One morning in April, I locked eyes with Miss Piggy. Like everything around me, she was bright pink, infantilized (Muppet Babies era, obviously), and a reminder of my saccharine upbringing. I had been sleeping in my bed from childhood for two weeks by then, but at that moment I had an epiphany: “I am trapped in an aesthetically gorgeous desexualized nightmare.”
I moved out of my mom and dad’s in New Jersey when I was 24 (I’m now 29), partially to live out my Ephronesque dreams of being a writer in New York, but mostly to sleep with musicians. But when lockdown hit, I voluntarily-ish moved back in with my parents and the pink-and-red-striped childhood bedroom that had been untouched by time. Emblems of purity popped up everywhere—nothing but statues of the Virgin Mary mingling with unicorn figurines.
Welcome to the Wholesome Realm, a museum of my former extended adolescence. And, as I’d soon learn, sleeping in my childhood bed for months on end did a number on my sexuality, my boundaries, and, yes, my actual sleep quality.
I’m going to address sexuality first, because my libido was the first casualty of my return home. I’m a 29-year-old full-time lifestyle writer who often tests sex toys for review and preaches masturbation as self care, and I’m super outspoken about my views. This is a departure from how I interacted with sex as a teenager who lived in this pink room, when I had to escape the house to explore the sexual world. Because my boyfriends had extremely permissive parents, I have (almost) never had sex in my childhood bed, and that God-fearing association has stuck with me. This association, combined with the sex-drive lowering effects of the pandemic made me feel, well, never in the mood.
Though still a bummer, I am heartened when New York City-based psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW, tells me my experience makes total sense. Association is everything, she says, and both memories and decor can come into play when trying to bring a sexual mind-set into the bedroom. “A simple analogy is thinking about how our behavior changes when we get home,” Teplin says. “As adults, we make our own food, do our laundry, and so on, but when we return home to our childhood homes, our abilities seem to digress. Sexuality is absolutely similar.”
“As adults, we make our own food, do our laundry, and so on, but when we return home to our childhood homes, our abilities seem to digress. Sexuality is absolutely similar.” —psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW
But even if I wanted to, get down and dirty, the Wholesome Realm doesn’t have a lock on the door. While this never bothered me during weekend visits or even extended Christmastime stays, a lockless door became a major issue when dealing with one particular person…
“Mo-om! I’m in a Zoom meeting.” “Mom, I’m talking to my friend.” “Mom, STOP.” “Oh my effing God, Mom, you need to stop.” “Mom, get OUT, are you literally kidding me right now?” “I need you to knock, Mom, and I need you to close the door behind you.” “MOM, THAT ISN’T CLOSING THE DOOR.” “MOM, I DON’T WANT TO MAKE MY BED, NOBODY IS COMING OVER, IT IS A PANDEMIC.”
You get the picture. So that morning in April, after locking eyes with Miss Piggy, I realized that I felt trapped. The Wholesome Realm had stolen my sexuality, my disposition, my solitude, and my sense of agency. But you know what sleeping in my bed from my childhood joyously did bring me? An actual good night’s sleep.
While it wasn’t immediate (because, you know, pandemic insomnia), I was finding myself getting a clean eight hours with no interruptions. That nearly never happened for me in the City That Very Literally Never Sleeps. I have a garbage mattress that I’ve never gotten used to and a room that was never really cohesively decorated. My teen bedroom aesthetics are oppressively girly, but they’re consistent. And according to Teplin, our quality of sleep can be a direct correlation with our comfort in any particular space, because no matter how comfortable a strange bed is, the environment may not be the most comfortable for your psyche.
“Our childhood bedroom is woven with memories, experiences, and history. If those three elements are made up of mostly positive things then it would absolutely make sense that you had an optimal sleep when compared to an apartment or other space you frequent,” Teplin says.
And at some point, it quietly dawned on me that I had a comfortable adolescence. My New York apartment has an antique hookah, a bar cart, and a treasure chest of sex toys, but you know what else it has? Adult anxieties, aka the things that keep you up at night. And what I really needed during lockdown was a return to childlike innocence. I went back to the Wholesome Realm because it was safe, and I was loved there. Don’t get me wrong, New York is my home—but my stay showed that, well, maybe New Jersey still is, too.
As I type this, I’m back in my New York apartment, and I feel safe. But if virus rates shift in such a way that that’s no longer the case, I’m confident in the choice to return to New Jersey. The Wholesome Realm isn’t my ideal living situation, but there are definitely worse beds I could lie in.
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