My ex, Stephanie, and I had been out several times before she dropped the bomb: She lived with her mother. Maybe that confession would be enough to scare most people off, but this was New York and I was no stranger to dealing with weird living situations, so I kept seeing her.
It was another few weeks before I actually went to their apartment (large for NYC, but tiny by any other standard). It was then that reality hit: Steph’s room was about five feet away from her mom’s, and I was already picturing a million awkward situations — her mom walks in on us, she unexpectedly comes home and overhears us, or she traps me at the kitchen table for an hour doing the New York Times crossword (that last one actually did happen).
The situation was made even worse by the fact that Steph wasn’t really my girlfriend. She was more of a friend with benefits, and Steph’s mom was well aware that I wasn’t officially dating her daughter. Luckily for Steph and I, her mom often traveled for work. She was gone for basically all of our regular Tuesday nights together and was rarely home on weekends. Still, I knew when Steph started blasting music before even grabbing me for a kiss that her mom was most definitely there. Then there were the uncomfortable bagel breakfasts the next morning. Imagine Steph, her mom, and I sitting at their kitchen table munching on bagels and schmear while her mom made small talk that pointedly avoided our not-quite relationship.
Needless to say, dating someone who lives at home is tough. We like to think dating will be easier once we’re out of our awkward teenage years, and we no longer have to deal with curfews or parents poking their heads into our bedrooms. Yet, with more and more young adults living with their parents well into their 20s, it isn’t. As of 2016, 15 percent of those 25 to 35 were still living at home, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s more than any generation before us. Only 10 percent of Gen Xers were still living with their parents in 2000, and 8 percent of the Silent Generation (people born between 1925 and 1945) were living with their folks in 1964.
Imagine Steph, her mom, and I sitting at their kitchen table munching on bagels and schmear while her mom made small talk that pointedly avoided our not-quite relationship.
While many will be quick to lump Steph and her homebound peers into the stereotype of the lazy millennial, that’s rarely the case. Plenty of 20-somethings live with their parents for financial reasons, not because they’re “lazy.” Data tells us that despite being better educated, younger generations are making less money than those before them. So living with your parents throughout college and even after can make economic sense. Consider this: I live on my own (well, with a roommate) and I likely won’t pay off my student loans until I’m 50. My friend Kat lived with her mom for the first five years following college (a college we both went to) and is already debt-free. So yeah, I’d live with my parents if I could, because saving on rent seems like a solid move.
Then again, there are other reasons 20-somethings continue to live at home or move back. Steph, for instance, didn’t need to save on cash. She lived on her own for several years following college — and then her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Steph returned to Brooklyn to take care of her mom, but was itching to move out after her mom started responding well to treatments and needed less help. She often spoke about how she wished she had her own place — and a year after we stopped seeing each other, she got one.
Although Steph couldn’t wait to get out, living with her mom didn’t slow down her dating life, and all around, it doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker in the same way it once was. But parents do supply plenty of awkward moments. Around the same time I was seeing Steph, my friend Amelia was dating Josh, a 31-year-old musician who lived with his parents. She admits that she felt like she was transported back to high school — except, it was a version of high school in which she had a two-year-old kid.
“Both of us were sneaking around our own houses,” Amelia says. There were times when Josh was waiting on the porch for Amelia to send a text that her son was asleep and he could come in. But as averse as she was to having him meet her kid, Josh was even more averse to letting Amelia meet his parents. “Once he actually had me drop him off down the street so his parents wouldn’t ask him too many questions about my car. (I mean not my car itself, just like ‘Who is this chick dropping you off?’),” she says.
When you live at home, it’s nearly impossible to keep the ideal separation between our dating and family lives. You don’t want mom to get too invested in a potential partner until you’re all in yourself, but if you keep bringing people home, it’s hard not to blur that line.
When Rachel, a blogger in the U.K., was 25, she started dating a guy who was living in his parents’ house. “His mum literally did everything for him — washing cleaning, cooking,” she says. At least that explains why she woke up one morning in her boyfriend’s bed to find his mom hovering over them, asking about laundry. While that may have scared many women off, Rachel clearly wasn’t too bothered. The two are now married, and they credit his previous living situation for helping them save up for a more stable future.
More and more, people like Rachel, Amelia, and me are recognizing the benefits of or necessity for a romantic partner to live at home. Once upon a time, the idea of a 20-something who lived with their parents conjured images of dank basements and creepy dudes who spend all day staring at a computer screen. It was enough to send anyone running at first mention of going back to “our house.” Now, plenty of “normal” people are living at home well into their 20s, and lots of us are 100-percent down to date them, awkward moments and all.