My mother never understood what I saw in Hugh – my banker boyfriend with a sarcastic sense of humour and pin-striped suspenders – who’d come over to “watch movies” in my room while we were both living at home post-uni… until she walked in on us having sex and saw his biggest asset.
Somewhere between “How do you want your steak cooked?” and “WTF?” my world went from almost orgasmic to unspeakably awkward. That night, everyone’s rib eye was raw.
We all survived. My modern-ish family accepted I was an adult having safe, consensual sex. My crime wasn’t having sex, it was not locking the door. (Eventually, Hugh got the shaft.)
Today, a whopping 23 percent of Australians aged 20 to 34 are living at home – they call it the Bounceback Generation. And, chances are, 100 percent of these young adults are trying to reconcile the rules of attraction with the rules of living with their parents.
My parents were cool about my playdates, but when it comes to hooking up, most parents will have rules. They could be religious, or just plain strict. In any case, combine the stresses of dating with the stresses of family life, and you could find yourself in a tough spot.
“The fact that you’re a sexual adult is normal and, ultimately, a necessary reality for your parents to face – but that doesn’t mean it will be easy,” says psychologist Peggy Drexler.
“We already act like teenagers if we like someone,” adds relationships expert Andrea Syrtash, author of He’s Just Not Your Type (and That’s a Good Thing): How to Find Love Where You Least Expect It. “Our brains pump out oxytocin, dopamine and other powerful chemicals that may skew our judgment and make us extra sensitive. On top of all that, there’s the constant element of anxiety about living at home. That’s a lot to juggle.”
Tina, 26, a nurse, thought she could get away with resparking a high school fling after moving back in with her parents. “One night we were in the lounge room, just like old times, only now we’re adults and don’t just make out,” she says. “It was late. I assumed my parents would be asleep.
“Next thing I knew, my Italian-Catholic, really old-fashioned dad had come downstairs and found Ken and me in the middle of full-blown missionary-style action. He immediately ran back upstairs to my mum. He couldn’t look at me for a long time after that.”
Getting busted by Dad mortified Tina, of course – but it also confused her. “Part of me was like, I’m a grown woman and it’s my right to enjoy sex with someone. But another part of me felt dirty and ashamed.”
Drexler agrees that it’s here the crux of the issue lies. “Part of being an adult is deciding when, where and with who you have sex, independent of what your parents might want for you,” she says. “As an adult, your sexuality shouldn’t be associated with getting in trouble with your parents.”
Talk it out
Any awkies incident needs to be followed up with a discussion. If you ignore it, the awkwardness will fester. But be warned: “Once you’ve declared yourself a sexually liberated individual, don’t be surprised if your mum is less interested in doing your laundry and your dad stops offering to take your car to the mechanic,” Drexler adds.
“Families that are more open and communicative are more likely to be able to laugh over these issues,” she says.
Or could you just get more creative to avoid being caught? Vicky, 24, believes she’s found a good tactic.
“I have a squeaky twin-size bed, which happens to share a wall with my parents’ bedroom, so instead of having full-on penetrative sex my boyfriend and I have come up with a move called The Swipe,” she explains. “Basically, he swipes his penis against me, back and forth. It’s better than nothing.”
Whatever your coping tactic, it’s vital you are psychologically separate from your parents. Otherwise, Drexler warns, “You may subconsciously seek out relationships in which you play the dependent role. If you still see yourself as a child, you may find yourself acting clingy or needing constant reassurance, which makes relationships difficult.”
And an escape plan is essential, says Drexler, who firmly believes the Bounceback Generation should consider home dwelling as a temporary arrangement. “Without an end date in mind, at some point you lose confidence. You’ll question your ability to make decisions. You remain
a child yourself indefinitely.”
If you absolutely can’t conceive of an end plan because of finances, “at least think of yourself as a boarder,” Drexler suggests. Treat your parents with the respect you want in return, don’t act like a kid, and keep it classy. The best thing you can do is ask them what is and isn’t OK while under their roof."
Start with this, Drexler advises. “Tell your parents where you’re going, who you’re going there with, and what time you’re planning to get back. Ask them if that scenario works for them – and if it doesn’t, hear them out and come up with a compromise.”