‘How are you meant to enjoy sex and a relationship?’ The reality of living with your parents in your 30s

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Five adults who have moved home during the housing crisis talk frankly about the impact it is having on their relationships, sex lives and mental health

Almost seven out of every 10 young people in Ireland aged 25-29 still live at home with their parents. The startling figure, which has doubled over the past decade and far exceeds the European average of just over four in 10, was highlighted in a Eurostat report published in August. While abstract conversations about the cost of living and rental crisis are ongoing, there’s still a lack of acknowledgment about the particular ways that being forced to live at home can affect people’s mental health, sex and dating lives, and their sense of self as an adult.

Those now in their late 20s and 30s grew up during the Celtic Tiger, when the unquestioned narrative was that young people in Ireland could go to college or start working, and would soon not only buy their first homes but get on “the property ladder”, accumulating capital along with independence, life experience and the milestones cited as evidence of a successful, respectable life: house, relationship, marriage, children – ideally by the time they were 30. Even those who questioned the traditional heteronormativity of this ideal of adult Irish life were still comforted by the promise of independent living, where financial stability and a home could let you lead whatever type of life you wanted, with comfort and security.

Instead, the idea of “the property ladder” completely transformed how Ireland viewed houses: not as homes for individuals to plant roots, build community and live in for decades but as financial assets to be bought, flipped, traded or rented at the highest price possible – not just by individuals, but by corporate landlords. House prices grew and grew, so that the homes a generation bought for twice or three times their annual salary now cost eight to 10 times the salary of their children, and rents became astronomical. And the promises made to a generation were not only unfulfilled, but turned into a mockery.

Many adults in their 30s with years of hard work and experience and sometimes multiple college degrees not only can’t afford to buy a home, they can’t even afford to rent in the only city they’ve ever considered home. Instead of embracing their 30s as a time of important emotional self-development, having serious relationships, or starting a family, they’re still living in their childhood bedrooms feeling infantilised by their parents, abandoned by their government, and stuck in a state of suspended adolescence. And as thousands of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings living with their parents find it difficult to freely date and have sex, pursue their hobbies and passions, build community by having friends over, or simply feel like competent, financially independent adults, they can experience feelings of shame, confusion and failure, unsure of how they have done everything right and yet haven’t hit any of the milestones that would mark them as successful adults.


We spoke to five people in their 30s still living with their parents who feel part of a forgotten generation, offering anonymity to some to allow them to speak frankly and honestly about the effect it is having on their personal lives and relationships. Every person interviewed expressed deep gratitude to their parents for letting them live at home, with several even acknowledging that the option was a “privilege” – raising the question, how far have we let a generation fall that we’re asking them to be grateful while feeling abandoned?

Personal space

‘This might be my home, but it’s not my house’

Fiona is 35 and has been living with her parents in Co Wicklow for the past five years, while her boyfriend of three years has also been living in his childhood home. They have been saving for a deposit to buy a house to renovate, and are planning on finally moving in together next year. They both have good relationships with their parents, but the constant navigation of shared spaces and routines detracts from their ability to relax around each other, enjoy quality alone time or simply feel at ease.

It becomes this big ordeal of who’s going to be home, can we take over the sitting room, are we going to eat dinner with my parents or separately, can we get a takeaway?

“It’s all the small things,” says Fiona, “like watching TV or eating together. It becomes this big ordeal of who’s going to be home, can we take over the sittingroom, are we going to eat dinner with my parents or separately, can we get a takeaway? You’re trying not to upset anybody or disturb anybody, because there is an inescapable sense that this is actually not my house. It might be my home, but it’s not my house.”

Alison Byrne is 38 and moved back home at the age of 30, after years of travelling. Byrne is a stained glass artist who has spent the past few years establishing her business, Wild Bird Studio, and found it impossible to afford rent and save any money while setting up her business. Like everyone interviewed, she expresses great love for and gratitude towards her parents, but she also talks about the complexity of moving back in with parents as an adult, and the small ways she is made to feel infantilised, stuck and like a guest in her parents’ house. Seemingly nice gestures, like her mother putting away her ironing or tidying up, only add to a sense of being controlled and confined. “Your personal space is being invaded all the time, and your stuff being touched or moved out of the way. If anything of mine is left in the sittingroom or the kitchen, she’ll put it up into my bedroom. I feel like if I stood still for long enough, my mom would tidy me away back into my bedroom,” she says.

“It’s like I don’t have permission to bleed into the rest of the house, which is a big distinction from being in a shared house where you have equal space. It’s my parents’ house, and I’m confined to the bedroom, which is really hard.” Alison has explored her experiences in a sculpture project called Hidden Homeless, which featured images of herself and others stuck in glass houses, forced to live with relatives because they can’t afford rent in Dublin. Images of Alison’s face, magnified and pressed up against the glass like an overgrown Alice in Wonderland, capture the sense of claustrophobia and inability to grow and feel free in a society that keeps you confined to your childhood bedroom.

For Alison, it’s not just her personal development that feels stunted but her ability to foster the kind of friendships and community she desires. Alison doesn’t feel comfortable inviting her friends over to her parents’ house, but on her birthday one year she was determined to gather all her favourite people together to celebrate.

I was so upset when so many of my friends didn’t stay. They just came and had dinner and left ... I think there was this sense that this was my parents’ house

—  Alison Byrne on her birthday party

“I decided I was going to have a dinner party, because I wanted to feel like an adult,” she says, “so I asked my mom and dad if they could take the weekend and go off to my aunt’s house. I was inviting all of my friends over. I was going to cook a meal and just have a grown-up dinner party. I was so upset when so many of my friends didn’t stay. They just came and had dinner and left. I had imagined them staying for drinks, sleeping over, all of us having brunch in the morning, and I was deeply upset. I was so surprised at my own reaction because obviously they have every right to not drink and go home, but I think there was this sense that this was my parents’ house, so they couldn’t stay. It was a big gap in the experiences I wanted to have with my friends and what was possible, all because we’re not in my space.”

Hugo Fitzpatrick is 35. Before Covid he had stints living in Dublin and Galway with friends and housemates. But when he lost his job, he was forced to move back into his parents’ home in Louth as he was unable to pay “astronomical rent” in bigger cities. Hugo has worked in planning, so his personal setbacks were complicated by an acute awareness of the systemic issues he was up against.

“I’m very much aware of how bad the housing situation is, so moving home was a combined sense of failure, as well as a sense of there being forces working against me.” When he moved home, his childhood bedroom had been converted into an office, which heightened the feeling that he no longer belonged there.

“There was a sense, moving home, that this the only place I can go short of homelessness,” he says. “Almost everything I’ve accumulated over the years is in the garage attic; what’s mine is boxed away.”

Evie is living with her parents outside Dublin while working in hospitality. She spent a few years travelling before moving back in with her parents – initially a temporary measure to save money for rent, but when Covid hit, her plans of earning enough to move out evaporated. Instead of living independently and carving out an adult life for herself in Dublin, she has found herself feeling like an intruder in her parent’s space.

“I’m a music nut, I love music. But I’ve never played music here,” she says. “I’m so aware of everyone else in the house that there’s no freedom to it. So I just don’t play. I don’t sing. RTÉ Radio 1 goes on at eight in the morning here. It’s Joe Duffy every day. So I don’t even control what I’m listening to.”

Evie and Alison both say that living in their childhood homes has led them to regress; they sometimes feel like teenagers again, which has resulted in some explosive, adolescent-like rows with their parents. After both women spent several years living abroad as independent adults, they moved home and suddenly couldn’t go to the shops or on a walk without being questioned about where they were going. For Alison, this frustration came to a head six months after moving back home.

“I remember distinctly mum asking me a really reasonable question like ‘Are you here for dinner?’ – something really innocuous – and I lost it. I actually stamped my foot and shouted. I shocked myself at how teenagery I had just acted. It was like an out-of-body experience. There was a really tense six months then of trying to adjust, for my parents to learn that I’m not a child so not to treat me like one – and for me to remember that I’m not a child, so I can’t react like one. It was a big adjustment.”

There are times where I just have a moody blowout, and then I feel like a child. There’s the only person on this planet that I would shout at, and that’s my mother

—  Evie (32)

For Evie, a lack of personal space has affected her professional life, too. She sometimes works from home but if she’s working in communal spaces such as the kitchen or sitting room, her family members will often wander in and disrupt her projects.

“There are times where I just have a moody blowout,” she says, “and then I feel like a child. There’s the only person on this planet that I would shout at, and that’s my mother. And then you just feel like crap, because you’re an adult acting like a 15-year-old.”

But, as Evie notes, there are no other relationships in her life where another adult comes into her personal space, interrogates her or messes with her work.

““I had to say, ‘I am at work now, and if we were in a professional space and you wandered in [changing my work] I would have fired you, What were you thinking?’ But she didn’t get it, she just thought I was being a massive bitch. It caused a huge issue.”

Sex and dating

‘I never do it here. It’s like I’m weirdly asexual when I’m at home. It’s this part of myself that just gets shut down’

Hugo goes to therapy. The topic of relationships and dating occasionally comes up, but he feels this entire part of his life has been placed on hold because of his living situation.

“I would like dating or a relationship to be a part of my life,” he says, “but thinking back to psychology basics and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you need your own space before you can start to move up the pyramid. I feel like I need my own place, I need a lot more money, and I need to have a lot more control over my life before I can let someone in. That’s impossible to consider when I have no control over things and I’m literally isolated in a rural area.”

Evie also hasn’t dated much since moving back in with her parents. She feels her hometown is too small, with limited options. She also says she feels too “observed”; the few times she has connected with someone, the lack of privacy put her off trying again.

“Last Christmas I went out with friends and I met a guy and we went back to his. My mom’s a worrier, and in fairness I never don’t come home. But I’m there sitting on his couch at 3am and there she was ringing, and I have to have this conversation ‘No, I’m not coming home’, and she was going ‘What do you mean you’re not coming home?’ and I’m going ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ – while I’m turning to this guy going ‘Sorry I’m just talking to my mother, give me a second, I’ll get back in the mood.’”

My friends and I joke that 10 years ago, you’d meet a guy who plays guitar and go ‘Oh, so sexy’, but now it’s like ‘Oh, he has a mortgage!’

—  Evie

Evie arrived home the following day to a committee of interrogators. “I came home the next morning and everybody – every member of my family,” she stresses, “is in the kitchen. Instantly they know I’ve had a one-night stand, and then because it’s my hometown, it’s the questions of ‘who was it?’ It went on for weeks. I did go on a few dates with that guy, but the constant inquisition meant I never had any space to just think ‘Okay, do I like this guy?’ It was so much pressure.”

Evie stopped seeing that man and swore off dating locally while living at home. But she notes that for those few dates, the fact that he had his own place was hugely important. “My friends and I joke that 10 years ago, you’d meet a guy who plays guitar and go ‘Oh, so sexy’, but now it’s like ‘Oh, he has a mortgage!’”

This need for privacy and space creates a very 18th-century idea of dating where property now makes someone a more desirable choice. Although most adults know intellectually that the housing crisis is a widespread, systemic issue, living at home can still bring up deep, internalised feelings of shame and failure. Even though Hugo knows that so many people his age are also struggling, he feels insecure about dating while living at home, worrying he doesn’t have enough to offer a potential romantic partner. “I know other people are struggling in the same way, but I also have this fear that if I tried dating that I’d be judged, like there’d be this response of ‘You’re not doing too well in life, because you’re still with your folks; you’re aren’t independent and out on your own.’ There’s this prevailing fear and anxiety.”

Evie says she’s seen friends staying in unsatisfying relationships simply because they can’t afford to leave the home they share with a partner. “Or people end up still living with their exes for months, they can’t grieve the relationship properly, they can’t heal, they can’t date, because they’re stuck.”

Trying to have any kind of sex life while living with your parents is another huge hurdle. Evie has never brought a sexual partner back to her parents’ home.

“I was having a chat [with friends] last week and we were saying Dublin needs to get love hotels like in Japan where you can rent a room for a couple of hours. It sounds like a joke, but I really think it’s going to affect a generation’s confidence and ability to have healthy, adult sexual relationships, because if you’ve got two adults living at home and they’re regressing and they’re feeling so infantilised, how are you meant to enjoy a relationship and sex? Like, what happens passion when you’re constantly shushing each other and trying not to hit the headboard?”

Being able to enjoy frequent, unscheduled, or spontaneous sex should be one of the joys of life as a sexually active adult, and the ability to explore kinky sex or simply enjoy an orgasm at whatever volume feels natural should not be a rare privilege. But for adults living at home, sex becomes yet another aspect of life that becomes stifled, neglected and stressful.

Fiona’s parents like her boyfriend and know they’re in a serious relationship, but sleeping in her childhood bedroom and her parents’ constant presence in the house has impacted their sex life both mentally and practically.

“I’m in my childhood room, so there’s just an ambience of childhood,” she says. “There’s the usual things of being aware of – noise, trying to figure out when you’ll have the house to yourself, not being able to walk naked to the bathroom to pee after sex – it’s all just extra stress. It has massively impacted not just my sexual relationship with my boyfriend, but also my own sexual relationship with myself.”

There’s an understanding that men masturbate and need privacy and so no one just bursts into a man’s bedroom. But no one ever acknowledges that women do

—  Evie

Not having the space or privacy to masturbate and the impact this has on one’s sense of self as an adult and sexual being is a huge issue, and Evie believes that this can be extra difficult for women.

“I have brothers and at various stages, they’ve lived at home,” Evie says. “My brothers have said ‘I’m 30, I need privacy, don’t come into my room’ – and that’s always been respected. There’s an understanding that men masturbate and need privacy and so no one just bursts into a man’s bedroom. But no one ever acknowledges that women do, and I don’t get any privacy. My mam constantly comes into my room, she’ll bring in nieces and nephews and put them on top of me, and she’ll even encourage my nieces to play in my room because it has nice, pretty things – but some of those things are a pretty pink Rabbit!”

Evie has had instances of her nieces bounding into her bedroom while a vibrator is visible on the nightstand. Her father walked in while she was taking an online sexual empowerment course with sex educator Jenny Keane and practising some sexual techniques on a cucumber. She recounts these stories laughing – but there’s a difference between the occasional embarrassing incident, and having absolutely no time, space or privacy to experience yourself as a sexual being. “I’m the biggest advocate for masturbation and doing it regularly – pleasure is important,” she says. “But I never do it here. It’s like I’m weirdly asexual when I’m at home. It’s this part of myself that just gets shut down.”

Alison has recently changed her dating app profile to show that she’s bicurious, and another interviewee mentions being bisexual, but both say they don’t feel comfortable discovering this aspect of their sexuality while living at home; not because their parents are homophobic, but simply because they don’t have the privacy to explore something new at their own pace without feeling observed.

“It’s part of myself I would like to explore more [but] I feel I couldn’t do at home – and I assume that’s [the same] for a lot of people who are LGBTQ,” says one interviewee. “If I ever go on a date there are endless questions, it’d be so much worse if I went on a date with a woman. It would just become a curiosity – but it’s my life.”

Sense of self

‘You can’t grow or heal in a place where everyone is deeply invested in you staying the same’

Siobhán is 35 and moved back in with her parents in Dublin in 2017 after a few years of travelling and renting, but struggled to make enough money to afford rent and groceries, so she moved home to save money. During the pandemic, she started therapy over Zoom and found it incredibly helpful in addressing some trauma she had experienced.

“It was a bit terrifying to finally see all the ways my personality had been shaped by these things that had happened to me,” she says. “I had become very cynical and judgmental as a defence mechanism, and had very rigid ideas about myself and other people. As I started healing, I realised how small and joyless my life had become. It felt scary and somewhat shameful to admit how long I’d been living with such negativity, but therapy showed me there could be another way to live.”

Siobhán was excited by the possibility of growing and embracing a new way of being – but quickly realised she couldn’t do this while living at home. “There was no room to change,” she says. “Some of it was small, like I wanted to start yoga and meditation to help me become more mindful and ease my anxiety. But my family has never been into any of that – to be honest, I would have slagged off those things in the past, too. When I tried to start, there were so many remarks and digs that it made me so self-conscious.”

'I really didn’t want to leave Dublin, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford to move back.'

In Siobhán’s family, snarky comments about other people were a normal form of entertainment; family members were expected to participate in an endless barrage of insults. When she stopped engaging with the negativity, her parents and sister doubled down. “The more boundaries I set, the worse it got,” she says. “It was like me trying to change and be a bit kinder and more respectful made them feel judged. There were a lot of comments about how I was acting ‘up myself’.”

The conflicts escalated and Siobhán realised that if she wanted to protect her mental health, heal and grow – “belatedly,” she admits – into the type of adult she wanted to be, she would have to leave her family home. Earlier this year she moved to the west of Ireland and is now living with a friend. “I really didn’t want to leave Dublin, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford to move back. But I want to get better, and you can’t grow or heal in a place where everyone is deeply invested in you staying the same.”

In discussions with my therapist, we definitely agree that I am now depressed

—  Hugo

Feeling similarly stunted living in the family home, Evie has decided to leave Ireland completely at the end of the year to live in Asia. The choice between living with her parents or to rent and constantly struggle financially leaves no room for the type of freedom and stability she feels she needs. “It makes me feel very stuck. I’m really trying to progress into adulthood and it’s a wall I just can’t get over. That’s a big part of why I’m leaving.”

Hugo describes his younger self as an idealist. After the financial crash of 2008, when lots of his friends were emigrating, he was involved in lots of activism groups and communities that were trying to make Ireland better for the young people who stayed. His desire to solve social problems also led him to a career in planning. But despite his deep love of Ireland and desire to contribute to it, he feels his sense of hope, idealism and love for his country draining from him.

“In discussions with my therapist, we definitely agree that I am now depressed,” he says candidly. “Before, it was a frustration with how things were in life, or I felt aimless or frustrated that some [aspirations] hadn’t worked yet. But now, it’s driven me to depression, and it’s gotten worse over time. Losing jobs, losing housing, it all mounts up, and it’s so much harder to see what the solution is.”

Thinking about the way his generation has been neglected by government, and decades of policies that have all but erased the possibility of a financially stable life, Hugo says he feels defeated by the “horror of it, the weight of it. It’s so much worse [than 2008], because of the cost of living and the inability to rent somewhere, it’s just like we’ve been sold out. There is no dream there. There is no such social contract. I don’t even think I’ll end up with a pension. It’s all gone.”

Future relationships and children

‘My parents, my aunts and uncles, they’re still like “Oh, no, sure, when you’re married and you have children and you’ve got a house of your own ...” And I’m just like, “Are you delusional?”'

After years of living at home and saving, Fiona and her boyfriend have finally bought a house together, but it needs renovation. She is relieved and excited at the prospect of them finally having their own space, but she’s also hyper aware of how the years spent living with their parents have impacted their independence and their relationship.

“The cost of living will be a very rude awakening,” she says. “I contribute at home, but suddenly being responsible for all the bills and household costs is going to be a shock.”

Fiona fears her boyfriend lacks awareness about the domestic labour needed to maintain a home, which has so far been done for him by his mother. She believes the current phenomenon of men living at home well into their 30s is going to heighten the gender gap that already exists in many couples, where women are still expected to take on most of the domestic work and childcare as well as the mental load of knowing what needs to be done.

“These are the kind of conversations I’ve been having with him, of gender roles and how I won’t be mothering or picking up after him. There’s a very infantilising Irish mammy and son thing that happens, but that won’t be mirrored in this relationship.”

A Eurostat study found 68 per cent of people in Ireland aged between 25 and 29 still live at home

Evie is grappling with the possibility that she may never have the type of home life she wanted. She always wanted children, but fears that that option might be slipping away. She doesn’t feel this is acknowledged by the other adults in her life.

“There’s a really interesting combination of feeling like there’s a wall that I just can’t get over into adulthood, of feeling stuck in time – while also having this real existential fear of a biological clock,” says Evie. “People like my parents, my aunts and uncles, they’re still like ‘Oh, no, sure, when you’re married and you have children and you’ve got a house of your own ...’ And I’m just like, ‘Are you delusional?’”

There is anger and frustration and resentment in her voice.

“I’m 32, I’m single, and I live at home. I’ve shag-all money in the bank. Do you all think I’m going to meet some white knight who is going to marry me and take me away to his beautiful house in the country? How exactly am I meant to get this marriage and life and children you’re assuming is coming? Our parents’ generation just haven’t come to terms with the fact that when they were at our stage, they had good jobs, could buy a house with a reasonable mortgage, they could have the kids, bring them on holidays – it was all just a given.

“We talk about the cost-of-living crisis and the housing crisis, but they haven’t grasped just how different it is, how our psychology and mindset is just completely different, because it’s not a given for us. It doesn’t even seem possible. I’m frustrated with the country, the Government, but people, too. I just want people to acknowledge it – to acknowledge the little things that all affect your sense of self-worth and self-confidence. It’s the dating, the sex, the relationships, the friendships, the constant money stress, the ability to maintain a positive relationship with your parents. I’ve lost a lot of myself.”

Some names have been changed.

Next Saturday, Roe McDermott speaks to parents with adult children still living at home about their experiences.

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly column in the Magazine answering readers' queries about sex and relationships