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Why I Decided to Live With Roomates at Age 37: How Living With Others Is Good for My Wallet, Health and Happiness

Sharing resources and respecting individual needs is the new paradigm — the true sign of being a real grown-up.

Last December, I separated from my husband. We’d been married for two years and had lived together for almost four years. I remember ruefully telling a friend, as I flailed through the rough seas of transition, “I can’t imagine having roommates again, after all this time and not at my age.”

In hindsight, the statement seems strange, as though someone that I didn’t know had said it. But at the time, it made sense. I’d lived with romantic partner for years, and my roommate experience before that had been rocky and had ended badly. I’d grown to love the easy companionship of living with my partner, the way that routine seemed easier to come by, and how it felt like I could just be myself in our shared domestic space. Having roommates seemed like something people do in their twenties. As someone with a firm belief in the power of community, this bourgeois attitude now surprises me. But something was ingrained. A sneaking voice whispered, “You’re 37 years old. You are a professional woman. If you are not married with kids, then you should live by yourself. Get it together.”

And so I set out to find a place of my own, and was stoked when a studio opened up in my first-choice neighborhood. It was a converted garage, with a box-sized bathroom and a shower that was actually in the doll-sized kitchen, next to the mini-stove and refrigerator. This was very European, I told myself. The studio was off the street and private, surrounded a sweet garden, right off the bike path, near downtown and biking distance from my work. It seemed perfect and so I proceeded to start my new life, living alone.

At first, I reveled in the independence. I loved to cook the foods that I liked in the kitchen, to sing out loud, and to do things on my own time. But after a few months, a sense of isolation began to take its toll. I hated coming home to a dark, silent house after a night out with friends. My neighbors were rarely home and I often felt nervous making my way into the badly lit backyard, waiting for the shadows to jump out and attack. I have a dog, and the guilt set in about the long hours he spent alone in the studio while I went to work. The breaking point came when I spent an entire weekend alone, suffering through a bad cold and unable and unwilling to reach out to anyone. The phrase “I could disappear, and no one would know,” ran through my head.

A couple of weeks later, I went out for beers with an old friend from graduate school. She mentioned that she was getting a house with two other people—a couple. I asked her for more information, and when she told me their plans for the house—gardening, home-brewing, cooking together, shared grocery shopping trips—I grew increasingly excited. They were looking for a fourth roommate and by the end of the night, I was in. My lease at the studio was up in a couple of months, I was still separated from my husband, and I was ready to start sharing resources again, and maybe conquer my loneliness.

Across America, the decision to take on roommates beyond the twenties is becoming more the norm as the economy flails and society moves steadily towards increased resource-sharing. According to the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor, from 2009-2010 the number of thirty-somethings living with non-family roommates rose from 10.6 million to 12 million, an increase of 13 percent. And the numbers only continue to rise as adults take on roommates to help pay the rent on exorbitant mortgages.

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