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Middle-Aged With Roommates

This living arrangement offers financial benefits with friendship


When I was getting my B.A., I lived in a house full of other theater arts department students. To me, living in a big house with a bunch of people was a rite of passage, something that everyone needed to do in order to learn how to live, and get along, with others.

And life in the drama house was definitely never boring. There were indoor water-balloon fights, games of Risk that lasted for days and epic arguments where, if we had taken a moment to think before we reacted, the atmosphere in the house would have been much more peaceful.

Sadly, there was never any discussion when things got tense; only screaming fights over mistakenly eaten food and snide remarks over other people’s grooming habits. These battles caused irreparable damage to friendships and resulted in roommates moving out of the house and each other’s lives. When you’re just starting out as adults in the world, you tend to act first, think later.

Now, many decades and several housing situations later, I’m once again living with roommates, but with a lot less drama. This time, it’s with my boyfriend Andy (who I’ve been with for over 15 years) and our friend Kurt. We’re all in our 50s with jobs and obligations, and the only dramatic one is Kurt, who is a professional actor.

We’re middle-aged with roommates.

Why Middle Age Roommates Are a Financial Win-Win

It may seem like a strange living arrangement, but we’re not alone. According to an article in The New York Times, because of exorbitant housing costs, more and more couples are living with roommates, even after they’ve tied the knot. So, it makes perfect financial sense for a couple like Andy and me to subsidize our housing expenses by living with a roommate, especially since we live in a very expensive city: Los Angeles.

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While some people may think Andy and I are “too old” for roommates, we don’t see it that way at all. The truth is, Andy and I simply don’t make enough money to easily cover our mortgage and all our expenses. Andy works in the tech industry and moves regularly from company to company. His most recent job only pays him in commissions, so when there are no sales, there also isn’t any pay. I work as a freelance writer and, while things are improving, I’m certainly not the main breadwinner.

A few months ago, when Andy was building up his client base, we didn’t know how we were going to pay our mortgage. We considered taking some drastic measures (such as having an everything-must-go garage sale) but then Kurt generously paid his rent several months in advance and saved the day — and our house.

The Perfect Solution

I met Kurt when we were in an improv troupe together. I had bought my first house from some money I inherited after my father died. I needed roommates to help cut the cost and Kurt needed a place to stay. Kurt and I have always been purely platonic and are more like siblings than anything else, so it seemed like the perfect solution to add another dimension to our friendship and become landlord and tenant.

Kurt made me promise that I’d never raise his rent and I’ve kept my word, though he’s getting a great deal. However, the truth is, he makes up the difference by being a great friend.

In an odd way, even though Kurt is around our age, he is like the grown-up son Andy and I never had; the one who moved back to live with his folks. If Andy and I ever break up, we joke that there’ll be a custody battle for Kurt.

A Collective More Than a Commune

In our no-drama house, we all get along well and share many of our meals together. Instead of keggers with people spilling out from the house and drinking in the street, we have the grown-up versions of those things: dinner parties, barbecues,and Oscar parties.

I cook during the week, Andy cooks on the weekend; Kurt is usually the dishwasher. Kurt and I trade off on cleaning the good bathroom (the one without the litter boxes), and I generally do the living room and dining room vacuuming.

We are a collective more than a commune, but it works for us. We may not have an endless future full of opportunity, but we have maturity and responsibility and we’ve learned the value of talking things out, rather than ending our relationship over a misunderstanding.

I sometimes wonder if our living arrangement makes it difficult for Andy and me to go to the next level of our relationship, keeping us locked in a time warp of youth. We’ve discussed getting married before, but then, like an undeclared major, we lose interest and talk about something else. Since it feels as if we’re in college, maybe we believe on some level that we have all the time in the world. However, we’re closer in age to retirement than worrying about internships.

Different Kind of Family

Andy’s mother and father live in Canada and my mother and family don’t celebrate holidays, so for Thanksgiving, it’s just Kurt, Andy and me. Sometimes, other holiday orphans join us. Like a college student, Kurt goes home during winter break and the house seems much emptier without him.

We may never pull an all-nighter, go to an early class hungover or have extra hours of lab work hanging over us. But we still have a sense of experiencing something together, growing as people and creating a strong bond between us.

There’s always someone around to talk to and we have a built-in cat sitter. We may live together out of financial necessity, but it’s made us a family.

Although Andy and I are giving up some of our privacy, it has been well worth it. As long as there’s no out-of-control partying and nobody asks us our majors, we’ll continue our education in alternative housing and sociology.

By Christine Schoenwald
Christine Schoenwald’s personal essays have appeared in The Los Angeles TimesSalon, PurpleClover, and Woman’s Day. In addition to writing personal essays, Christine also enjoys performing in spoken word shows around Southern California. More information is on her website, christineschoenwaldwriter.com

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