Hello everyone! How are you? ICYMI, I wrote a non-spoilery (since I haven’t even watched the episode yet) piece about Doctor Who and friendship that’s up at Indiewire. Special thanks to TV editor Liz Shannon Miller, who should probably edit every single thing I write, and who constantly turns me onto cool things to watch and like. In other good news, the short film Meet In A Public Place has just been accepted into the Oakland Underground Film Festival. Oakland! I won’t make it out there for the fest, but let us hope that it is merely the first stage in world domination and travel.
And now, a question.
I have an awesome boyfriend. We’ve been together for five years now. Next year both of us will have finished our educations and will be taking the Big Step into the World of the Working.
He still lives with his (equally awesome) mother, while I live full time on a boarding room. I will lose my room and therefore home once I graduate. We’ve agreed that we’d like to start living together officially once that happens. We’ve been living together half and half for the past three years: either he stays at my place or I stay at his, we alternate.
I’d love to rent an apartment together during our first years, while saving up for a proper home. He however thinks rent is a waste of money and wants me to move in with him and his mother until we can afford to buy our own place. His mother agrees with him.
I want to move in with him in our own place, not with him and his mother in their parental home. I get along well with his mother, that’s not the problem. I’m used to living independent and don’t want to go back to being mothered in a place I have no say about whatsoever. Living at his place feels like staying at a hotel instead of being home. Moving in with them would also mean that I would be dependent on either them having time to drive me to places or on the terrible local bus connection, since I’m not legally allowed to drive due to medical issues.
I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say I want to be able to go to job interviews on my own, that I want some say in what happens to the space I live in or even that I want a say in minor things like what I eat or where my stuff is.
My boyfriend, who has never lived on his own before, does not understand this. How can I make him understand?
A frustrated student
Dear Frustrated Student:
For you, your boyfriend, and people interested in probing the logical case for renting vs. buying and your boyfriend’s blanket assertion that “renting is a waste of money,” let me direct you to this video series at Khan Academy that explores the question in an entertaining way. The point I want to make is: Home ownership can be very rewarding and a good financial decision, but it’s far from a given that buying a house is a great investment for everyone, a lot of the logic surrounding question is outdated and downright negated by the events of the last decade, it’s highly subjective and situation-dependent, and even people who have the means to make this a real choice should go through a complex analysis before making a decision to do so.
Your boyfriend doubtless has his reasons for thinking as he does, and perhaps he has a sweet financial analysis spreadsheet somewhere, but he hasn’t thrown down some kind of trump card here. There are things that are more valuable to you than money, like, say, living in a place where you have maximum mobility and independence. And there are other values at play on his part, I daresay, like, not wanting to move out of his mom’s place yet. I don’t want to speculate too far, but reading the subtext it sounds like his mom might not want him to move out now (possibly ever), and he knows this. Saving up to buy a place could give him a reason to stay, for now, and the Big Adult Step of Buying A House could give him a less negotiable/more culturally approved reason to leave when the time comes. Feeling nervous about the future, wanting the security of home, wanting to stay close to his mom are understandable, human reasons–There don’t have to be any bad guys here!!!!–but this is not strictly a money conversation. It never was, it never will be.
What you have right now is a test of how you discuss and make decisions in the face of competing values, and the stakes are high financially and emotionally. You have to be able figure this stuff out and be on the same team when you make decisions like this if you’re going to have a good life together. Love alone does not solve this stuff. You have to actively solve it and drill down to what’s important.
Some possible scenarios:
- You and your boyfriend rent an apartment together, somewhere that is convenient and easy for you to get around but also reasonably close to his mom so that he can see her often. Attendant questions: What does this do to your planned schedule for buying a place of your own? Is it financially feasible in the short-term? Does this choice involve a lot of blowback from your boyfriend’s mom?
- You move to your boyfriend’s city but not in with him and his mother. You get your own place or live with roommates in a neighborhood that is convenient to public transit or conducive to you walking to work, and you continue on as you have been. Attendant questions: What is the time frame for you getting a place, either bought or rented together? Is this financially feasible and possible for you?
- You move in with him and his mom and save up a) until you both have jobs and can afford an apartment of your own (months?) or b) until you’ve saved enough for a house (years?). Attendant questions: Does your boyfriend agree to drive you around whenever and wherever you need to go, every single time you need to go there, without complaint? Can the money you save on housing be put toward using a car service (taxis, Uber/Lyft, if that stuff is even available there) so that you can be mobile without depending on them for rides? Under what circumstances can you pull the ripcord if you are not happy? What’s the planned end-date for this arrangement? How will you, he, and his mom negotiate living in a shared space when you are no longer a guest but a tenant? For instance, is there a space in the house that you can have for your own, to decorate as you like? Can you redecorate his/your shared room as a way to claim it? How will meals and household chores be apportioned and shared?
You’ve got to be able to talk through all of this with your boyfriend. You’ve got to be able to make really boring spreadsheets together and work out the actual money involved. If you know that you straight-up do not ever want to live with his mom (and I think you do know this), you need to be able to say that to him, like “Hey, I look at living with your mom as a generous safety net, like, if we don’t get jobs right away and really need to save money to even get a rented place of our own. I rank our options like this: Best option, we rent our own (conveniently located) place and save up to buy one eventually. An ok option: We live with your mom for 3-6 months, max, and save up for our own (rented) place and then save up to buy one eventually. But within a year after we leave school, I want my/our own place, and I want to live where I can easily get where I need to go without being dependent on you, even if it means that we rent for a while. I don’t agree that renting is wasted money, if it gives me what I need to be happy in the day-to-day.” And then ask him what he envisions. If this is about more than money for your boyfriend, he needs to tell you. If it’s 100% about money for him, and he thinks that’s the most logical position, then he needs to know that money saved at the expense of your happiness and independence isn’t actually all that saved. I think you should be very wary of “thrift” that comes at great inconvenience and unhappiness to you. It’s okay if your hierarchy for making a decision is A Place Where I Can Get Around > Together, With You! > Eventual Home Ownership, and someone you want to build a life with needs to empathize with that even if he doesn’t 100% relate or understand.
Also important, when contemplating a future with this guy: His awesome mom can offer, but she is a non-voting member of this team. If she wants to support you and her son in your relationship, I think it’s great for her to say “I’d love for you to stay with me, we’ll work it out, including rides, including whatever you need to feel at home” but really NOT great to pressure you or him about that decision. Do you feel like you can talk to her about it? Like, “Thanks for the generous offer, and I will take you up on it if it becomes necessary, but my honest hope is to not have to if he and I can both get good jobs?” or “The two things that really worry me is that I will be come isolated or massively inconvenience you, transport-wise, and that I am feeling really hungry right now to put my own stamp on a place rather than be a guest in someone else’s house. What do you think?” And whatever you decide, your boyfriend has to be a team with you. A dude who prioritizes his mom’s happiness, convenience, and well-being over yours is not the dude to buy real estate with.
You’ve got some time before you have to figure it ALL out, this is a process. Maybe schedule regular – monthly? – talks about money, where you will live, etc. so you can check in with each other and keep the conversation going. And make sure you both are putting as much energy as you can into visiting your school’s career office, applying for jobs, and otherwise making it so that you will have the most possible choices open to you.
Finally, hello nice readers! It’s still technically summer, so while I was late out of the blocks this year, this is the week where I gently shake the tip jar in your general direction for the summer pledge drive. There is never any obligation, but if you like what we do here, support from readers who have a few $ to spare is much appreciated and makes my ability to prioritize writing and moderating the site much easier.