The Hook Up: My Girlfriend Lives With Her Parents—And It’s Driving Me Crazy

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I’ve met my forever girl, and we’ve been together for over a year. I am beyond excited to spend my life with this woman. She is unbelievably kind, smart and loves me with a fierceness I never imagined. I come from a past of incredible hardship—the kind of stuff that forever changes you and makes you take stock of the world at a very young age. I’ve spent a lot of time really getting to know myself.

I’m seeking advice because I’d like some clarity on how best to navigate our current situation. I live alone and have for over a decade (since I was 16.) I support myself financially and put myself through college. I am very proud of that fact and feel it to be a crucial part of growing up, maturing, and being taught the hard lessons that mold us into our best selves.

My girlfriend still lives at home. She works part-time and goes to school full-time. I get that her choice to save money while in school is a smart one. My girlfriend knows that I don’t want to live with someone until I’m married or very near to it. It’s something I feel strongly about. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in dating someone for several years before marriage and having something be exciting and new after vows are taken. She plans to live at home until then, say another three years or so. I don’t know why I cannot get on board with this. I don’t understand why she doesn’t yearn and strive for independence.

We talk about it a lot. She sees it as financially smart and not at all an indication of avoiding the hard stuff. I see it as cut the cord already! I get that we are the generation of the boomerang and that her choice to live at home is more common than not. Am I reading too much into this? Is her refusal of striking out on her own alarming? Is being independent of her parents as important as I think it is? Does it not really matter in the grand scheme of things?—The Great Over Analyzer

Dear GOA,

My best friend moved out of her house and in with me at 16. She had been struggling mightily with the repercussions of abuse and the silence that surrounded it and decided she had had enough. It was a choice to leave her home and her family, but it was one borne of something deeper, a primal, irrefutable need to heal herself. Independence for her was not a luxury; it was survival.

Your life has similarly been shaped by early independence. You’ve built a life for yourself on your own terms and, though you don’t explicitly say what happened, I imagine it was also borne out of necessity, and not, like, an undeniable urge to put together a lot of IKEA furniture by yourself.

Your girlfriend’s life has operated by a different set of rules and circumstances. A supportive family that is happy to offer her room and board in exchange for her getting an education. There’s no right or wrong here—we all do the best we can with the cards we’re dealt, and that may manifest in wildly different ways.

I have never lived alone. I’ve always had roommates or a partner splitting the rent with me. Part of this is due to financial necessity (hello, insane Bay Area housing market!), but also I like being around people. Feeling connected to others is, as science reminds us, one of the key ingredients to a happy life. Still, no one who knows me would say I’m not an independent person. It’s all in the framing.

William Burroughs (author of Naked Lunch) graduated from Harvard, but was financially dependent on his parents until he was 50! Henry David Thoreau, whose most famous work, Walden, was about how he supposedly lived in the woods and was so rugged and solitary and “living off the land,” went into town regularly, and was visited weekly by his mother and sisters. Not only that, they frequently brought him DONUTS.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life …  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Spartan-like, my ass, Dave.

We all crave independence, but just as often, we fail to admit that we are all dependent and reliant on the help of others to some extent. That’s part of being human. Even the most fiercely independent among us still require the occasional hug or ride to the airport (or box of donuts).

What I would suggest is that you go deeper into your own life and past to examine what your partner’s housing decisions specifically bring up for you. What squicky feelings are lurking underneath the thought of your partner living with her parents for the next three years? Is it resentment? Do you wish you’d had the same love and support that your girlfriend has? Is it fear that she will become dependent on you? A desire for her to know what it means to struggle, and to thrive in spite of that struggle? What is the “hard stuff” and why do you feel that she is avoiding it?

Ultimately, this isn’t about rent or even independence. It’s about the DEEPLY UNCOMFORTABLE THING that’s bubbling up in you, the tense place inside that “can’t get on board” with a decision that’s not, in fact, yours to make. I urge you to find that itchy spot, GOA, and, once you find it, to scratch it.  

What may help is to suss out what “independence” actually means to you and why it’s important to how you perceive yourself and others. Do some free-form, stream-of-consciousness writing and see what comes up. And also, once you have a working definition, think about ways your partner might exhibit this trait in other areas aside from her choice to live at home. She is going to school full-time and working, after all. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, a lot can change in three years. You girlfriend might find that she gets tired of living with her parents and moves out when she feels she’s ready, or it becomes financially viable. Or maybe she’ll move right in with you. Maybe she’ll become wildly interested in circus arts and travel the world with her internationally acclaimed flame-throwing, tiger hula hoop routine. I can’t say. In the last three years, I’ve had three different jobs, changed homes, changed cities, fell in love, and wrote a book.

Try not to get too caught up in futurizing, in other words. Everything might change tomorrow. The important part is for you and your partner to keep reaching and connecting, to wade in each other’s dark corners until you find the stars.

As the amazing queer poet Adrienne Rich put it, “Until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves.”

Good luck, GOA.

Anna is a freelance writer in Oakland. Get overly personal emails and haiku from her at tinyletter.com/annapulley. Or Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com 

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