Raana Jahangiri, a 22-year-old recent graduate from the University of Toronto, moved back in with her parents in Port Moody last summer to study for the LSAT and consider her next steps. It’s been mostly great—free rent, free food—but her romantic life has taken a hit.
“I like living at home and I’m not in a rush to leave,” she says. “My mom does the cooking and I have a lot less responsibility. But the option to casually date isn’t there anymore.”
Jahangiri isn’t alone in her experience. The rise in multigenerational living is adding obstacles to the dating and sex lives of young adults. In 2021, Statistics Canada reported more than 35 per cent of young adults, generally defined as being between 20 and 34, lived with at least one of their parents or grandparents. This number has steadily risen, jumping by 45 per cent since 2001.
According to Umay Kader, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of British Columbia, the housing market, employment opportunities, prolonged education, and later marriages are some of the motivating factors keeping adults at home for longer.
Kader is studying how young adults navigate these multigenerational living arrangements. Despite being in preliminary research stages, she has already interviewed 33 young adults in Metro Vancouver about the realities of living at home. When it comes to dating and relationships, Kader’s initial observations generally fall into two categories.
“One is that people are reserved in sharing and showing their dating lives to their parents,” she says. “Unless it’s a person whom they’ve been dating for a few months who they can call a boyfriend or girlfriend, they have hesitancies to invite them over and make them meet their parents.”
The second group that Umay observed includes people who are comfortable bringing their dates home—though there are still often boundaries that need to be delicately navigated.
“My participants try to respect their parents’ space and expectations in the household,” Kader says, “and maybe restrict the days of the week that they hang out at their parent’s place, for example.”
Nia Zvoushe, a 22-year-old who recently moved out of her mother’s Abbotsford condo to be closer to her medical esthetician school in downtown Vancouver, had to tread lightly when she lived at home.
“It’s not like my mom and I haven’t built up forms of communication,” she offers. “But, especially with your intimate life, you may not want to explain everything that you do.”
When Zvoushe lived at home and was in a long-term relationship, she had explicit conversations with her mother about what was and wasn’t allowed.
“I could bring him home for a day,” she says, “but no partner of mine would be able to stay the night at my mom’s.”
Zvoushe was able to spend the night at her boyfriend’s, though: “My mom was more lenient because she had met him and liked him.”
Similarly, Terri Wellman, a 60-year-old retired hairdresser and mother of two living in Furry Creek, asks that her 23-year-old daughter’s boyfriend stay in her son’s room when he comes to visit.
“Most of my friends are very much like me,” she says. Some of her friends allow their children to be intimate with their partners in a guest room or the basement, but don’t allow them to sleep with their partners in their childhood bedrooms.
The specificities of boundaries described by Zvoushe and Wellmen highlight some of the complex family dynamics that Kader has observed in her preliminary research. Sometimes, she says, parents don’t give their children enough space and opportunity to practice adult things because they still see them as kids.
“I remember one participant saying that their mom actually explicitly said that she still sees her kids as 12- and 14-year-olds,” Kader says. “Some parents are not letting [their kids] do grown-up tasks.”
In family dynamics that don’t make room for privacy, some young adults are forced to seek out other solutions—a scenario that appears to be more common for people who aren’t in serious relationships.
When Zvoushe was more casually dating, bringing a partner home to her mom would not have been an option.
“Most people try to find somebody who has a place [of their own],” says Zvoushe. “Otherwise, hopefully one of them has a car, or they go on dates and maybe do some risque activity in public places. Hotels are way too expensive, and I don’t think there are usually options for hourly rentals, so if it’s a special occasion they book it, but not on the regular.”
Kader explains that bringing dates home can add pressure to the relationship. People want to make sure a relationship is serious and avoid exposing themselves and their private lives to their parents too soon: “For some people, it’s out of the question to even talk about their dating life with their parents, because they think that their parents will be overly involved.”
With all the sensitivities of navigating complex family dynamics, Kader says that, frankly, some prefer not to date at all.