Toward the end of my time in San Francisco, there were six of us under one roof—my boyfriend and four other guys. (Five if you include our puppy, Benjamin.) They say hindsight is 20/20, and usually it is. If I could post my memories of living in the Inner Richmond, I’d use soft, warm filters and blurry vignettes to obscure the rough edges that abound in my mind's eye. Happily, the stories I’ve accumulated in their wake are far more entertaining than the reality of living through them.
Let’s start at the beginning of my odd and varied roommate history.
In the dorms, I shared a room the size of a phone booth with a girl who was quick to cry and had lethal farts—not the best combo. Another dorm-mate of mine like to listen to the same Kanye song on repeat for three-hour stretches. Another was in the habit of leaving empty honey mustard pretzel bags everywhere, allowing the noxious smell to permeate just about every corner of our tiny space. Lovely.
When it came time to leave the dorms, I found a couple of ladies on Craigslist with a spare room. Mature, respectable, environmental lawyers in their late thirties hardly fit the typical college roommate profile, but the apartment was a block from campus, so I signed a year lease. They tolerated me stumbling in drunk late at night, and I refrained from frying up bacon because they were militant vegetarians. I also stayed off the couch where Martina, a morbidly obese cat, would defend her territory by clawing me if I came near.
Then I tried living with my younger brother for a year . . . which was generally a complete and total disaster. Punctuated by rare, heartwarming moments of watching The Bachelor together, we primarily communicated via tantrums and passive aggressive insults. In a weak, regrettable moment of mine, I filled a trash bin with his dirty dishes, intending to dump them in his room, only to place them back in the sink before he got home. Our relationship is significantly better now that we have a two-hour drive between us. Lesson learned.
After graduating, I moved into my boyfriend’s place. Mike didn’t want to give up his band’s practice space in the garage, and I couldn’t blame him. He’d been paying low rent for three years in a four-bedroom house with a big backyard. It seemed preferable to him moving into my place at the time—a walk-up above a sports bar with no heat and one bathroom.
A rotating cast of characters lived in that house, but Mike’s seniority in the house snagged us the master bedroom. Across the hall from our room was an aspiring musician living entirely off of money he’d saved up doing coding for a few months. To the left of us lived a finance guy who worked late nights and had a serious candy addiction. To the right, a momma’s boy set to graduate in the spring worked on his beats at night. And the singer in Mike’s band slept downstairs in the living room.
At the time, it seemed like a very San Francisco thing to do. We watched football on the reg, drank beers on the reg, and ripped bongs on the reg. There was little we didn’t do on the reg. If I made three trays of brownies, I never had to worry about how we’d finish them all. If anyone needed a couch to crash on, we had seven.
But we didn’t always mesh shall we say. Somebody had to have lots of bananas around at all times, bananas that had to be room temperature despite the swarm of fruit flies that assembled around them. Someone liked to cook greasy slabs of meat and then leave the fatty pans to congeal in the sink for a week. Someone would always cook in their tighty whities, his package at eye level for the person doing French homework at the kitchen table. I won’t even mention who threw out someone’s five-pound chunk of raw pork, mistaking it for a rotten papaya. (OK, that was me).
But you know what? I’m glad I lived with the people I did when I did. I look back on it now as an exercise in character building and a test of empathy. It’s amazing how different backgrounds can result in different ideas of “normal” behavior. Some people drape black curtains over every window so they can sleep until the sun sets. Some people gargle vocal scales as soon as the sun rises. Some people grow up never knowing a world where their mother didn’t pick up after them (one of my own siblings, for instance). Some people think passive aggressive behavior can help things.
While a person’s upbringing largely influences how he or she behaves as an adult, I'm a firm believer that gender does not. Living with guys is in no way easier than living with girls and vice versa. I know girls who are grotesquely messier than most guys, and guys with feelings as delicate as wet tissue. Gender has almost no bearing on how people live as far as I can tell.
For most twenty-somethings (especially those living in cities), living alone simply isn’t an option. Coincidentally, it does seem like an opportune time for building the skills to have lasting relationships. I’ve always cherished alone time, and living with other people prevented me from becoming a full-blown, Howard Hughes level hermit. Having always been somewhat of a recluse, roommates were a necessary part of me learning to function around other human beings. And as a writer, I’m always going to be fascinated by how people live, and the characters I found in my roommates have been a genuine gold-mine of inspiration.
These days, I’m lucky to have just two roommates—Mike and our 18-pound Chihuahua mix—both of which happen to be the great loves of my life. And I think I’m better equipped now, having lived with a spectrum of gassy, messy, territorial, emotionally unstable roommates, to fully appreciate what I have, what I want, and my own hue in the spectrum of crazy.