Why fleeing the nest is a Hollywood fantasy

It’s a way of life propounded by the dream factory



by

Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 12:01 AM

A friend of mine, who I reconnected with on Facebook, decades after we last met as classmates at a Calcutta school, was telling me on, on WhatsApp, and in response to a Facebook post where she mentioned that her daughter has purchased a small apartment at the age of 23 on mortgage, that said daughter has “fled the nest” long back. They live in the US, my friend (and her husband) somewhere in the north of the East Coast, the daughter somewhere in the south of the East Coast. They hardly see each other as the distance separating them is a really long one to kill (“Plus, whenever she manages to get leave from work, she obviously travels and sees places she’s never been to”). She visits on Thanksgiving and, at times, on Christmas. That’s been the arrangement for the past five years — ever since the time she joined university in a different state.

I was very impressed with my friend being so matter-of-fact about the matter. She was, by all accounts, brought up on South Asian values — which means it would have been unthinkable for her to imagine she’d be “on her own, on her own terms” at the age of 18. “But it’s a way of life in the US, one that I’ve grown to appreciate greatly over the years,” she said.

It’s also a way of life propounded by the dream factory. Hollywood. Every single movie (or TV show) perpetuates the legend of Thanksgiving and anniversaries or funereal get-togethers where everyone fetches up from all over and congregates at the “base camp”, aka, the ‘house’ where parents/single parents/step-parents live in. American romcoms — especially the Christmas-themed ones — will have a mandatory sequence wherein leading man and lady love, or leading lady and knight in shining (or blighted, as the case may be) armour visit the familial homestead to seek endorsement from a set of people they logistically (and lodging-wise) have nothing to do with (there’s a distant thrice-removed uncle or aunt thrown in at times who sign up for coupling validations enthusiastically).

It’s all aimed to make audiences feel more inclusive, someone who took great pride in being an honorary film critic had once told me: the subtext is that just because your kids will never live with you doesn’t mean they will not keep you in the loop about who they are in love with and would like to marry.

Now, here’s what. This week, I was having dinner with a couple of friends; one of them, while dissecting a tofu steak with a plastic knife (Covid cutlery) with one hand, and scrolling his phone with the other, suddenly stopped both dissection and scrolling and shouted out aloud: “Can you believe this? Almost 50 per cent of American young adults [18 to 29 age bracket] are living with their parents?”

The notification came on his Twitter or Instagram or some other feed, extrapolated from a (fairly recent) survey done by Pew Research Center (I love the kind of surveys they do), and it immediately set off an animated discussion on the subject: Why should “adults” live off their parents? There was also a certain amount of sociological angst that came home (literally) to roost: “I’m never going to live with my husband’s/wife’s family — in fact, I’d like to live as far away from them as possible… what’s wrong with these Americans now?”

As the argument raged on, I quickly did some research on the Google app on my phone (even as I write this, BBC reports that we spend more than one-third of our waking hours on mobile apps).

Here are two nuggets that I uncovered — and shared around the dinner table:

• Hollywood is way off the mark, more fanciful than Balaji Telefilms — because even in the 1990s, close to 40 per cent ‘young adults’ were living with mommy and daddy. (I don’t know why my friend was going on and on about how turning 18 is when ‘kids’ dash out of the front door — to never be home again.)

• The Pew Research Center has also zeroed in on the fact that roughly four-in-ten adults in the US, aged 25 to 54, are unpartnered — “that is, neither married nor living with a partner”. More tellingly, it is estimated that ‘single’ people in the US will soon overtake partnered ones (and, mind you, this is data derived from Census reports, not a 2,000-odd database).

“There,” I pronounced, triumphantly. “The reason why the numbers are going up is because the growing catchment of unfettered folks are staying at home — no spouse to nag them about not getting along with in-laws.”

sushmita@khaleejtimes.com


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