At the start of the year, I got a little planner, optimistic that another pandemic year would not fall to absolute shit. On the front cover, a cartoon brown woman in sunglasses stood in as my aspirational, most exceptional self, and by the end of 2021, I would be her. I ordered my plans for the coming months into neat, manageable, manifestation-fraught boxes, and at first, it assuaged my anxiety. It didn’t matter in the present if I wasn’t who I wanted to be. By this date, I’d unpause my adulthood and become somebody new. Namely, I’d move out of my parents’ house and into my own place.
Then the rest of 2021 happened, and a lot of those plans didn’t. Even as I made nominal progress with my goals — eventually I finished that thesis and found one job, and then another — my early expectations kept me hyperfixated on what I hadn’t done. My friends moved out, back into places of their own, while I slept in my childhood bedroom and abided by my mother’s curfew. I told myself it was temporary and that I’d leave when I was ready, but sometimes I worried if it was also fear and stagnation that kept me here. The Cut’s night blogger Olivia Truffaut-Wong gets it — she spent the last year with her parents, too. We spoke about the anxiety of living at home during the pandemic and the feeling of having life on pause.
Olivia: So when did you move home?
Bindu: I moved home in March 2020. I was in grad school at the time, splitting an apartment with three roommates in the city. I packed a week’s worth of clothes, went home to North Brunswick, New Jersey, then pretty much never went back. What about you?
Olivia: When the pandemic began, I lived in an apartment in Washington Heights with two roommates — though I ended up with the place to myself because they both went to stay with their boyfriends who had their own apartments. So I adopted a cat and was ready to hunker down on my own. Our lease ended in July, and my roommates both permanently moved in with their boyfriends. Instead of moving out on my own (too lonely) or moving in with strangers (too scary — it was pre-vaccine), I moved back home to California with my cat, even though my dad is allergic. I was lucky because I was already working remotely (as an entertainment-news editor for a women’s lifestyle site), and I could do it from across the country.
Bindu: How are your dad’s allergies? Have they improved?
Olivia: I don’t think so, but he likes her more than he lets on. What happened next for you?
Bindu: I finished up my last semester of grad school, which was difficult. I think the sudden stress of the pandemic and going online made me lose a lot of motivation. Professors would encourage us to use the extra time we had to work on our projects, but I’d never felt so drained. Then I was unemployed for a while — that financial situation cemented my homeward-boundness.
Olivia: Yeah, I figured I would save a little by moving home and also be able to talk to other humans. Luckily, I get along well with my parents —I always called them regularly even when I lived across the country — so it wasn’t a hardship to move back in with them. Plus they’re way better cooks than I am.
Bindu: Talking to humans is essential, I’ve learned. Although I’m stressed about being home, it’s been nice to be present with my parents in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have been. I haven’t gotten to see their day-to-day lives up close in a long time, not since I was a teenager. If I were living alone, our relationship would be a bunch of texts and missed FaceTime calls. Now my mother sees my face all the time. She may even be a little sick of it now.
Olivia: It’s hard, though, because I definitely didn’t think I’d be here this long, as happy and appreciative as I am that I have somewhere to go.
Bindu: I really hinged on the “this is temporary” feeling. Watching friends move back to the city and move in with partners has made me anxious. I have frequent FOMO.
Olivia: It’s strange seeing people’s lives start again and feeling like mine is still on pause. Like, I am … still very single, because dating during a pandemic freaked me out, especially living with my parents.
Bindu: I feel that. I never thought I would choose abstinence.
Olivia: I used to think that COVID put my life on pause and that I would date or move out when it was over, and now I’m realizing that we have to actually … keep living our lives during COVID, and that’s hard and stressful. The distance also definitely makes it difficult. I always assumed I’d move back to New York, but now I’m not sure, so do I start dating now, in California, even if I might move in the future?
Bindu: Where to set a dating range?!
Olivia: Truly, help.
Bindu: Have you ever felt judgment from people you know about staying at home? I have.
Olivia: I don’t think I have. I judge myself more than anyone else. I thought I’d gotten past a point where I would ever need to move back home with my parents, what with my career and being more settled into adulthood in New York City. It’s more of a blow to the ego. But I’m sorry that you have; that sucks and is so uncalled for. It’s a pandemic! How do you deal with it?
Bindu: I understand what you mean about judging yourself — I’m constantly shifting the goalposts and cutting myself zero leniency despite it being a pandemic. My first job out of grad school was in person. I was an assistant editor at a magazine, and I’d commute to the city every day, which made me feel slightly more connected to my old life, but at the same time I felt like a teen — my mother’s old rules applied to me in the same way, and it didn’t matter to her that I was now an adult. I had to be home at a certain time, couldn’t date anyone she didn’t approve of, etc. I begrudged the rules and struggled with what felt like a lack of freedom. We clashed a lot: It was her house, after all, but it was also my life. I don’t think we’re going to come to a happy medium about that.
Anyway, the judgment’s been tough! I’ve had some friendships end. Either they’ve petered out because of how infrequently we see each other now, or I’ve felt self-conscious about my situation and retreated from them. Friends in better financial situations would tell me I’d be happier if I’d move out, and it made me uncomfortable to admit that I just couldn’t afford to right now. I remember going to a gathering and someone talking about how it would have been easy for them to have “just moved back home.” I wanted to sink into the upholstery — I admire successfully building an adult life, but there are a lot of different financial situations in one room.
Olivia: I think it’s easy now to forget what it was like in those early days of the pandemic, especially in New York City, when things just completely shut down and we weren’t sure what COVID-19 was or how it was transmitted. I remember sitting in my room one day, with the window open, thinking, “Is COVID coming into my room right now just with the breeze?” Back then, it felt like you had to barricade yourself in your apartment. That was lonely and isolating, and scary. I remember also being really afraid of what would happen if I did get sick.
Bindu: And then living with older or vulnerable people doubles your caution.
Olivia: Oh, I’m much more cautious living with my parents. Also, my older sister has a 10-year-old and just had a baby, so because they couldn’t get vaccinated at first, it added a whole other layer of caution. But really, the adjustment of moving home was somewhat easier because I moved home after three months of living by myself with my cat and being in my apartment 24/7. Being home with other people, and people that I love, was a huge relief, and that outweighed any real awkwardness of living with my parents as an adult.
Bindu: Were those months lonely?
Olivia: Definitely. I’m a homebody, but even for me, it was a lot.
Bindu: I tried romanticizing my life like TikTok told me to! I was working on my thesis and thought of myself as a Brontë sister — far from the center of things, and largely at home — but then I’d look in the mirror with my topknot and pimple cream and think, I’m not a Brontë, and this is not romantic.
Olivia: It’s strange. Sometimes even being with parents is kind of more lonely? This sounds absolutely horrible, but sometimes it feels difficult because they don’t understand what it’s like to have really put your life on hold right when it’s getting started. I’m 30, so it’s not like I just went out into the world, but I was just finally feeling really confident and ready to go out there, date, and find my path. For my parents, their worlds stopped too, but it’s different. Sure, they get lonely, but they have each other. They’ve already fallen in love, gotten married, and had kids. I haven’t done any of that, and every COVID variant just pushes it off even more.
Bindu: Yes, absolutely. I can’t help but feel like I’m a child when my mom is asking me what boy I’m texting (hi, Mom, it’s my therapist). I feel guilty for bringing my frustrations with home life up to my parents. I’m grateful to have a place to go.
Olivia: It’s tough because I know that people have it way worse. I’m extremely lucky. No one very close to me has died, and very few have been sick. I can’t imagine what that would be like, so there’s a layer of guilt: Who am I to complain? But it’s not healthy to think that way, so I try not to be too hard on myself. I wonder: You mentioned wanting to feel like a Brontë. Does that mean you sometimes fantasized about using this time to do something “productive”? Because I totally did, and … I have done nothing. Remember when everyone was making bread? I made no bread.
Bindu: I made no bread either. Productivity was another source of guilt.
Olivia: Because I’ve been living at home, I feel like I should be taking advantage of all the privileges that gives me. My parents and friends don’t pressure me, it’s really all from myself …
Bindu: How do you cope with that pressure?
Olivia: Online therapy sessions. Also just talking to friends or people my age and being honest about how shitty or stressful or anxiety-filled this all is. People seem much more willing to openly say, “This sucks and I don’t feel like doing anything, and what even is the future?” There’s space to vent about things that are maybe more existential. What about you?
Bindu: I started seeing a new therapist at the start of the pandemic — it was something I did intermittently before but was never consistent.
Olivia: What do you think about going into the new year? Are you excited? Nervous?
Bindu: I’m a Taurus, and I struggle with change, so I’m feeling dread, but manifesting good. What about you?
Olivia: I’m a Sagittarius and generally know nothing about astrology, but I also feel dread. I’m hopeful the variants will calm down and I’ll be able to take small chances. I want to date, but we’ll see. What’s going to be a challenge is to break out of this mind-set where I’m living in reaction to the whims of the virus. Lke, Oh, there’s another variant, so why would I think about moving out? I should face the fact that this might be going on for even longer, and as strange and scary and weird as it is, I’ll have to try living my life in COVID, instead of waiting for COVID to end. That means doing more even while living at home and even, yes, eventually moving out. But I’m still very hesitant to make any big moves. For one because I have no idea where I’d go. When I moved to New York City, I always knew I was only a six-hour plane ride away from home. But with COVID, things have changed. What if domestic flights get shut down or it’s just generally harder and more dangerous to travel? All of a sudden, a world that had become small got bigger again, and I still haven’t really processed what that might mean for my future.
Bindu: I feel the same way — I can’t keep thinking of myself on pause, as comfortable as it’s sometimes been. Home has been a way to retreat from what my pre-pandemic life and relationships were. And yes to eventually moving out.