I love weddings. I love getting dressed up and watching friends celebrate their happily-ever-after, catching up with people I haven’t seen in years and drunkenly eating cake and cheese at midnight. Love it. But as I’ve gotten older, what was once an exercise in tequila tolerance and dance-floor stamina has given way to a new kind of challenge: adulthood one-upmanship.
Nobody’s walking around shouting about their achievements or besmirching those of others, of course (because that makes you a jerk), but during the reception’s inevitable cavalcade of interactions, the same things come up: careers, marriage, kids. "Are you going for a promotion?" "When are you two tying the knot then?" "Can we expect the pitter-patter of tiny feet soon?" Loaded questions, all of them, and as I discovered at a pal’s recent nuptials, a new contender has entered the ring: "Have you bought?"
"Bought what?" I thought, the first out of the four times I was asked. And then my brain kicked into gear. “Oh! You mean a house! Haha, hell no.” And then my conversational partner smiled politely and muttered something about the economy before heading to the bar, seemingly embarrassed that he’d put me in the position of admitting my financial shortcomings.
But why? It’s no secret that it’s harder than ever to get on the property ladder – the average deposit now stands at £33,000 and that’s not the sort of cash most people have lying around. You can’t so much as skim the headlines without seeing yet another depressing piece of research telling us that many millennials won’t ever be able to afford to own a home by themselves – and god help you if you’re in London, where the situation is, frankly, dire.
And yet as a nation we’re absolutely fixated on the idea of property ownership. On the continent, renting is the norm and, once upon a time – before Thatcher’s Britain, before the post-war flurry of rebuilding and development – it was the norm here, too (in 1918, 77% of UK families rented their homes). But now it seems we’re all expected to make the long pilgrimage towards owning a house – the holy grail of today's economic climate – whatever the cost.
I’ve seen friends mortgage themselves to the hilt to buy dilapidated sheds, marriages nearly destroyed by the stress involved in the knackering climb onto that first rung, and families face emotional and financial chaos as they try to get their fully-grown offspring into a nest of their own. Meanwhile, nights out, holidays, experiences – living – is put on the back burner for months and years in a bid to grow modest monthly savings into a monster deposit. And seldom does signing on the dotted line bring relief. Of my friends that do own, few actually love their homes – some don’t even like their homes – but it’s a hard-won first step so "it’ll do".
I get it. I’ve lived in enough rented crapshacks and forked out enough money on mysterious letting agency fees to understand the appeal of a pile of bricks and mortar that is truly yours. I’d like, one day, to experience the giddy thrill of waking up in a bedroom that isn’t painted magnolia. But the reality is, that probably won’t be the case until my parents pass away (so obviously I’m not in any rush for that), or I move into a place similar to my post-uni digs where everything is inexplicably painted a blinding shade of aquamarine.
And I’ve made peace with this, because as much as I begrudge lining my landlord’s pockets with my hard-earned cash, the alternative – the scrimping, the saving, the arguments with friends and family, the sleepless nights and unending paperwork all in aid of a place "that’ll do" – holds no appeal for me.
I like knowing that I could up sticks at any point – for work, for love, for adventure – without a monumental bureaucratic headache. I like knowing that when the washing machine breaks down or the guttering goes, there’s someone who’ll sort it out for me, and that while my rent might go up, I never have to worry about fluctuating markets or the risk of losing thousands of pounds in investment. I like the fact that I can live where I want, not just where I can afford, and I like that I’m doing it on my own two feet, instead of relying on help from Mum and Dad. In a world where the simple business of existing is fraught with challenges, I like being able to choose.
And I’m not alone. Tamara Leckworth is 52 years old. She owns a successful business, has two grown-up children and has been renting her entire adult life. “It makes me really sad to see the pressure younger people are under to get on the housing ladder,” she tells me. “My eldest is 29 and feels like a failure because she’s unable to buy. But why, I ask her? I’ve always rented. I probably could have bought if I wanted to, but I hated the idea of being tied down, or having to stay in an unhappy relationship or career because of financial commitments. Renters get a raw deal, sure, but the payoff is major freedom.”
Indeed, we are a generation seeking freedom. We’ve replaced stuffy offices with remote working. We take cheap and cheerful mini-breaks throughout the year instead of committing to an annual fortnight in the sun. We don’t own cars, we order rides, and the weekly "big shop" is a thing of the past. We’ve been shafted by politicians and the economy in many restricting ways, so we take choice and convenience where we can. Renting is no different and there’s no shame in being part of – and even revelling – in that.