Various explanations for this slow start have been offered, some cultural and others economic: student debt, expensive housing, prolonged adolescence, etc. My story bears some resemblance to the typical narrative, so I’d like to share it.
Sterling Higa sometimes feel apprehensive talking about living with his mother. But in high-priced Hawaii, most people understand.
Courtesy of Sterling Higa
Moving In With Mom
I returned to Hawaii from graduate school in the summer of 2015, and moved back in with my mother. That fall, I started teaching at a charter middle school and began doctoral studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa.
Four years later, I’m writing my dissertation. My mother and I have moved once in that time, from Moiliili to Nuuanu.
Because we both work downtown, we share the rent on a two-bedroom apartment a few blocks from the central business district. A luxury condo it is not, but it is a steppingstone to a brighter future for both of us.
Splitting an apartment allows mom to save more for retirement. And because of the relatively inexpensive living arrangement, I’ll graduate debt-free. Of course, a better future comes at a cost. I’ve postponed having my own place, a car and other amenities.
Sometimes, I feel apprehension when sharing that I live at home, but most people familiar with Hawaii understand. With high housing costs, few people my age can afford to live alone, without family support or roommates. Throw a rock in Honolulu, and you’ll hit a millennial stuck at home.
In many ways, I’m lucky. I feel fortunate that my arrangement is voluntary. For many locals, the decision to stay at home is compelled by rigid cultural norms, family health issues or a lack of opportunity. With high housing costs and mounting student debt, many millennials are postponing domestic independence, and they’re also postponing marriage.
Many of my peers approach dating with the romance of a software engineer. They prefer efficiency and convenience over all else.
They swipe right on dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, exchange a few messages with matches, and maybe meet for a date. If the date goes well, there might be another, but many relationships end after a single encounter. Some relationships are exclusively sexual, others aim for a more holistic romance.
Since high school, I’ve had relationships ranging from casual flings to serious relationships. I’ve dated in my zip code and also been separated from partners by thousands of miles. I’ve experienced the one-night stand and the three-year itch.
But, with the passing of my 10-year reunion, my tax filing status is still single.
Marriage hasn’t lost its charm, but it is no longer an immediate need. Among my educated peers, marriage is something to be postponed until a career has been established. It can wait until student loans are paid down.
I share these concerns, as I finish a terminal degree and continue to progress in my career. I’m in no hurry to marry and start a family, in part because I’m not sure I can afford to do so in the city that raised me.
On a lecturer’s salary, owning a home will require a personal miracle or a market crash. But in a few years, as a professor, perhaps I’ll be ready.
In matters of financial independence and domestic bliss, I repeat the mantra of my generation: “Maybe, hopefully later.”
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Sterling was raised in Nuuanu. He graduated from Roosevelt High School and later earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. Sterling now works as a debate coach and lecturer at Hawaii Pacific University. By candlelight, he is finishing his Ph.D. in education at the University of Hawaii Manoa. The author's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Civil Beat.