Thursday, March 25, 2010

Love Thy Roommate

It’s one thing to have good friends, which I consistently have had in life. It’s quite another thing to have good roommates, which I consistently and often hilariously have not. I was always convinced I’d never want to live alone, but 4 years and about 10 disastrous roommate situations later I had changed my tune.

I lived alone in Philadelphia for 2 years; I subletted alone in Seattle a few months at a time; and then I lived alone in Chile and Argentina for 10 months. When I got back to Seattle last winter the rental market was obscene and I was suffering from acute loneliness. The opportunity to live with one of the very few successful roommates I had ever had presented itself and I jumped on it.

The trick, I’ve decided, is to start as roommates and become friends from there, not the other way around. I have two examples that this is the best method.

Example 1

In spring of 2005, K responded to an ad for a short-term room I had available in my Madrona rental. She came over and asked the second roommate if the house was always this clean. We were in the kitchen and I was cooking. The roommate replied, totally honestly, “Actually, it’s usually cleaner.”

K moved in the next day and although we only had about 2 months together, it was enough to cement a friendship and for us both to know that we could live together in harmony again even under vastly different circumstances: this time with her partner, her pregnancy, and eventually their baby.

It was so successful that I’m going to join them again when I get back to Seattle, this time in their beautiful, inspiring, newly-remodeled house in what I like to call the “guest suite” as we finish the ground-floor apartment which I plan on staking a semi-permanent claim to.

Example 2

I had to switch housing horses midway through my stay in Buenos Aires and when this random girl I had never met but had been exchanging blog comments with told me she had a spare room, I met her that day. Two weeks later I moved in and now, with just a few days left, I can honestly say that of everything in Argentina, I am most sad about leaving her and the friendship we have forged as roommates.

We glided through the obligatory series of awkward, tense moments in record time. We talked about things that bothered us. We adopted a kitten together after a month! That’s a big step that has ruined many a previously-strong relationship. How much do we feed him, and what brand and type of food? How do we discipline him? Should we get the vaccine shots before or after castration? Et cetera. The possibilities for arguments are endless. We discussed, we occasionally disagreed, but I can’t remember once actually fighting about anything.

We’ve hosted a variety of gatherings and guests, thrown two full-blown, successful parties, and encountered a smattering of otherwise stress-inducing situations without so much as flinching. We borrow each other’s clothes and makeup. I am wearing her sweatpants right now since mine are with my friendly neighborhood laundress. We eat each other’s food without any quibbling and reached an easy agreement to share certain items while leaving others alone, prepare shared meals which mostly include pasta and giant salads – no tomatoes in hers, no cheese in mine.

I have tried not to dwell too much on the complete harmony we have somehow established for fear of disturbing the natural order of things, but as someone who has lived with the worst of them and who has been considered the worst of them, I have never taken it for granted. Confidential to Amy: every shooting star I see will remind me of you. And Ranch dressing.

Exception to the rule

I would be remiss not to mention my longest-running roommate ever, Justin, as an admirable exception to the “don’t live with friends” rule. Justin and I could not be more different yet we lived together for 3 years and were good friends before, during, and after. He was eternally baffled by me but never stopped trying to keep the peace and make me happy, even working within the tight confines of the color-coded ‘chore spreadsheet’ I created for the four of us and posted on the fridge on a bi-monthly basis. (No, seriously. I did that. At age 20. So next time one of you tells me to chill out and I reply that I am much more chill now, there’s some proof for you.)

The countdown has begun

I leave Tuesday morning and have been packing a lot of stuff into the last few weeks, with tons more to come in my remaining 5 days. The next post will be all about what I’ve done with myself as I prepare to leave Argentina (with pictures, I promise).


Desomniac said...

There better be pictures! God help you if there are no pictures!!!! j/k As a one of the former roommates I can totally attest to the fact that you've chilled out over the years. :)

Momma Archer said...

I think I qualify as your longest running roommate:)

Pamela said...

LOL. I recently had a roommate discussion with Lisa Frumkes, explaining that I have never had a roommate that I didn't pull all the weight for or over compromise to remain living with. In the past, I've written a check for my portion of the remaining lease and moved out in the middle of the day on one (leaving her soiled kitty litter trash that she consistently left inside our apartment at the door near my room "forgetting to take to the dumpster" right square in the middle of her bed on my way out that final day!) Others I have avoided until the lease ended. Reality: the roommates that are less concerned with cleanliness or type B almost never complain when they come home to a clean place that smells great, with a nice home cooked meal on the stove. It is only those of us that are OCD, with a penchant for all things clean and yes Type A's, that typically take issue with arriving home to the opposite. I have recently moved back in with my closest friend, who is at least grateful for my cleanliness but would never adhere to any chore list (it'd probably really heat her up for me to even suggest it.)My first day there, I wiped out the entire fridge, swept, mopped, tossed out all of the outdated food in the pantry and bleached the bathroom while she read peacefully on the sofa. This is as close to bliss as I have ever come, and I'll take it over the crazy-making heartaches of roommates past.

I love your summary of potentially friction causing situations that didn't and your highlights of successful roomies: hope springs eternal.

I cannot wait to meet you in the flesh, Archer of the Color Coded Chore List!