How To Live With Someone You Don't Know
The Debrief: Its a bit like dating, except it's... not
No I didn’t want to move in with a complete stranger – but, much like most people I’m guessing, I’d little choice but to. Being at a certain point in my 20s, mates had mostly moved in with boyfriends or settled down where they could find a low rent or a mortgage. I myself had spent the last four years of my life living with my best friend and double – but her man was moving in now and by the grace of God and the death of an unexpectedly wealthy relative I’d managed to buy somewhere. I was excited – relieved beyond words to be out of the rent race– but I was also terrified at the prospect of sharing two-bed flat with someone I’d never previously known.
In any case, that was two months on – and I’m here for a debrief. The bad news is that two months later this could all have changed. The good news is that right now, I don’t hate her, and I’ve found the experience more fun than infuriating. Here, then, is a rough guide to living with someone you don’t know.
When it comes to first finding them, remember it’s a bit like online dating...
Though friends’ comparing it with dating sites had done little to reassure me (so far the internet had dealt me a hardline Green activist, a man who writes weapons reviews and a genuine psychopath) I signed up for Spare Room and, as with dating sites, aimed for honesty about myself and the size of my offerings. 'I’m friend and easygoing,' I wrote on my profile, cringing inwardly. 'I like wine. I like cooking. I like tea.' I'm a pretty alright housemate, I thought smugly, as the floodgates opened – for, as with dating, a new face prompts a confidence-boosting flurry of messages. Accept now that you won’t get back the hours you spent replying, deleting and meeting the senders and you’ll save yourself a deal of regret.
...except it's not
That said, flat mate sites differ from dating sites in an obvious but fundamental respect. The people contacting aren’t coming on to you, calling you baby, inviting you to a grenade launch parties, or asking if you just how old too old would be. They fancy the flat, and your potential as flat mate - not your face. This makes it a far more pleasant experience to go through – provided of course you show them the same courtesy. Choosing a chap/chappette you fancy for a flatmate is probably wise move.
It takes ten minutes to know if they're right or wrong. Be ruthless with time.
This makes it harder to sort messages at first – but when push comes to choosing, far, far easier. Realistically, you only need to see them for 15 minutes, tops. One arrived in three fleeces, a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes, and said she was allergic to certain forms of central heating; another was a slimming and detox blogger who liked unpronounceable health foods. When Miss Right arrived ten minutes was enough to discern that she was friendly, not 'a sloven' as mum would say, and most crucially bloody loved tea.
Don’t panic before they move in
So far it seemed so simple – but she hadn’t moved in yet. She’d not seen my neuroses, and I’d yet to meet hers. I might be friendly, but I also have anxiety, an obsession with reheating food at least five times during a meal and a propensity to break and forget things that makes Bernard Black look with it. How would she cope – and what would her failings be? Well , it’s been three months, and I can happily report that she appears not to have any - or rather, she does but I find I can live with them okay. Not because we know each other really well now, but because we don’t. You can’t try to change someone you don’t know, and you don’t try to. Forced to have each other at face value, you tolerate – and in tolerating, I’ve found you learn to accept more easily.
Fake it ‘til you make it…
…that is, the idea that if you think and do something often enough, it will become natural. An old friend might protest against an unnecessarily detailed office anecdote, but a new friend will only smile and try to look tuned in. Take a (subtly) deep breath when they play with their hair for the 736th time that day –and don’t’ count next time. Remember: an old friend will try and persuade you of thier own personal moral code ( “buy organic milk. Put only the water you need in the kettle”) but a new friend knows it isn’t their place… yet. I banged on constantly about dairy cow welfare to my last flatmate and in the end I persuaded her; I’m pretty convincing on cows. However, I’m unlikely to inflict that on the new one any time soon.
Bask in the reflected glow of positivity
Politeness breeds positivity – you don’t know each other well enough to assume you can change – but the benefits of this extend well beyond your relationship. You end up more accepting of yourself, too. Forced to embrace their idiosyncrasies as “just part of them”, you do the same for yourself – acknowledging that, maybe, you eating Horlicks out the jar late at night or taking a Tetris approach to the recycling when its too full or just being ditzy is not something to hate in yourself , but one of your defining quirks, without which you simply wouldn’t be you.
Learn from them
Then of course there’s the learning. Live with a friend from school or uni and the chances are you cook, watch and read fairly similarly stuff. Live with a newbie, and you’ll find ingredients you’d never heard of before in your spice cupboard –or actually acquire a spice cupboard in the first place having previously only had two sticky jars of mixed herbs and five spice next to the hob. Learn what they like eat, and teach them your recipes. Swap dating stories and storybooks.. You may hate all of it; you may not - but that is actually not the best bit. The best bit of living with a stranger, I have found, is what their approach to life can teach you.
Where old flatmate and I would compete as to who felt most ugly, the new girl will say things like 'my bum looks great in these jeans' and think nothing of it: partly because she's just got a healthier sense of self-worth than most, partly because - well, it's true. Her bum does look great in those jeans, her hair is indeed 'pretty perfect today.' She's organised, stylish and neatand she's not scared to admit it - and that, to someone with deep insecurities, is huge.
I found myself aping her - not out loud (I think my friends would keel over in shock) but internally: 'Yes, I do suit dusty pink,' I'd whisper, half expecting to be smited. I found myself increasingly loath to self-flagellate, asking myself What Would New Housemate Do? Would she look in the mirror and groan as she left the house, shouting 'I hate all my clothes. And my face.' – a regular occurrence at my old flat? Probs not I thought – so I tried not to.
After a few conversations/FB stalking, they may no longer be a stranger
The reality of flat mating in an increasingly small world and interconnected city is that the chances are you’ll have at least one mutual friend or connection – that’s the six degree rule for you everyone. In short, not only has living with her proved pretty life enhancing but mutual FB stalking revealed we weren’t complete strangers after all. Result.
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Picture: Eylul Aslan
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