Divorced, the mother of two adult children, Cynthia left the rural community where she had lived for many years for life in the Boston area.
At first she lived in a studio apartment by herself. It was tiny. She says it was “so depressing, so isolating, so lonely. I came from a really active life with two children, an active business, dogs and cats. Living by myself was so quiet. It became harder and harder to go out and do stuff. The loneliness feeds on itself. I started to get really hard on myself, really down. I actually started eating frozen dinners. I’d never done that before. It’s just hard to cook for one person. “
Cynthia realized what was happening to her and took steps to fix it. She says, “I’ll never live alone again.”
We aren’t meant to live alone. Literally. We’re wired to be socially connected. Living with others is what humans have done since the beginning of time. We have lived in families, in tribes, in grand households (Downtown Abbey) and poor.
Today, many people live alone. This is made possible because of the car, supermarkets, the telephone, and cheap building materials. Our basic survival needs of food, shelter, heat, water, light don’t require the cooperation of others. While many choose to live alone, there are many who believe that they have no other choice because they aren’t in a relationship and family members are not an option.
There is a choice. Instead of the loneliness one can have a “home-mate.” A home-mate is a person you like and respect with whom you choose to have a home for the benefits of cost, company, cooperation and sustainability
The savings in housing costs are the reason most people decide to live in shared housing. A person can save literally thousands of dollars a year, a fund of capital that can be put to other uses, such as travel, schooling, or retirement.
A person you live with provides a spontaneous social connection, someone to say “Good morning,” “Good night,” and “How was your day?” As a member of a four-housemate home points out, “just having someone ask me about my day gives me a lift to my spirit.”
There are many ways that home-mates can help each other. There are the mundane tasks of managing a home to the unusual and emergency situations. From taking out the trash to shoveling snow, from feeding the cat when it’s owner is away to picking up a can of soup for a housemate who is in bed with flu, this type of help can relieve some of the stress of life. Many of these helps are taken for granted by people who live in families or couples. It is only when living alone that one notices their lack.
It is sustainable living, not needing quite so much stuff, not using so many resources.
How one lives with a home-mate is completely and entirely up to the people living together. Some like to share meals, some keep it completely independent. Some might like to hang out together, some not. There are endless variations depending on who the people are.
People can be satisfactory home-mates if their routines and habits are compatible enough that they are comfortable together. When looking for a person you can live with, that’s what you need to be sure of.
The companionship benefit of a home-mate has for the most part not been studied. A few small surveys of people matched up through shared housing programs indicate that people do in fact sleep better and feel better when there is someone around. I believe that having someone whom you have an informal, spontaneous chat meets a deep human need to speak about the stuff of one’s daily life to an Other and to listen to an Other — this is a deep part of being human. We need it. It’s who we are.
Our society makes it very difficult to have spontaneous social connections. Where do you go when you just want to hang out? If you just want to be with other people? It’s difficult. We don’t have gathering places such as neighborhood pubs or cafes. Many people are turning to the internet. This makes sense — but reading and typing is not the same as talking with a real person in the flesh. When you live with someone you get to have chats — you hear your own voice, you listen to another. This is fundamental to our being.
Consider this idea. Open yourself up to the possibility that this is one way to mitigate the loneliness you feel. Living with another person may seem like a strange idea at first. You may think, “Who would want to live with me?” It might be someone else who is also thinking, “Who would want to live with me?” I’m convinced that there is a home-mate for everyone who wants one. Truly. Learn how to select a home-mate. Your first step is to think realistically about what you “must have”and “can’t live” in your home. That’s right, it starts with you and what you want. That’s the place to begin. Getting clear on how you live in your home and what makes you comfortable will help you to quickly determine who is not a good fit for you. Finding the right fit might take some effort and patience. It’s worth it.
It could be the beginning of a new life.
“I think it is an almost universal human need, to have someone who wonders where you are when you don’t come home at night.” – Margaret Mead
About the Author:
Annamarie Pluhar M.Div. is on a mission to help those who struggle with being alone or are suddenly alone to discover that sharing housing is an excellent solution. Her book Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates (available on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Sharing-Housing-Guidebook-Finding-Housemates/dp/099101040X) gives readers a roadmap for how to interview and select the right home-mate. This process was honed over twenty years of her personal experience of living in shared housing and is combined with expertise in group process and interpersonal relations. She has 30 years experience in corporate and non-profit consulting, group facilitation, training development and delivery.
Annamarie offers consulting and classes to support individuals in their quest for good home-mates. The website www.sharinghousing.com contains free resources, blog postings, links to resources, an interviewing checklist and downloadable. She lives in Vermont with one two-legged and three four-legged housemates.