Living at home in your twenties
It’s dark and silent. You stretch out and can feel the end of your single bed. You peel yourself from the covers and paint your face, sitting at the same heart-shaped mirror you got ready for your prom at. You are 27. A 27 year old child. You feel like a large Alice, towering and clumsy in your teenage room as you grab your rucksack and phone. Standing at your suburban station in minus 3, waiting for the 7:14 train you try to curl your cold, cracked lips in to smile as a familiar face from high school walks passed.
It’s hard to reconcile your relative seniority at your job, bespectacled and commanding with the same person still texting their mum on the train home to let her know you’ll be back for dinner. But, like many on your perpetually delayed commuter train, it is now a reality for many twenty and thirty year-olds the world over. And actually I’m really lucky. So lucky, that my parents even live near enough, that I’m loved, that they will have me back in the familial nest. For that I am grateful, and sometimes overcome with guilt by their generosity when I feel the tables should have been starting to turn, I should be doing more for them.
At 27 my mum had met my father, they had travelled foreign climes together and were planning for my arrival. I imagine them like a Dulux ad, perms and acid-wash levi’s, laughing as they paint their new house together. They had the Darwinian-driven excitement of planning a shared future. Yes that vision is my own sepia-edited version and this isn’t a generic bemoaning of being single in your late twenties. But it does all feel so far-away from where me, and alot of my friends are in our lives. I feel behind, and being single for many also means being unable to afford a space of your own. There is a sense of economical entrapment based on your relationship status.
Yes, of course you can houseshare, so many of us have done it for years. We can all be a part of ‘generation rent’. Including university, I houseshared for eight years. At first it was fun, the oestrogen-fuelled, spontaneous parties, the film nights, the thought that you were living out some kind of sit-com episode, but really it was just your third day on the trot eating pasta bake for lunch and dinner.
It’s hard enough carving your own path in a new job, becoming some kind of title, let alone the disturbed nights from housemates crashing in drunk, the upset of there being no loo roll (again!) and adding in everyone else’s neuroses and bad habits into a confined space. For all this fun, you could save maybe a tenner a month.
I just couldn’t do it anymore. As my job increased in responsibility and hours, I just couldn’t keep any of the other parts of my life together.
I think I knew it had gotten too much when one evening sat alone in the office, I pondered an Ocado delivery slot between 11–12pm, on a Tuesday night, as I felt like it was the only time I could guarantee being in the house.
I just drank, smoked and ate cereal from the box. It didn’t feel like I was in control of anything, let alone maturing and growing up. Fresher’s year at Uni was starting to look like a juice cleanse with the luxury of 8hrs sleep a night. I had to move home. For someone who gets analysis paralysis by the amount of choice on Netflix, it was the most clarity I’d had on a decision for a long time.
The school, college, university, job in the big smoke had been a prescriptive and predictable trajectory. But I hadn’t really planned for this bit. The slogging away for five years, tottering a fine line between being a driven careerist and an emotionally fragile, broke and anxious mid twenty-something. I hadn’t really given much thought to this murky bit somewhere between university and being ‘an adult’. But what even is adulting these days? Without opening up a whole Guardian-esque musing on how Millennials are robbed of the markers of maturity. It’s tough. I can’t afford a house on my own, and living in London means that I couldn’t ever save enough to not share, so I just couldn’t see how it would ever change.
I have friends who live with partners they un-passionately tolerate in order to cohabit in a bubble of grown up domesticity with a shared amazon Prime account. I’ve tried that, and I just can’t do that to myself. What an emotionally complicated price to pay for a luxury that you couldn’t otherwise afford.
Christmas Eve last year, I decided to be really self-flagellating and read Meg Jay’s ‘Defining Decade’. Amongst tomes of advice and suffocating heteronormative American idealism, she preaches ‘living intentionally’ and to be conscious of ‘sliding not deciding’. That last bit really stuck with me. Living in London felt like sliding.
It was what I was meant to be doing. I was meant to be crammed on to that tube, averting human contact, on the hedonistic treadmill whilst remembering to stand on the right. Consciously deciding to leave it, felt like the most informed and intentional thing I could do.
I don’t want this to be forever. There are sacrifices. I loose three hours a day to commuting, I never have any energy and to say my social life has taken a backseat is an understatement. It’s tiring. In our insta-filtered world, it can also feel incredibly lonely. You have to suppress the feelings that you thought your twenties were meant to be the bit with all the fun before you have ‘real responsibilities’. But I’ve been so grateful that it has given me a chance to pause. I don’t have to worry about the smaller things that can pile up and become over-whelming, like chasing housemates for their bill money and having no food in the fridge. I try and contribute where I can and focus on what I do have. A chance to breathe and work out what I need to change. To take stock and just start again. Perhaps it’s actually the most adult thing I’ve done.