What It’s Like to Be Married with Roommates

groom and groomsmen wearing dinosaur socks

On Valentine’s Day, Michael and I went out to dinner at one of our usual places. The waitress walked us to our table and seated us—then handed us three menus. I looked left and then right at the two men sitting next to me, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I enjoyed a Valentine’s Day date with my husband. And our roommate.

That’s right. I’m married and I have a roommate. By choice.

The original decision to live with a roommate was not planned. While living on the East Coast, a friend of ours was offered a job in California, and his roommate (another friend) was going to be stuck with the unfortunate task of finding a one-bedroom apartment on short notice in an overpriced town. We had an extra bedroom at our place and figured that the additional income we’d get from his rent each month couldn’t hurt, so we agreed to let him stay until with us until he found a new place.

I was hesitant at first because my last roommate experience had been during college and involved a suite of eleven females, which needless to say left me feeling gun shy about sharing a space with someone other than Michael. Not to mention, a roommate completely eliminates the freedom of being able to walk around your apartment naked, a privilege I felt I’d earned.

But then, much to my own surprise, the arrangement stuck.

Though really, it shouldn’t have surprised me at all. Because up until that point, marriage had started to get lonely. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love living with Michael and am so grateful for the life we have been building together. But until we got married, we were both firm believers that your partner shouldn’t be expected to be everything all the time. And yet, marriage had somehow found us living in a state that was absent of any sort of extended community or nearby friends, and it was creating a huge void in our lives in the shape of The People You Spend Time With Who Aren’t Your Partner.

And unconventional as it might be, our roommate filled that void.

So when we were offered the opportunity to move to California, a place where once again we would be without a built-in network of friends or family, I was struck by the fear that we would revert back to the lonesome cohabitation that had previously defined our lives. So I called up our best friend Joe, who was living at his mother’s house in Maine at the time, and asked if he’d come with us. Without a job prospect out West, or even any savings, we knew that moving wouldn’t be ideal for him. But we also knew that he needed the change of scenery as much as we needed him to come with us. So we told him that if he could get enough money to pay for gas to get from Maine to California, we’d take care of the rest. And that’s what we did. Rather, it’s what we’re doing.

I could tell you about the logistical benefits of this arrangement. About how when Michael had to move out to California a month before my job in Connecticut was set to end, Joe helped me pack up our house and then drove across the country with me, caravan style, keeping me entertained on our walkie-talkie set. I could tell you about how he watched our dog for a week when Michael and I both had to travel out of town on short notice. I could even tell you about how Michael and I are finally motivated to keep a clean house after years of living in squalor.

But I don’t really think those things matter as much as what having a roommate has done for my marriage, and really, for myself. When we sat down for our Valentine’s Day date, I looked at Michael and then at Joe and I expressed to them just how happy I was feeling (as I’m wont to do). Michael chuckled and then said, “It’s true, you’ve been way happier since Joe moved in,” before turning to Joe and finishing with, “Thanks, Joe.”

Part of this improvement comes from the fact that Joe provides us with a window to our marriage. His presence keeps us on our best behavior, and it encourages us to take an extra moment before acting rashly or treating each other in a way that would embarrass us if it were to be witnessed by others (read: less screaming matches, more discussions).

But perhaps more than this, having Joe around just feels like what we should be doing right now. When I wrote about getting married young, I talked a little bit about the ways that Michael and I are doing work to prevent our young marriage from denying us the experience of being in our twenties. For a while I thought this was about making sure I was going out and acting irresponsibly on occasion, but now I think what really matters is making sure we’re developing our baby family into the community that will eventually become our big family. When we got married, Michael and I were surrounded by a circle of our most important friends and family, with Joe there beside us as Best Man.

And while the wedding itself was huge and significant, the most important piece of it for us was feeling like our wedding was the culmination of twenty-some-odd years of my parents building their communities, Michael’s parents building theirs, and then from those communities Michael and I building ours, resulting in our wedding day.

Now, living together as we are, Michael and I are taking the foundation that was built by our wedding and making it into what I hope will be the community that defines our future. I get a little weepy when I imagine telling my future children about the year that your mom and dad and Uncle Joe spent Christmas on a horse farm in California. Or the time your mom freaked out at the top of a mountain and your dad and Uncle Joe videotaped it. Or any of the other adventures we’re having right now. And while I know that our living situation can’t last forever, part of me doesn’t feel any pressure to change things anytime soon. Because if what our marriage needs right now is to have our best friend living with us, if that makes it possible for us to treat each other better, create a stronger foundation for our marriage, and have a third person for board games on a Tuesday night, then I think we’re doing things just fine.

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