Boundaries are your new best friend.
One of the best parts of living on your own is the freedom to make your own choices. You can come home whenever you want, you're responsible for buying your own food and cooking your own meals, and you can have a date over without having to discuss it with your parents first. On the other hand, if you’re in a relationship or actively dating while living at home with your parents, you might face some challenges. I'm not sure which is more intense: having to set boundaries with your parents about your dating life or having to set boundaries with your dates about your home life. But as long as you're communicating with everyone involved, you, your date or partner, and your parents can all coexist.
You might be unsure about how to set boundaries with your parents about your dating life, or conversely, how to set boundaries with your dates. Maybe the walls are paper thin in your childhood bedroom, and you’re wondering, “Where can me and my boyfriend go to be alone?” Whatever the case, know that you’re far from the first person to struggle with these questions.
To find out exactly how to navigate dating while living with your parents, Elite Daily chatted with a few experts, including some folks who’ve done it themselves. Here are five tips for successfully dating while living at home.
Once you’ve had these initial conversations, think about the boundaries you’d like to set with your parents and potential partners and make those clear from the get-go. “Boundaries are your best friend if you are living at home with your parents and you want to start dating,” says Alessandra Conti, celebrity matchmaker at Matchmakers In The City. Claire,* a 21-year-old who lives at home, agrees.
“As much as I love my parents, I don't want them meeting every single person I go on a date with — especially if they're a dud,” she says. “Plus, it adds some stress when a relationship is relatively new. I don't need my parents being judgmental or knowing too much. I think it's affected how I look at dating as well. It's nice to be asked to go do an activity outside or try a new restaurant, rather than inviting someone over for dinner in your home…” Let your parents know that you won’t be introducing them to a person you’re dating until you’ve been on four or five dates, for instance. And make it clear to your date that you won’t be inviting them back to your home for a while.
“If I do invite a date to my house, it's because I trust them more — after all, I'm letting them meet my parents — but I still would prefer to have more time to get to know someone beforehand,” Claire says. “My best advice is [to] take a fresh glance at how you view dating. You shouldn't always just invite people you barely know into your home. It's refreshing to be in a courting situation again, and also makes it easier to not fall so quickly. It can be helpful to separate your home and your dates.”
In other words, strive to keep your home life and dating life separate, at least in the early stages. “Keep the boundary there until you feel that it is time for your potential mate to meet your parents in a more official way, and then it will be easier to spend time at your parents’ home with your partner,” says Conti.
Another pro tip? Rather than sitting in your parents’ living room and watching a movie, strive to get out of the house as much as possible. “Be sure to plan dates that are outside of your parents’ home and be creative!” says Conti. “Picnics, arcades, roller-blading, and hiking are all fun and active dates that take you out into the world.” Use this as an excuse to try new restaurants, browse local bookshops, or hike nature trails. It’s a chance to get to know your date or partner a bit better while simultaneously becoming better acquainted with your city. Plus, it’s an easy way to ensure you’re getting alone time and privacy, at least in small doses.
“My girlfriend lives in New York and I live in Massachusetts,” says Andrew, age 22. “When she comes to visit me, we like to go out at night to dinner and then watch a movie at home in private. During the day, we usually like to go out and do something. Whether it's going for a hike or going to the mall, we like to get out of the house for a little bit. My family is pretty good with privacy, so when we want to be alone, there [are] usually no inconveniences. My family isn't that invested in trying to know every detail about our relationship, which is really nice. It's more of giving them a heads up about when she is arriving. My parents know we want to enjoy each other's company and they respect that. If my mom or dad ever need anything while we are in my room, they will either text me or knock on the door, but that doesn't really happen often.”
Now, even if your parents are the loveliest and most low-key people imaginable, introducing them to your SO is still a pretty big step. And just as you want your date to respect your boundaries, you have to respect theirs.
“While you are comfortable with your parents, a new potential match won't be, especially if it is early days in your relationship,” says Conti. If you’re craving a quiet night in with your new or potential partner, but it’s still early on, ask if they’d be all right spending the evening at their place, instead. In time, you can invite them over to yours as well, just give the relationship time to develop first. (And, in the interim, enjoy the change of scenery!)
“My tip for people in a similar situation is to balance out when you go to visit your significant other,” Andrew says. “Me and my girlfriend like to go back and forth every other week to each other's places, which gives us a change of scenery and things to do. She lives in her own apartment, which is nice when I go and visit, but it's also nice to have her interact with my family when she comes up.”
Once you’re in an established relationship and your partner feels comfortable around your parents, try to embrace that fact! Keep planning fun date activities and balance where you’re spending your time, but make an effort to get to know their family and give them the opportunity to get to know yours.
“I've been with my boyfriend since high school, so my parents met him very early on,” says Allison*, age 23. “For date night, going out is definitely important. Even if it's just going to grab a quick drink somewhere, having some alone time becomes critical for the relationship. That being said, we're both very family-oriented, so it's just as important that the significant other feels comfortable and fits in with the family. A weekday dinner or hangout becomes normal to spend with your family or his/hers... There's something really special about building bonds with your SO's family. It makes you feel closer to them and understand their context and upbringing in a totally different way.”
Keep in mind that as your relationship evolves, so will your boundaries. Continue to communicate with your family and your partner about what those boundaries look like, even as they fall away or transform.
“Boundaries are hard,” Allison continues. “Like, I want to spend time with his little brother but sometimes I want to spend time with [my boyfriend] alone. It's a compromise. Also, I find my family giving me advice or their opinion when unasked because they see something unfold in front of them. Sometimes I have to clarify that it's my relationship and my way of doing things.”
Her tips for finding privacy and drawing those lines in the sand? “Don't underestimate cars,” she says. “They're quiet, small havens. Stay considerate of those around you. Your family might not always want you and your SO cuddling on the couch while they're watching a movie. Ask if it’s OK if they come over. And give warnings when they do! Your boyfriend does not have to see your sister braless and in pajamas with a face mask on.”
*Name has been changed
Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist
Nina Rubin, life coach and psychotherapist
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