When I tell people I live with three roommates the most common response is, “that’s a lot of people,” followed by some variation of the question: “do you like living like that?” And while I admit that one day, it might be nice to get a bathroom all to myself, I really do love living like this.
Living with roommates is a kind of, if you’ll forgive me for invoking the Q word, Queer dynamic. Obviously, capitalism forces many more of us into living with a roommate than ever before because of laughably shitty salaries, infrastructure, healthcare and an increasingly expensive everything-else. This capitalist hell world is nightmarish regardless of one’s sexuality or gender identity, so yeah okay maybe straighties are poor, too. But, in my experience, living with roommates requires a lot of love and responsibility and work and communication. It’s fucking polyamory, baby.
I’m packing up my stuff to start a new cycle of renting in a different neighborhood, but one of my roommates, Emma, has struck out on her own and turned our quadrad into a triad. I’m going to miss conversations while we made coffee and the surprise of an impromptu shared meal and the bounty of pooling together impulsively bought snacks. I remember this feeling of melancholy and grief bubbling up when I moved out of my first apartment, the one I shared with my best friend and her girlfriend, to live with my sister. And I felt it again when I left my sister back in Vegas to come here to Chicago.
I already miss Emma’s espresso maker. I miss Mollie’s tank of frogs. I miss the nonverbal psychic communication that only sisters can share.
Roommates are Queer in the political sense. It somehow makes everything cheaper and more sustainable (you only have to buy one toaster between four people) and yet it multiplies what you already have (more furniture, more TV subscription services, more laundry detergent, more accessories, more people with spare keys who can let you in when you forget yours).
It is Queer because only something Queer can make you obsess over the minute ways some dyke is annoying you and it’s Queer because it is a kind of love that capitalism doesn’t account for. It’s Queer because every person my roommates’ has ever dated has also become someone I’ve come to love deeply and I’ve also been forced to share space with them in all the ways that it can be beautiful and gross to share space with another mammal.
And I know it’s Queer because “roommate” isn’t enough to describe the kind of bond I share with the people I live with just like the words “partner”, “girlfriend”, and “boyfriend” and “queer family”, and “my-ex-who-I’m-still-friends-with” sometimes fall short.
Maybe it’s because I’m 26 but I can’t imagine hanging up my life as a gay sex freak with 50 million roommates to do whatever it is hetero people do (move to the suburbs and raise kids with someone you hate?) Like what could be more fun or fulfilling than sharing space and community and food and problems with a bunch of people you love? It worked out for the Golden Girls!
It’s not always rainbows and snack pools, though. Like many people living under capitalism’s thumb, I allow myself to occasionally fantasize about the Big Break Windfall of money that will one day wash away all of my povertous aches and pains. The kind of money that buys everyone you love a bedroom and bathroom to call their own. But even in that fantasy where I sell a young adult novel turned hit movie trilogy and Netflix series, I imagine communal living.
Maybe at my most extravagant I imagine myself living in Samin Nosrat’s Californian commie wet dream (four cottages sharing a garden are you kidding me?!) and maybe I’d have one cottage for myself, my partner, and a currently unknown third lover to form a dreamy throuple with. I’d meet with a couple of besties, perhaps my sister, too, at the firepit right in the middle of our Hobbit Holes for Sunday dinner and we’d call a meeting to decide what crops we’d try to grow in the garden. Our four roommates-in-a-3-bedroom-apartment situation gracefully evolved into a healthy little commune.
In a slightly more grounded fantasy, I imagine going in with some friends on a townhouse or a duplex so that a couple of us could finally call ourselves homeowners. In this scenario we’d probably be sharing relatively small living quarters between several people, but at least we’d be escaping the depressing cycle of vampiric landlords draining my family of all our life’s earnings.
For now, though, that fantasy is still a couple years away. I'm still renting and handing over somewhere between 30% and 50% of my monthly income to property management companies who see all the rest of us like the aluminum thimbles and puppies and toy cars in a Monopoly game.
Whether you’re a bunch of back-to-the-land lesbians sharing a couple of acres of desert or three city enbies sharing 900 square feet of rotting wood and plaster,it’s all Queer. I know this because every time I’ve moved out from an existing roommate array, I go through a period of heartbreak, the kind that you might feel when you and someone you’ve been dating decide to call it quits on amicable terms.
Like, I’ve never gone through a dramatic roommate break up with screaming and a take-home serving of unsquashable beef, but it’s still a major life shift that requires a little grieving, a little adjusting. I know I’ll see them when it’s time for weekly dinner or biannual cross-country reunions but, ultimately, this person that used to always be around isn’t going to always be around anymore. And I’ll always love them in the only way you can love someone you’ve been forced to share a bathroom with.