For some 20-year-olds, living with parents is cheap, but it puts a dent in romance

February 17, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SAN JOSE, CALIF — SAN JOSE, Calif. -- John and Lisa met in college. They fell in love. They lived together and earned college degrees. And then John and Lisa did what most people in their early 20s are doing: They each moved back home with their parents.

In 1992, a whopping 58 percent of unmarried 20- to 24-year-olds shared a roof with one parent or both, according to Census Bureau figures. No direct comparison was available for previous years.

This is the story of love in the '90s. The problem for these twentysomethings, who have come of age in the toughest economic times in decades, is how to conduct adult love lives while living under their parents' roofs.

Saving money is the reason most young adults give for living withtheir parents. But it doesn't always outweigh the strain on one's love life.

"If you were just getting to know somebody," said John Kroll, 25, "you wouldn't exactly on the first date want to say, 'Hi, these are my parents. I'm 25 years old and I live with my folks.'"

In 1970, 47 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds -- married and unmarried -- lived with their parents. It inched to 48 percent in 1980, then jumped to 54 percent in 1992, according to the Census Bureau's annual Current Population Survey of 60,000 American households.

Those at home in the 25-to-34-age group have risen steadily, too. In 1970, 8 percent lived at home; 9 percent in 1980; and 12 percent in 1992.

Mr. Kroll and his fiancee, Lisa Hopkins, 24, of Sunnyvale, Calif., broke up the household they had made together in college and moved back to their respective parents' homes after graduation. They are saving to buy a house and marry in August. "Fortunately, it has worked out well," said Mr. Kroll.

But they miss each other badly and it's a strain on their love lives. She's an assistant manager at Orchard Supply Hardware and lives with her father in Sunnyvale. He lives with both parents in San Ramon, works for a furniture company there and studies nights to be a firefighter.

They average one day off together a month. So, several times a week, one or the other of them drives the 45 minutes to the other's home to visit for a few hours in the evening.

Like many adults living at home who were interviewed for this story, Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Kroll said they got along extremely well with theirparents and enjoyed their company. Still, there are plenty of awkward moments. "At first," said Ms. Hopkins, "it was a real big problem. It was Father's house and you feel like a 16-year-old teen-ager, sitting there on the couch. You feel embarrassed to hold hands."

They learned to check out potential problems with a parent. "We ask, 'Does it make you uncomfortable if the two of us are sitting on the couch with an arm around each other?' We have to respect their wishes because it's their home," said Ms. Hopkins.

When she stays at his house, she sleeps in his room and he sleeps on the couch.

It's worth it, they say. "In order for us to be able to be homeowners some day, we had to go home," said Ms. Hopkins.

It wasn't hard to find others in the same situation. Some work jobsthat pay too little to support them. Others can't find jobs. And students say that if they didn't live at home, they'd have to work full-time to go to school.

Tim Wong, 26, hasn't had a steady girlfriend since he moved back with his parents in San Francisco so he could go to graduate school. He earned his master's degree in business administration from Stanford University a couple years ago. "For some reason, I've been unable to move out. Maybe I'm lazy."

He says his parents are pleasant enough, but he needs to get out of the house often, if only for a bike ride. "I need space to grow mentally, and to pursue other relationships."

Some couples tell of taking weekends off to visit friends or ski or snowboard in Tahoe. "Even sleeping on the floor in an apartment with four guys living in it is better" than the lack of privacy at home, said Jean Baker, who married her longtime boyfriend, Jack, in December. They lived at their parents' homes for most of 1992, after having lived together in college.

"Romantic life? I don't think we had one. There would be no way to launch a romance, if you didn't already know someone."

Nikki Cooper, 25, a travel agent, was living with her parents in Los Gatos when she started dating Josh, a Navy seaman stationed in Alameda. When Josh was too tired to drive home, he would fall asleep on the couch, she said.

One night, they fell asleep on her bed while watching a movie. Her parents liked Josh a lot. So, after that, he just sort of moved in, Ms. Cooper said. She has her own VCR, stereo and TV, and her parents and sister often drop in.

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