Communal living is making a comeback, but when people find out I live with my in-laws, I still get a lot of different reactions, from pity to horror. People simply can’t understand why—or how—my husband and I do it. I’m never sure how to react to people’s comments, which run the gamut from compassionate to infuriating, so I usually nod politely and change the subject. But here’s what I’m really thinking:
- “I totally get it, you guys are doing what’s right for you.”
GOD BLESS YOU. My husband and I have had precious few people react this way to our situation or to communal living in general, but if you’re one of them, we love you so much. Whenever I hear this comment, I feel 4000% calmer about the social repercussions of my living situation.
- “Why don’t you just get an apartment?”
If you ask me this, I most likely want to throw you out a window. Here’s the short answer: if we move into an apartment, it will take us several years to save enough to get a cheap, crappy house. Living with my in-laws, my husband and I will be able to afford a not-so-crappy house in just one year.
The long answer involves some Millennial rage, so buckle up. I have never gotten this question from anyone under the age of 40, and it’s not hard to guess why. Before the Baby Boomer generation, communal living was much more popular. It was very normal for adult children to live with their parents, even after getting married. Then WWII came along and brought a huge economic boom with it that made independence possible at a much younger age. So the Boomers went out, got jobs, bought houses, all by their late teens or early 20s, and immediately forgot that this was not the norm. Now they hound Millennials for not living the lives they lived, despite a wildly different economic and social landscape in the 21st century.
I have had plenty of older people respond to me and my husband’s situation with compassion, so I’m not trying to say that everyone over 40 is a jerk. I’m just saying that a lot of people from the Boomer and Gen X generations seem completely uninterested or disbelieving when you try to explain that the world is changing. My Millennial friends who are in crippling debt or are also living with friends or family are usually much more understanding. Weird.
- “I could never live with my in-laws.”
This is one of the other comments that actually makes me feel good, even though that’s not what the speaker really means to do. What people usually mean when they say this is “I hate my in-laws and now that I’ve said it, you’re allowed to say it too.” But the truth is, I seriously love my in-laws. My in-laws are not only generous and gracious people who are making it possible for us to get our own house, they’re also genuinely interesting, likeable people. My husband, his dad, and I play a weekly Dungeons and Dragons game with some friends. I hang out with my mother-in-law and my nephew (who also lives with us) every morning for breakfast. Our communal living situation presents all kinds of difficulties, but hating my in-laws is not one of them.
- “How do you guys…y’know?”
Ah, the sex question. People seem fascinated with how my husband and I manage to have sex while living with his parents, and even though it’s a fair question, I never know what to say. I mean, how did your parents have sex when you were living in the house? We’re quiet(ish) and discreet(ish) and very ready to move out.
- “Are you sure your in-laws are okay with this?”
If you ask me this, just know that you have effectively ruined my day. No, I am not sure my in-laws are okay with this. They say they are, but who knows how they really feel. We warned them ahead of time that we would probably be here just under a year, and they said yes then, but maybe they’ve changed their mind and want us out but don’t know how to say it. Maybe they resent us and think we’re horrible free-loaders. As soon as someone asks me if my in-laws are really okay with this communal living situation, all I can do is worry, so please, spare me the existential breakdown and don’t ask this question.
- “What’s the hardest part?”
This is actually a nice question because it gives me space to vent without feeling like I’m complaining about a situation I’m actually very grateful for. But you can be grateful and annoyed at the same time, trust me.
The hardest part of communal living, especially communal living with your in-laws, is balancing all the different versions of adulthood now meshing under one roof. My husband and I didn’t live together before getting married, so as of right now, a year and a half into our marriage, we have never actually lived together just the two of us. He lived a certain way when he was on his own, and so did I, and now we’re not only combining our own styles of adulting, we’re trying to combine them within the structure of someone else’s well-established household. And it’s not just anybody’s house, it’s his parents’. Anyone who’s moved back in with their parents knows that it can be hard to feel like an adult when your parents still see you as a teenager. And any parents who’ve had kids move back in know that it’s hard to treat your kid like an adult when they expect things to be the same as they used to be (i.e. you cook dinner every night, clean the house on your own, etc.)
My husband and I both cooked, cleaned, and organized things in our own apartments before moving in with my in-laws, but it’s hard to do all of those things here because it just isn’t our house. Sometimes I’ll make myself lunch, only to find out that my mother-in-law needed those ingredients for dinner. My husband will make a plan to clean something, only to have it cleaned by his parents because they felt it was taking too long. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re not contributing, but it’s also hard to contribute the right way when it isn’t your house.
Even though I get a lot of questions about living with my in-laws, I don’t get as many as you might expect because a lot of young people are doing communal living now. One of my friends is staying with a friend and his parents. My brother lives with two friends who just got married. Everybody’s doing what they can to make it work, so be compassionate and just enjoy whatever living space you go home to every day.