Take Craig*, 30, who lives in New York City but lived with his parents after college:
"I met a girl, then a college senior, right before I began working in late December. After a few good dates, we decided that slobbering and dry-humping each other in bar booths and in train stations wasn't quite doing the trick, so we decided to go back to my parents' house. To my parents' house, that is, with my parents and my twin bed. Without getting into too much terrible detail, we were able to have a nice time, but never did — this happened on two to three nights — manage to have normal-person sex. This is mostly because my bedroom, upstairs, is really creaky and any sudden, sustained or — gulp — rhythmic movements would've caused too much noise and broken the peace of the house."
The gory details of each story might vary, but navigating dating and sex in the shadow of your parents is an increasingly common challenge for millennials. Yet its ubiquity hasn't made the experience any easier — nor has it made "I live with my parents" any less of a dating stigma.
A dating red flag: According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 over 36% of Americans ages 18-31 were living with their parents — that's over 21 million people, enough to earn us the title of the "boomerang generation."
It's a temporary reality for most, one that reflects less on the person than on external factors: a lagging economy, mounting student debt, a professional path paved with unpaid internships. But in spite of these widely known realities, "living with your parents" still conjures up images of lazy slackers, marinating in their parents' basements in a directionless malaise.
In short, they defy the modern standards of success — an impressive job, cash to spend and a place of your own — that have only become more important in dating in recent years. Match.com's Singles In America 2015 survey found that 55% of women aren't willing to support someone financially, and 44% of men "seek an independent, career-driven woman."
Alex, from New York, experienced these judgments firsthand. "When I was living at home, I did feel like I was being judged a lot," he told Mic. "As a single man living in the city, I was expected to have my all my shit together at all times, which a nice aspiration in theory but much harder to achieve as a recent college graduate with student loans."
Awkward obstacles: Try as one might to gloss over the red flag, living at home presents inescapable obstacles, the foremost being sex.
"I felt very limited in what I could say or do with girls I was interested in. Because I was embarrassed of living with my mom, I used to tell everyone that I was crashing on a friend's couch on the Upper West Side," Alex said.
Even if you can be upfront, the fear of being caught is real. "One night, we were in the basement, just like old times, only now we're adults and we don't just make out anymore. It was late, and I assumed my parents would be asleep," a 26-year-old named Tina, from Washington D.C., told Cosmopolitan. "Next thing I knew, my old-fashioned, Italian-Catholic dad comes downstairs and witnesses Ken and me in full-blown missionary-style action. He immediately ran upstairs to my mom, and he couldn't look at me for a long time after that."
Avoiding this fate, or avoiding a sexless situation like Craig's, can involve some crafty planning. "I have a squeaky twin-size bed, which happens to share a wall with my parents bedroom, so instead of having sex, my boyfriend and I invented a move called 'the swipe.' Basically, he swipes his penis against me, back and forth. There's no penetration, but it's better than nothing," Vicky, 24, from Chicago said to Cosmopolitan.
A call for empathy: Despite our knowledge of student debt and the "boomerang" trend, many still approach dating with the assumption that living at home is a personal flaw, treating a situation of circumstance as a matter of compatibility.
"I was on date that was going really well and at one point the girl asked me if I had any roommates. So since we were vibe-ing really well, I told her, 'Ya, my mom,'" said Alex. "She was instantly turned off and starting asking really concerning questions about why and how I got into this situation and if I was planning on moving out soon. I tried to turn things around and play it off as funny but didn't really work out. That was the last date we had together."
Still, young people may be more merciful judges than our parents or grandparents. It's judged more by "the older generations: 'When I was your age I was married, owned a house and was on kid No. 3.' Times have changed, and you make it work," Cate from Toronto told Mic.
But we know better, meaning we can all try to be a bit more forgiving and openminded.
"A good connection can overwhelm any concerns or awkwardness in the early stages of a relationship," said Craig. "I'm a bit older now, so I've gained a bit of wisdom: Specifically, always be honest about what's up, be upfront about what you think or want, and though this or that might not work out, you'll have 100% better chance of having a good time with someone who likes you."
* Some names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.