Reflective Optimism Post-Quarantine

The great quarantine of 2020(1) brought a lot of changes, realizations, and confrontations for us all. Like most, my world was turned upside down, my plans were canceled, and all of my momentum screeched to a halt.

My partner and I lost our jobs fairly early in the year. We each had significant personal health crises, made harder to treat in light of distancing restrictions at doctors’ offices and hospitals. Both of our cars became unusable metal heaps, and we lost a third when my partner flipped our Subaru less than a month after we signed on the dotted line. It would take months to scrounge up another down payment using our relief checks and unemployment money to buy another Subaru, and when we did, we found out we had paid $8,000 too much for the first. It was a year of limit finding and testing, financially, medically, and emotionally.

There was also a lot of love in 2020(1). My partner proposed marriage in a fit of optimism, and we got engaged and moved in together (in a family-owned house). We began caring for an extended family of stray cats that lived on the property, when the shelter “for COVID reasons” wouldn’t perform any spaying or neutering. One stray kitten from the clowder collapsed on our doorstep, undernourished and blind from infection. We brought him to the emergency vet and chose to adopt him after he survived several surgeries, including the removal of his right eye. Suddenly, where there had only been my elder cat Kitty and me, there was now a family of four inside and seven outside to feed, clean, train, manage, support and cuddle (indoor only, outdoor cats are not cuddly). 

My partner and I developed routines around their lives and became eager cat parents, wondering how they were when we were out on a hike, checking on them in the night. For the first time in our lives, we were building a family. That meant we needed to talk about domestic responsibilities, shared financial planning, technological disputes, parenting-adjacent perspectives, and matters of privacy and space. 

We are not the only millennial couple drifting without oars or star charts across an engaging, enraging, intertwining sea. The Pew Research Center found that millennials are waiting to start families, longer than any other generation, and more than 50% are living with family members — more than any previous generation. We’re waiting to get married, waiting to have kids, waiting to cobble together a down payment for property we’re waiting to afford. 

I’ve read countless accounts of other late-20s-30-somethings aiming for adulthood, which lies presumably just over the horizon and just out of reach. True adulthood is marked by many of us as the establishment of our own family units in independently managed residences. These are things we came to value by observing generations prior and seeking to follow in their footsteps, in an increasingly impossible scape. We experienced our seminal years around the tragedy of 9/11 and subsequent shift. We graduated into the 2008 recession to a job market unresponsive to our increasingly expensive secondary educations. We witnessed the cultural change from a nostalgic, optimistic 90s to a tech-focused, ever-fleeting present.

So many of us are holding on to our plans through illness, unemployment, unforeseen and previously unimaginable stressors, and the kindness of extended family. Depression and anxiety reign in our minds. Some day, some day soon, some day down the line, maybe we’ll be able to begin getting started on trying to achieve our dreams.

My partner and I are perhaps more fortunate than some. I trained as a therapist and my partner is a scientist. Like many others, we passed the quarantine with screens — sitcoms, horrors, ebooks, game shows, reality competitions, the more fantastic the better. We traversed every available trail in our local area and befriended the wildlife, in lieu of company. We stayed glued to the news of the day. We raised a kitten, a first for us both. We are also both terribly self-aware and our communication is blessedly direct and empathic. We communicated through quarantine as well as could be expected as we developed the beginnings of our family. We debated, quarreled, rolled our eyes, ironed out arising conflicts, offered time and gave space when one or both of us felt heated. He struggled with my need to stay busy, while I wrestled with his desire to stay put. 

In the long run, I’m sure we’ll look back at these days and feel grateful that circumstance gave us the opportunity. At this writing, I have just begun work at a new place in a new field and the Scientist has a few job offers to consider as well. We’ve replaced our 2, rather 3, vehicles with a single, fuel-efficient, cargo-friendly, trekking one. We talk often about our next steps to moving up and out and on, and look hopefully to the day when some normalcy returns to us all. 

Maybe, just maybe, one of these days, after all is said and done, we’ll get to be independent adults like we’ve always imagined. Until then, we have the cats to keep us distracted and motivated, our growing family of 2 + 2.

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