Dear Wendy: “My 31-Year-Old Boyfriend Still Lives At Home”

Wendy is on vacation, so we’ll be posting some of her more popular past Dear Wendy columns (that some of you may have missed!) to get you through the week.

My boyfriend is 31 and still lives at home. While this is not a dealbreaker at the moment, I worry that it will become one in the future. I know that he has moved out before, but I do not know why he moved back home. For a while, I believe it was because he was helping to take care of his sick grandmother. His grandmother passed away a year ago, so I don’t know what the reason is now. He has a steady, well-paying job and a life outside of home, so I know he can afford to move out of the house. In our near two years of dating, he expressed once that he needs to move out, but I have not heard about it since.

I worry that him staying at home is due to a deeper issue. Ever since his father deserted his family, he has taken on the “man of the house” role. While this role shows that he is loving, caring, responsible, and a “take charge” kind of guy, I feel as though he should detach himself from that role. His mother, aunt, 29-year-old brother, and brother’s girlfriend (who are all living at the house) all have jobs and are not sickly. They can take care of themselves. I love my boyfriend and I want a future with him, so I want to know why he hasn’t moved out yet or if he plans to soon. How do I discuss this with him without sounding like a judgmental, selfish girlfriend?— Home of My Own

There are some people who are so afraid of appearing judgmental that they excuse and overlook even the most insane situations and behavior. I happen to believe that being judgmental has gotten a bad rap; it isn’t always wrong, especially when it acts as a warning sign to you to beware. And if there’s anything for you to beware of right now, it’s that you’re dating a grown man who, for no apparent reason, is still living at home with Mama (and aunt, and brother, and brother’s girlfriend, and, until recently, Grandma, too!). Question: are they filming a reality show?

A serious talk with your boyfriend of two years is long, long overdue! For real, don’t think for one minute you’re being “selfish” here. You were owed an explanation for this odd behavior ages ago, and the fact that you haven’t pushed for one before now may speak to some deeper issues in you and your relationship. What other weird stuff are you willing to accept without questioning? I don’t mean to be insensitive to cultural differences; I know in other countries it’s totally normal for families to continue living together for several generations, but here in the States it’s simply not done unless there are financial or health reasons necessitating it, which you say don’t apply to your boyfriend.

If this is a case of your boyfriend wanting to remain close to his family and lending support to the household, he can still do that without living with them. If there’s a reason for this unconventional living arrangement that you aren’t aware of, it’s certainly time you’re let in on the secret. Even then, with all the other grown adults who live in that house, I’d think something else could be figured out so that your boyfriend can move out and begin living like an independent human being. If not for the sake of your relationship, then for his own mental well-being. If he refuses, I’d certainly think long and hard about continuing a relationship with a man who can’t cut the apron strings.

I am married and have three kids. My husband has been out of work for about 6 months (this time). He makes no effort to look for a job and he doesn’t do anything around the house to help out. Meanwhile, I work full-time, do all of the house work and help our oldest child with her homework every night. When I talk to him about finding a job or doing more work around the house his answer always is the same: “tomorrow I’ll do it.” To add to everything else, he has a very bad temper and spends more time yelling then talking. I’ve been thinking about leaving him for years, but I just can’t work up the nerve. I’m afraid that if I do, I will mess up my kids for the rest of their life, but I think I would be a much better parent to them if I was by myself. I’ve asked several people for advice and, of course, nobody wants to tell me what they really think I should do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. — Over It

If your husband is unemployed, shows no interest in looking for a new job and never helps out around the house, he’s either depressed or just plain lazy. Either way, before you decide to kick him out — and let’s be clear about this; if you’re paying the bills, doing all the house work and most of the parenting, he’s the one who should be leaving, not you — you both could benefit from couples therapy and he could certainly use individual therapy. Staying in an unhappy marriage with a man who shows little interest in being a father, let alone a good role model, and who has the potential to be abusive, isn’t doing your kids any favors. But neither would divorcing their father without first making a concerted effort to save the marriage or at least help him get the emotional guidance he needs. If he resists therapy, or if, after some real effort, you decide the marriage isn’t worth saving, there’s no shame in leaving a situation that’s unhealthy and unhappy for everyone involved. Make sure you seek good legal counsel so that both you and your children are protected. In the end, that’s the most important thing.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]