A couple of weeks ago, I visited an old friend and his wife. They were hosting a dinner party in their newly-built flat in West London. Over roasted vegetables and tagine, they talked about the stresses that came with moving into their new place — the minutiae of picking out curtains, sofas and cutlery as well as the arduous decision of whether or not they wanted to replace the chandelier in their front room.
Per usual, the dreaded question followed shortly thereafter: With a mouthful of parsnip and carrot, my friend looked at me, half paying more attention to Twitter than the table conversation and asked, “So, Hussein, where are you living these days?”
I paused, and took a long sip of water. Since I graduated college in 2013, I’ve been asked this question to the point where I now have a routine answer nailed — a byproduct of endless housewarmings and dinner parties hosted by friends who work consulting jobs in the city. “I’m between places at the moment,” I say, mumbling something about how expensive the London housing market is and how tedious banks are. “I’m in South London for now, but I’m looking at a nice flat closer into the city.”
That’s the point at which I typically look down at my plate, and continue to force-feed myself with whatever I find there (in this specific case, undercooked broccoli).
Because yes: While I’m turning 27 this year, I still live in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house.
They live in Dartford, a small, suburban town outside of London. For most of the U.K., the town’s only notable feature is the bridge people use to leave it. My bedroom itself hasn’t changed much since 2005 — or roughly the year I became a teenager. It’s still painted in a dull, fading baby blue, except for the areas that are covered in oil stains from Blu-Tacked band posters pulled from NME and Kerrang!. There’s also a hole drilled into the wall where a LAN cable was, for a very long time, the only way to access the internet — via a chunky home desktop PC no less. Boxes of old high-school notes and textbooks, along with my school yearbook, which is scrawled with forced-messages from former schoolmates wishing me “all the best” sit atop my dresser.
All of this was only supposed to be temporary. I graduated from university with a liberal arts degree, and like most people who didn’t study business management or didn’t have well-connected parents, I was without a job. And when I did get one, it paid less than $15,000 a year — not an impossible salary to live off of independently, but one where, by the time I paid rent and bills, there’d be virtually nothing left for food. Not to mention, I’d heard horror stories from friends on higher salaries, who were spending three-quarters of their wages on rent, only to find themselves living in cramped, squalid rooms and sharing a damp, fungal bathroom with people they didn’t know.
I may have craved independence, but the two-hour daily commute into the city sounded better than the prospect of cleaning up other people’s loose hair and cum stains from the shower every morning.
My choice, by the way, isn’t unique to me. According to Pew Research Center data published last year, more than 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 35 still live in their parents’ house, compared to 10 percent in 1970. Meanwhile, in the U.K., data from the Office of National Statistics showed that more than a quarter of all Brits between the ages of 20 and 34 still live at home — a number that includes a third of British males. That number is likely to increase, too, at least according to the Intergenerational Foundation, a think tank that expects, sooner rather than later, nearly a third of all young people to be living at their parents’ homes after they turn 30. The cause: Poor job prospects, low salaries and housing that’s either too expensive to rent or impossible to buy.
No doubt you’ve heard all this stuff before. But usually, that’s where the conversation ends. It wasn’t until last year, when I turned 26, that I learned that many people considered my living at home as an indictment of my masculinity and made me, in their eyes at least, much more of a boy than a man. In particular, YouTube channels such as “Men and Marriage” and “Engineered Truth” feature content aimed at young men striking out on their own, emphasizing how important it is for guys to leave behind mom and dad’s as soon as they can, in order to, like a wolf, “establish your own territory.”
Going a step further, Elliott Hulse, who runs one of YouTube’s biggest fitness and motivation channels, states that young men should experience living on their own as part of their “hero’s journey.” It is, he argues, an ascension into manhood and a crucial departure from a suspended state of adolescence, where “you’re so dependent on your parents that you’re afraid to do anything when you end up having to survive on your own — or, if you have to provide for a family.” In this way, what Hulse is saying isn’t all that different from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which suggests that men having their own space (and most importantly, keeping it tidy) is necessary for their emotional and spiritual growth.
Basically, the shortage of affordable housing in the U.K. and other major global cities might not just be affecting men financially, but also stunting their entire sense of self.
“I’m about to turn 30, and I still live in my parents’ house in Birmingham,” writes Max King, a high school teacher, when I ask my Twitter following about this concern last week. “Initially, I moved back so I could get my teachers’ qualifications without incurring extra expenses after university, where I’d accrued some debt.” But his £20,000 annual salary “isn’t enough to seriously think about buying a house. And when you factor in things like car insurance, travel and maintenance, you aren’t left with a lot.”
Like a lot of guys in Max’s position, he pays his parents a small financial contribution as rent, because it makes him “feel more independent” — if only fleetingly. “At the end of the day, I go back to the same room that I used to sleep in when I was actually going to school. It’s pretty depressing. It’s always the small things that make you feel like you’re still a child — like when my mom decides she wants to do my laundry, even though I’d rather she didn’t. Or when my parents complain when I sleep in on weekends rather than wake up early like they do. It’s those small things that take you back to when you were a teenager.”
I can definitely relate. In fact, Max and I share stories about having to constantly check our phones and/or watches when we’re out after work, so we don’t miss our hour-long train ride back home — otherwise, we’ll have to wait at freezing cold train stations for the next one to arrive. “You sometimes think you’re a child — or worse, a middle-aged man,” Max says.
I at least have a bit of built-in defense. If you’re from a South or East Asian culture like me, living at home past 25 is actively encouraged — even after you’re married. “I’m Sri Lankan,” says Pranav, a 28-year-old consultant living just outside of London. “So even talking to my parents about moving out has caused fighting. I couldn’t even move away to go to university because my parents thought it was inappropriate. In our community, you don’t think about moving out until you get married. Part of that is convention, for sure, but the other part, I guess, is a guarantee that you won’t have sex out of wedlock.”
Pranav currently lives in a four-bedroom house with his mom, sister and grandmother — his father moved back to Sri Lanka to be with his parents — and the women of the house will often take it upon themselves to do things he’d prefer to do himself (e.g., cooking dinner, making his bed and ironing his suits). “My mom and grandma do this because they want to show that they love and care about me,” he explains. “And I don’t want to seem as if I’m ungrateful, because I’m not. But at the same time, it’s difficult to explain to them that letting me do this stuff on my own is important for my personal growth.
“I see my colleagues and friends — most of whom are white and were basically kicked out of their parents’ house as soon as they graduated — cook these elaborate meals and look after themselves more generally, and I’d like to be able to do at least a little bit of that.”
Max and Pranav didn’t consider themselves to be “lesser men” because they lived with their parents, but when I ask if they felt similar to me — i.e., in a state of arrested development — they agree, particularly in regard to their personal lives. “Obviously, it’s difficult to invite dates over when living at home,” Max says. “It’s not particularly endearing to any Tinder date when you tell them that they can’t come back to your place for a drink — either because you’re worried about what she’ll say, or worse, she’ll bump into your mum in the middle of the night. I’ve basically given up dating because of that.”
As the only man in his house, Pranav says its difficult to lose a sense of “manliness,” although he likens it more to being a leadership figure or a substitute father. “I have to play the role of my dad in making sure that my mom is paying her bills and isn’t getting conned or anything,” he says. That said, he adds that those responsibilities mean he sometimes gets FOMO — a “natural jealousy” that comes with not being able to do “normal guy things, even if it’s just going on a date or having a date over for a meal.”
He pulls himself out of it, though, by telling himself that it’s not forever. His current plan is to buy his own place in the next couple of years, and live alone for a year or so before getting married. In the meantime, he tells me he wants to be “be more assertive with my family — or at least convince them to let me do my own ironing.”
Pranav’s wishes hit pretty close to my own, as I currently navigate the emotional complexities that come with living at home while reaching *proper* adulthood — the kind where people constantly ask you about marriage and/or having kids. I do know, though, that in an economic climate where all signs point to the likelihood of more people like me, Max and Pranav being produced — people who, on paper, check all the boxes of being successful, but lack the aesthetic monikers of adulthood — the idea of being an “adult male” in 2018 should mean more than having your own place.
As for my advice for anyone in their late 20s who still happens to be living in their childhood bedroom?
Repaint your damn walls.