There have never been more women living alone in Australia than right now.
Today, around one in four Australian households is a lone-person household – up from one in five in 1991 – and these singletons live by themselves for a variety of reasons. Some have never married; others are divorced or widowed. Some are living alone temporarily; others have spent a lifetime in their own company.
Living alone doesn’t necessarily equate to loneliness, of course. But for many single women, Melbourne’s stage-four restrictions have delivered a new and enforced sense of isolation.
We spoke to four women living alone in lockdown about how they’re coping. (And yes, wine and bad TV came up – more than once). You can read their stories – and see the portraits that photographer Cybele Malinowski took via Zoom – below.
“It gets to me sometimes. I’m napping a lot.”
Mikkayla Mossop, 31, is a radio producer who lives alone in an apartment in Melbourne, with her dog Kobi.
“I have to watch the press conferences as part of my job, so I was sitting here in my living room taking notes when Daniel Andrews announced we were going into stage 4 lockdown. I was in work mode, just typing as fast as possible.
But then afterwards, I just sat back and for the first time I thought, ‘This is really scary’. I called my mum and just started crying. I can’t explain it except to say that until now I’ve just been getting on with it, but now I am feeling quite lonely.
My family checks in on me but I always give them the same answer: I’m fine. I don’t want them to worry about me being lonely. And I feel I’ve got very little to complain about – I have a job, I have an apartment, I can still pay my rent. But it does get to me sometimes.
I’m napping a lot. I start work at quarter to four and finish at 10am so I’ve always had a 45-minute nap because of my work hours. But lately I am sleeping the day away to kill time.
I’ve also started drinking a lot. It was really bad the first week of lockdown – maybe a bottle a night – but now I have half a bottle a night, mostly as a sleeping aid. My self-imposed rule use to be no drinking on a school night. Now it’s no drinking before 4pm.
I’ve started drinking a lot. My self-imposed rule use to be no drinking on a school night. Now it’s no drinking before 4pm.
I’ve become really reliant on Kobi. I’ve had her for 13 years. I’ve got to know a lot of the other dog owners in my neighbourhood. When the rules weren’t as strict I’d be walking Kobi and fall in with someone else walking their dog, which was lovely. Today, though I saw one of the regulars and she said a quick hi, but she said ‘I’ve only got five minutes, I’ve got to keep going’. And that just kind of hit me in a different way.
I’m single and on the dating apps, and for a while I was really hoping that I would meet someone and it would be one of those cute ‘love during lockdown’ type of things. But it’s hard to form a connection when you don’t know when you’ll be able to meet them. Some guys want to meet up [despite the lockdown] but I’m such a goody-goody, I just say no.
I’m pushing through though, I think it’s just a matter of putting your head down and getting through this. And I am hopeful – some days more than others!
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“It’s exposed our failings as a society”
Clare Cunliffe, 42, is a barrister who lives in Melbourne.
“The first time around [with lockdown] there was a kind of wartime spirit, where we were all trying to get through it together. But now, I think people are so flat, universally.
I’m very fortunate in that I have secure work. I’m a barrister, and we’re doing everything electronically, over Zoom or one of the other platforms. Some hearings have been deferred but others are taking place.
On a typical day, I’d take my dogs to the park in the morning, and then get on the phone with instructors or witnesses or if I’m in court, dial into court. I’m trying to keep a facsimile of normality.
I’m trying to keep a facsimile of normality but it’s quite demoralising
But it’s quite demoralising. If I was working from chambers, I’d have my mentor who is one of my close friends in the office next to me. I’ve got friends around the floor, friends I have coffee with every day. There’s a million points of interaction every day and you just don’t have those casual interactions now.
I’m also finding it difficult to treat non-urgent things with any particular degree of excitement. I’m probably working fewer hours.
But I’m trying to accept that these are not usual times and that’s it’s unrealistic to expect things to be normal. So, if it’s a bad day in terms of work productivity, I tell myself there’s always tomorrow.
I do feel down sometimes because the pandemic is exposing issues that I was conscious of but not as acutely aware of – like income insecurity and the extent to which some people feel so disenfranchised they think it’s their human right not to wear masks. It’s partly the absence of a sense of the public good and partly the diminished respect for scientific expertise that I find worrying. I feel like we’ve failed as a society if there’s a failure to recognise how our actions affect one another.
It’s not all bad. I used to be on a plane a couple of times a week [for work] and I’m not missing that. Lockdown has also helped identity important relationships and friendships. I’ve also embraced bad TV. I’ve got really into The Bold Type, which in no way represents reality. But I highly recommend it!
“In a way, this is what I thought this stage of life would be like”
Pamela Gray, 69, is a former educator who completed a Phd in 2017 and currently pursues ideas with which her research engaged. She lives alone in Melbourne.
“I’ve lived alone for most of my adult life and my needs are fairly well met. I have family close by. I don’t have to go into a workplace. I haven’t got any living parents who are in a vulnerable situation. I can shop locally.
So although it’s difficult not to be sharing meals around a table with people, I’m ok. I feel very supported. Whereas a lot of people around me are in circumstances they were never expecting their lives to be in. And I find that requires a lot of support and thinking through what other people’s needs might be.
In a way, I’m set up to do what I always thought this part of my life would be about, which is pursuing more personal interests.
There are difficult moments – just kind of ‘upswells’ [of emotion] where I just think, ‘The world is in such a mess’. I had that feeling [this week] when I heard about that explosion in Beirut. There was something else that came up [in the news] and there was not one thing that was hopeful. But I just told myself that it’s not any good to go down that track. But that hasn’t happened very much.
There are difficult moments, just upswells of emotion where I just think, ‘The world is such a mess’
I am quite pragmatic. I’ve made a list for the week of things I want to achieve, like this morning I’ve just painted a frieze of birds above a window. Otherwise I might read or walk or make something I can drop off at someone’s door. Those sorts of things bring some kind of foreseeability to the day.
What I find reassuring is seeing commentary that looks at the collective good of society. We’ve been a very individualistic, competitive society, I believe, and Covid-19 has been a pause that has done a lot of thing – some bad, some tragic, some hopeful. I hope that [after Covid-19] there’s a much greater understanding of the role of democracy and the role of government to support the enterprises that build a strong, healthy robust society, not just a robust economy.”
“Lockdown has really highlighted the lack of a partner”
Alisa Visan, 37, is in sales and is a single mum to Bella, 10. She lives in Melbourne.
“I’m tired. Trying to work from home, without seeing anyone, without going out, while managing my daughter’s learning and trying to keep our mental health on top of that… it’s just tiring. Sometimes I get to seven o’clock at night and I feel like I’ve run a marathon.
My husband passed away four years ago in a car accident… and times like this really highlight the lack of that partner. Luckily, I have a really close group of girlfriends that I can just [call and] have a vent to. Sometimes I’m not even looking for an answer [to a problem], I just need a whinge and then I’m fine.
This time around, we’ve been much better supported by my daughter’s school. During the first lockdown, I had to pull them up and say, ‘Hey listen, I’m by myself and I’m working and there’s no way we can get all this work done.”
The way I’m coping is to do blocks of work. I’ll ask my daughter to work on her own, and then we’ll catch up and go through the things she can’t do. That said, sometimes I literally spend half the day sitting with her. That means I smash out some work later in the evening. Luckily, my work has been really understanding.
I can definitely see that my daughter sometimes struggles. She’ll break down constantly. She misses her friends, she misses her family. You can just see the degradation of her mental health before your eyes. Sometimes I’ll switch off work at about four and watch a movie with her and do dinner, before I do more work.
Covid-19 has definitely highlighted how important relationships are. We’ve not built to live without social interaction.
Covid-19 has definitely highlighted how important relationships are
I’m an only child and my parents are both older, turning 70, so I’m their only kind of support I suppose. We miss each other.
I do feel that Covid-19 has brought people together. People that I was never particularly close to have come out and asked, ‘Are you okay? Do you need help?” and that human spirit has been really lovely.
I wish people would start doing the right thing though. The sooner people do the right thing, the sooner we get out of lockdown.”
Do you need support while in isolation? Visit Beyond Blue or call 1300 224636
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