We all know the horror stories--the passive-aggressives, the hoarders, the oversharers--but roommates can change your life for the better, too. For my new book,The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters, I wanted to find stories that embraced the great part of living with a stranger as well. Several people shocked me with their humanity and how well they dealt with extraordinary living situations--particularly these five roommates, who truly went above and beyond.
1. The Teenage Cousin Who Came To Her Rescue: When recent graduate Karen* moved in with her college freshman cousin, she wasn’t sure what their roommate relationship would be--was she supposed to keep him out of trouble? One day, Karen came home to her cousin and his friends, as well as their married next-door neighbor, hanging out in the living room. As she headed upstairs, she noticed the neighbor following her. “I saw his eyes darting around to the open door to my cousin’s room, and he started trying to push me in,” she recalls. Luckily, she managed to fight him off, and he ran out of the apartment. After realizing what had happened, Karen’s cousin followed the husband and beat him up, breaking his own hand in the process. When they moved in together, Karen thought she’d be a guardian of sorts--she never realized it was her teenage cousin who would come to her rescue.
2. The Local Student Who Helped Her Navigate A Foreign Country: Ricki studied abroad in Botswana, where she lived with local student Keletso in a dorm. The language barrier made it hard for the two to communicate, but over time, Keletso taught Ricki how to live in Botswana--showering with a bucket, the ritualistic hair braiding, and even how to survive an attack of locust-like flying ants. When Ricki’s homestay fell through later in the semester, Keletso opened up her home, and the two became family. “Living in Botswana was incredibly life-changing,” says Ricki. “I wouldn’t have been able to process what I was going through without Keletso’s quiet guidance.”
3. The Suitemates Who Attended Therapy Together: During college, Rose lived with five girls in an off-campus apartment, including Sandra, who they eventually found out had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. After a violent episode, when one of Sandra’s personalities smashed several mugs in the sink and cut her hands in the process, the roommates, at Sandra’s suggestion, decided to go to therapy together to try to cope with and understand the disorder. Slowly, the roommates figured out Sandra’s triggers--dark movies, surprises, and even church, where abuse had occurred. “When I look back on it, it wasn’t a traumatizing experience,” says Rose. “The roommate therapy forced us to bond and support one another. I’m undoubtedly closer to them than any other group of roommates I ever had.”
4. The Roommate Who Lent a Hand to First-Time Parents When looking for a change of pace, Eva, despite warnings from friends, decided to move into a new apartment with Erin and Aaron, an engaged couple she met on Craigslist. Soon after the wedding, Erin and Aaron told Eva that they were pregnant, but she was welcome to continue living with them. They assured her they would do their best to keep the baby from disrupting her life. “I got to see the new-parent experience firsthand,” says Eva. “For the first six weeks, they were like zombies.” One Saturday morning, she found Aaron asleep with the baby next to him in her high chair, so Eva dragged the chair into her room to let Aaron take a nap. “They were so embarrassed, but I knew how sleep-deprived they were,” she says. When Eva moved out, she was sad to say goodbye to her roommates. After all, in their time living together, the baby’s crying only woke her up once or twice--and pretty much any roommate in New York will do that to you.
5. The Friend Who Cooks, Cleans, And Runs Errands After receiving his Ph.D., Nate wasn’t sure what to do with his life. His good friend, Ben, had just bought a large house with his fiancée, Becca, and offered one of the many extra rooms to him for free. “I was expected to chip in on cleaning, cooking, and other little things around the house,” says Nate, who turned into a full-fledged household manager: planning meals, walking the dogs, helping with home renovation, and consulting on Becca’s business. Though it wasn’t what he was expecting to be doing in his thirties, it’s an arrangement that has worked out. “I get to live with my friends and hang out with them all the time,” he says. “It’s much better than moving in with your parents--the default for this generation and time.”