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Roommates

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The Observer is a few months from 30 and still has a roommate. Just to be clear, this is a share-the-rent deal, not a share-the-bed deal. I'm not gay, and therein lies the problem.

Having a roommate is a situation that popular culture would have us all believe is a badge of mild to moderate shame. To have a platonic roommate beyond one's mid-20s, the sitcoms propagandize, designates either a childish refusal to grow up or desperate financial straits. Either way, it's always shorthand for Loser. In big cities, having a roommate can be forgiven as a sheer grudging necessity for struggling urbanites facing the cost phantasmagoria of apartment rental in NYC or San Francisco. In Little Rock, however, you can lease a Burger King franchise for the same price as a studio apartment in Manhattan, so why not live unfettered and alone? Or so the thinking goes.

Because it's lonely, that's why. The last time The Observer lived entirely by himself was in 2006, the year immediately after college, when a post-graduation job offer freakishly presented itself in a shrinking town in the Arkansas Delta. It was a weird way to enter the working world. At age 21, The Observer found himself leasing a hulking, red brick behemoth of an ancient Southern home that was easily 3,000 square feet for the price of — believe it or not — $325 a month. With two stories plus basement and attic, a great winding staircase, and a massive colonnaded porch, it was the only house on the block that wasn't boarded up. The nonresident landlord really just wanted an occupant to keep the place from sitting vacant. That's what can happen in a town with an imploded property market and sufficient population migration, the citizenry Hoovered up by distant cities with functional economies.  

After a melancholy fall and a miserable winter frigidly slouching around the great Gormenghast of a house, wrapped in a comforter and talking to myself with increasing frequency, regretting taking the job and resenting the town, friendless and alone save for the comforts of the Internet and beer, The Observer moved that spring ("fled" is the better word) into another place with less grandeur, more insulation, less potential for a spectacularly Southern Gothic mental breakdown, and, most importantly, some other human beings.

That was some eight years ago, and The Observer hasn't particularly wanted to live alone ever since. But it was an extreme situation, and the opinions of others have their way of eating at one's mind. For the past two years, I've lived with a good friend in a nice apartment, yet I've started to wonder if, as a self-sufficient, marginally capable adult person, it isn't maybe time to ditch the roommate situation. And then recently, an experiment presented itself. Events in the world compelled said roommate to leave his stagnant if comfortable job and spend about a month and a half traveling out West. I had the place to myself for six weeks — to be as clean or as messy as desired, as loud or as quiet. To make my living quarters mine and mine alone. It was awfully nice, it must be admitted.

Yet all in all, The Observer calls bullshit on the idea that functional adults must live either in romantic pairs or alone. Living alone is overrated. Last Friday, the roommate returned from his trip with all his bags and items and personal tics, bumbling around and taking up space, moving my things and cluttering up my counters with my preferred boxes of cereal, occupying the bathroom and breathing all over everything. I'm glad he's home.

It's nice to be able to turn up the volume all the way on any awful song at any time of the day. It's nice to be able to stroll around the house mostly naked and eating a sandwich. But I still say those assets are outweighed by the pleasure of having a trusted friend around. People are animals with half-formed, pitifully contradictory needs for privacy and companionship, and it's too easy to indulge the former impulse and let the latter shrivel away. Screw expectations about independence! Living with another person is healthy. If he's (or she's) a good roommate, he'll forgive your musical taste and your moments of injudicious nakedness. If he's a great roommate — and mine is — he'll even let you use his sandwich fixin's from time to time.

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