional state and how I have to play off it is such a relief.”
While some people have struggled to adjust to Zoom meetings, Buckley said, “I can tolerate Zoom because people don’t linger on it. In the office, people linger.”
Granted, it’s a lot easier to love sheltering in place if you love the place you’re sheltering in. Gisela Girard and her husband, co-owners of a marketing communications firm, live in a Spanish style house of their own design on 8 acres in San Antonio.
“You go to work and come home and go to work and you don’t get to enjoy it,” said Girard, 65, who is now getting to enjoy it to the hilt — the meticulously furnished library, the darkroom (she’s an avid amateur photographer), the patio where she and her husband have dinner every night and admire the view of rolling hills.
It’s also a lot easier to be enthusiastic about sheltering in place if you’re enthused about the people you’re sheltering with.
Paul Ronto, the chief marketing officer for a footwear review site, has long worked remotely from his home in Fort Collins, Colorado. But when his community went into lockdown, Ronto, 36, gained a co-worker: his wife. “It’s made my life so much better,” he said.
Together, they’ve painted the interior of the four-bedroom house they bought three years ago and are now tackling the kitchen cabinets. Pre-pandemic, the couple was lukewarm about the property. Now, said Ronto, “it feels more like our house than the house of the people who lived here before.”
Jenelle Hamilton, the owner of a public relations firm, is the sort, she said, who has typically needed to be at this big-deal party or that hot restaurant. But now, as far as she’s concerned, the pandemic could last another year; she’s happily at home in a two-bedroom apartment in Beverly Hills, with her 11-year old daughter, Lily.
“I would have never had this much time in my day to be with her,” said Hamilton, who is divorced and has a joint-custody arrangement with her former husband. “I want to leave her with good memories of what went on during the pandemic. We’re playing board games, we’re coloring. We’re baking. I don’t bake but we’re baking.”
People who are happy sheltering in place are aware that they are in the minority. “I feel so cheery and people on internal office calls say to me ‘WHY are you so cheery?” said Deborah Kostroun, the director of a boutique financial services public relations firm and a single parent, who, while sheltering in place, has found the successful work/life balance that previously eluded her.
Hamilton generally opts for silence. “I have friends who are having meltdowns so I either don’t disclose how well I’m doing or downplay it because I know they can’t relate.”
The futurist Faith Popcorn thinks that people who are happily working from home during the pandemic may well have the chance to do so when stay-at-home directives are lifted. “I think that once we have a vaccine, a lot of companies will realize they’re getting a good product from employees who are working from home. They’re working more hours,” Popcorn said. “And if they want to retain good people, they’ve going to have to allow them to continue to work remotely.”
Messina-Boyer is hopeful. “In the past our clients have liked having us in the room with them and maybe now some will see that it works fine on Zoom,” she said. Kostroun, who says she has been as productive at home as she was in the office, will be considering post-pandemic work-from-home options for her employees.
Every time that Girard hears a sentence that begins “when we get back to normal,” she really doesn’t want to stay around to hear the end of the sentence. “I keep thinking ‘No, I don’t want to be in the office five days a week,” she said. “That was frenetic for me. I want to continue this. I don’t want to go back to normal.”