The Party’s Over

Twentysomethings who live with their parents love to complain about their lack of freedom—they can’t bring home dates or have sex in their rooms. But as more college graduates move back home, it is just as often the parents who resent having to sneak around. After eighteen-plus years of having to wait until the kids are asleep or away, these empty nesters can finally do it whenever, wherever, and as often as they please. But when the kids move back in, the second honeymoon is cut short, and the parents go back to their old, furtive ways, confined to nights and mornings, when many don’t have the energy. It seems the boomerangs have interrupted the boomers’ boom-boom.

Dan, 45, a Westchester environmental consultant with a daughter and a son, both in their early twenties, is married to his second wife, Julie, who also has two twentysomething kids. The couple was set up by their daughters when the girls were in high school and they raised their four children together. A year and a half ago, the last one finally left for college. “It was very peaceful,” says Dan. “We could have sex whenever we wanted. We didn’t have to worry who was coming home when. There was no MTV blaring and no arguing over kids. I’d have a fire going in the living room, and if we went to open a good bottle of wine, we knew it was going to be there.”

They did it in every room, even the den, which the kids had staked as their own. They played their own music—like mellow jazz instrumentals. They were especially grateful for these freedoms because it was a new experience for them. When they were courting, they never slept at each other’s homes when the kids were there. Instead, they went to hotels and then returned home to their respective families. “It almost felt like an illicit affair,” Dan recalls.

In May 2004, Dan’s stepdaughter Andrea, who had just graduated from college, moved back in with them—and has been treating the house like her own apartment. He was against it, but “Julie didn’t have a problem with it. She wanted to be a mother again. There’s a thing that happens with mothers and daughters when they get older: After going through the terrible teens, they start to bond again.

“Now we have to do it with the door closed or when she’s out with friends,” says Dan. “Even when she’s out, if I get an amorous feeling, I worry that she’s going to come home early. The freedom is gone, and so is the spontaneity.”

Dan and Julie’s relationship has become more emotionally strained, too, partly because they disagree about whether Andrea should be living there. “My philosophy is that when you’re an adult, you have to live in the adult world,” he says. “You have to scrape your knee. And I also want Julie to value the intimacy between us. But we fundamentally disagree.”

Gerry, 53, a receptionist, also had a brief period of decadence with her husband—for the one precious year that her daughter, 28, and son, 26, were out of the house. “We were more open and more free,” she says. “We could yell and scream during sex and walk around however we wanted.”

But then her son, Jake, moved back in a year ago to save money, and now she and her husband find themselves waiting anxiously until he goes out. “That’s usually not until 10:30 at night,” Gerry laments, “and by that time I’m pooped.”

Sometimes she wishes Jake would get his own romantic life, to help hers. “I find myself wanting him to have a girlfriend so he’d go out more, but I would never say it to him because I don’t want him to feel unwelcome. I figure he’s trying to save a little money, so I should let him. It’s the practical Jewish mother in me.”

The Party’s Over