I don’t know how many people out there would say this, but I love having a roommate. I’ve had thirteen so far, since my freshman year of college, and I don’t intend on stopping until I shack up or get married and find myself with a new kind of roommate.
I’m not really sure why I prefer to share my home with friends and strangers. I think of myself as a fairly independent person, comfortable with being alone, as equally introverted as I am extroverted. Of course, there is the all-important fact that until now, I was either not allowed or I could not afford to live on my own (at least not in the cities or neighborhoods where I would want to live). There’s also the fact that I work from home, and if I didn’t have a roommate keeping tabs on me, it’s quite possible I would stay in one set of pajamas for an entire week straight, and that’s just not right.
As a writer, I’m in my head all day, and sometimes my current roommate (bless her) is the only one who keeps me from talking to the furniture. When she comes home from a long day at the office, where no doubt she’s had to deal with fifteen different screaming clients, an annoying cubemate who uses her office phone as her personal party line, and a boss who wants to talk about her latest performance report, I have a tendency to pounce on the poor thing, my mouth running a million miles a minute like a prisoner who’s just been let out of solitary.
My love for roommates could also be due to the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to have a long string of awesome ones I genuinely liked as people. Karmically speaking, I’m probably due for a kleptomaniac-sociopath with an unannounced live-in boyfriend, because the only complaints I could seriously muster against the people I’ve shared a room, house, or apartment with would be humorous or annoying at most: there were several with an almost clinical aversion to doing dishes. There was one with dog farts, one with rotten-fruit farts, one who had trouble sleeping, and one who had trouble cleaning. There was also one who gave our old television to her boyfriend without asking. And, of course, the freshman year roommate whose friend left a message on our shared (guess she didn’t know) voicemail calling me “loco.”
You know, the usual objections. But they’re quibbling ones at that and more than normal in any instance where two or more personalities share a living space.
In the course of researching my latest book, a humorous how-to take on living with roommates (Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks, out in fall of 2008), I read and heard roommate stories that were cringe-worthy, shocking, and some even downright disturbing. The roommate who kept a Burmese python in a box in his room and rats frozen in the basement to feed it. The guy who had sex with one roommate’s cousin on another roommate’s bed and then tried to clean up the aftermath with a vacuum cleaner. The girl who broke into her own house and then let her roommate call the cops and landlord before finally ’fessing up for fear the blood samples taken would point to her. The guy who literally, I kid you not, saw his roommate on America’s Most Wanted. Um, check please. No matter what the cost financially or emotionally, I think I’d be flying solo after those experiences.
The point is, I realize I’m lucky. Still, I think cohabitation gets a bad rap. Despite the headaches and conflicts that can arise when sharing close quarters, as I say in the intro to my book, my roommates have been my “confidantes, sounding boards, babysitters, maids, mothers, and matchmakers.” I still keep in touch with almost all of them, and a few have become dear close friends. All of them have been different, both from each other and from me, and through living with them, I came to discover and appreciate them in ways people who haven’t shared a roof with them maybe never will.
I’m reaching a point in life where a lot of my friends are moving into their own places, buying houses or condos with rooms they intend to fill with guests, not roommates. I can appreciate the draw of this—all that closet space, the ability to walk around naked and play loud music at any hour—but sometimes I want to ask, “Who will spend a lazy, rainy Sunday watching a CSI marathon with you? Who will get you drunk on a weeknight when your boyfriend has just dumped you and everyone else says they have to work the next day? Who will let you borrow a dress when you realize you forgot to pick up the one you were going to wear from the cleaners? Who will leave you a note on the kitchen counter to tell you to have a good weekend when they go out of town?”
I love living with roommates because I never have to worry about these questions, and because when my solo-dwelling friends go home to an empty house with plenty of space and privacy, I get to go home to a good friend.