These People Would Hate Me Online — But They Let Me Stay In Their Homes

What happens when we put down our phones and start knocking on doors.

Woman being welcomed in real life but shunned online ArtHouse Studio | Pexels, Icons8 Photos, grinvalds, Ram, Vlada Karpovich | Canva

There is a strange intimacy to the overnight stay in someone else’s home. In the hours that elapse between dinner and breakfast, you get a peek into your hosts’ rhythms, routines, and bathroom products. Do they wash dishes after dinner or leave them in the sink? Do they drink tap water or filtered water?

Is there a bar of soap in the shower or a container of body wash — scented or unscented? They, in turn, get glimpses of your habits, your products, and the refuse you leave in the waste basket. Whether or not you wash out the water glass or leave it by the sink, make the bed, or strip the sheets.


For years, my partner and I welcomed strangers into our 650-square-foot condo in Washington, D.C. They stayed in a room that our real estate agent couldn’t legally call a “bedroom” because it had no window. These were the early days of Airbnb when most listings were for spare rooms with air mattresses and futons. There were no cleaning fees, no lockbox codes, and no professional property managers. 

Our guests often hung out with us in our living room. One was consulting with the White House on how to end homelessness; we later saw him interviewed on The Daily Show. Another was an international peace activist who created the World Passport. Yet another was a fervent proponent of the universal language Esperanto, and another, a devoted Burning Man groupie.


Some guests were tiresome — college professors, we found, particularly loved to spend evenings lecturing to us — and others kept to themselves. One Swede strode boldly through our living room and out onto our street-facing balcony in nothing but his red briefs.

All told, I met more interesting people from more walks of life in my living room than I met anywhere else in the self-focused, career-driven bustle of D.C.

It’s been over a decade since we stopped hosting on Airbnb, and a lot has happened in the intervening years. We had two children and moved across the country. We made some new friends, but with the constant demands of work and parenting, we’ve rarely had time to meaningfully engage with other adults. Most of our social interactions have consisted of stilted, and frequently interrupted, conversations from the sidelines of playgrounds and birthday parties.

Before Covid, we hosted occasional gatherings and sometimes had people over for dinner, but these were largely chaotic affairs. Small talk between and over the squawks and squeals from children. They left little room for the intimacy of couches and conversation.


Then Covid hit, and our social life was driven largely on screen. On FaceTime and Zoom, people glitched, turned off their cameras, muted themselves, and lost their connections. On social media, between the obligatory cute baby photos, we joined the seething fray of hostility and indignation.

There was no more space in our lives for meandering conversations about everything and nothing — particularly with people whose life experiences were markedly different from our own. Instead, we communicated in posts and memes, churning in our echo chambers. We made assumptions and cast judgments. We hated the people “Over There.”

These People Would Hate Me Online, But They Let Me Stay in Their Homes

Photo: cottonbro studio/Pexels


RELATED: 10 Ways To Stop An Argument In Less Than Five Minutes (That Are Healthy!)

As Covid was gradually releasing its hold on our lives, I found myself somewhere “Over There.”

I was sitting on a folding chair, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, on a small concrete patio veined with cracks. Home was over 2,000 miles away, and it felt even farther. The patio belonged to my brother-in-law; it was our first time visiting his home. My partner had only recently connected with his younger brother, who had grown up in a different home, a different state. They share a father, whose funeral we were there to attend.

My partner and his brother also share the experience of marginalization that comes with being Black in a white-dominated world. But the similarities pretty much stop there. Even their experiences of Blackness are drastically different. My brother-in-law grew up in Ohio in a nearly all-Black environment; my partner was raised Mormon in Utah.


My brother-in-law had visited us the prior year, and I was already aware of some potential conversational minefields. He never got a Covid vaccine and believed it was a government conspiracy. He’s fairly open about his homophobia, though he might not characterize it as such. And like the father he and my partner share, he has some more, shall we say, “traditional” views about a woman’s place in the world. We could have spent the weekend arguing about these things, but I, for one, wasn’t in the mood. I just wanted to get to know my brother-in-law better, which started with entering his home.

While the hair products he uses, the assortment of items on his coffee table, or the selection of food in the fridge might not bear any direct relevance to our political and social differences, the more shades of nuance that come into focus, the harder it is to carelessly apply my litany of labels and judgments. In the gentle meanderings of in-depth conversation, I found we had things in common that neither of us might have expected. He told us how he’d worked with his union to advocate for wage increases as a frontline worker during the pandemic — and won.

I told him about the employee benefits I was advocating for as a board member of my worker-owned co-op. We have very different jobs, to be sure, but we’ve both felt taken advantage of by a working world designed to maximize opportunity for white men. And neither of us is going to take that lying down. It also helped that we share an affinity for cannabis. I’ve long thought that if we just got off our phones and smoked more weed with one another, we might have a shot at reconciling our country’s intractable divides.

RELATED: How Political Differences Can Affect Your Relationship


A few weeks later, my family spent an evening in another house not quite so far from home.

We were en route from Oregon to Utah and our neighbor suggested we stay with his parents in Idaho, who loved hosting overnight guests. We’d met his parents a few times before — his mother, gushing and bubbly; his father, soft-spoken and kind. They are also conservative white evangelicals who I doubt agree with us on many, if any, of the “major issues of our time.”

Sitting around a table abundantly adorned with food, after holding hands and saying grace in honor of a religious figure whose teachings we interpreted quite differently, we talked about shoulder surgeries and cowboy boots. Turns out, my partner and our neighbor’s father are both ardent cowboy boot collectors. He showed us the car he was building, and our neighbor’s mother read a book to my son about snakes. They even served us homemade waffles for breakfast. My kids said they were pretty much the nicest people ever. And they made the best waffles ever — and their burgers were pretty good, too.

This gracious hospitality was matched just two weeks later by my partner’s family friends, who let us stay on their property near Bryce Canyon. My partner had grown up in a series of one-bedroom apartments, not quite entrenched in poverty but forever on the brink. He had often played at this family’s house, which boasted its own basketball and tennis courts. The mother and his mother met in college, and despite their vast differences, they had taken a liking to one another.


The family was white, wealthy, Mormon. The mother and the oldest of her five children were at their property to welcome us and make us feel at home. My partner hadn’t seen either of them in over 25 years — ever since he’d left the church, become entangled in the law, and slid from the periphery of their world.

He was slightly nervous about reconnecting with the son, who was five years his senior, and whom he’d looked up to immensely as a child. Not long ago they’d become ensnared in a somewhat hostile Facebook exchange. My partner was decrying police brutality, which he has personally experienced on multiple occasions, and his old childhood friend was more or less saying that police brutality isn’t a thing. But there was no hostility evident in the warm hug they gave one another after we pulled into the driveway.

Our shared love for the outdoors was evident from the start — it was impossible not to be awestruck by the sprawling sky and distant red rocks. Our hosts took us hiking and out for a barbecue. We spent hours just sitting and talking in the shade of their walnut tree.

There was one tense moment, when my partner’s childhood friend began talking about vaccine mandates, about how he didn’t think the government had a right to tell him what to do with his body. I tried hard not to visibly roll my eyes. I was (still am) feeling raw about the overturning of Roe v. Wade and felt the surge of outrage that any pro-choice woman would feel while listening to a man whose religion vocally opposes abortion talk about his bodily autonomy.


But in the somewhat awkward silence that followed, I took a deep breath instead. “I think the hardest thing about Covid,” I said, “was that the government mandates seemed to prioritize the economy above our health, or even common sense… like remember when bars re-opened but our kids still couldn’t go to school?”

He nodded vigorously. We are both parents, and that, we could agree on.



RELATED: How To Respectfully Disagree With Someone


There is so much more we can agree on than social media would have you believe.

The problem is the lack of intimacy. Even people who used to correspond via letters saw each other’s handwriting, perhaps even caught a whiff of their scent emanating from the paper. Now we communicate via generic fonts, recycled memes, and all-caps rants.

Sometimes our similarities may be superficial — a shared affinity for cannabis, cowboy boots, or barbecue — but everything we agree on is a reminder of our common humanity. And every unique perspective we bring to the table is a door to a potentially rich conversation. Our stays in other people’s homes reminded me how seldom we now welcome one another into our own spaces — particularly people across social and political divides. We’re more likely to have “canceled” these people, blocked them, unfriended them. After all, they are toxic, and we are right.


The trend away from face-to-face intimacy has been mirrored on Airbnb. Some people still rent out spare rooms, but most hosts are owners of vacation homes, who contract with house cleaners and property managers. They don’t greet their guests at the door, don’t offer them a glass of water, and don’t see their trash in the wastebasket. The goal is not “homey,” it’s “sparkling clean” — all evidence of former inhabitants scrubbed out of the vinyl flooring and bleached out of the too-white sheets and dusted off the Ikea furniture.

We are ships passing one another in the night. Heads bowed to our phones, outrage like bile at the backs of our throats. Our recent hosts, by contrast, looked us in the eye and opened their doors. They lived in different states, voted for different candidates, and believed in different higher powers. But they all said: Come in. Let us laugh over good food. Let us share stories. And as darkness descends, let us lay our heads and rest our weary feet.

RELATED: How Arguing With Strangers On The Internet Affects Your Mental Health

Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.