“We are just two couples who plan to live together and raise children in one household, hopefully for decades.”
This essay in The Atlantic about two couples who bought a house together with the intention of sharing their home and their lives for several decades was an interesting read. The couples are not romantically or intimately involved with each other. This is not a story of polyamory but simply of sharing a home and domestic life together (including raising kids, cooperatively). I’m sure there are plenty of unrelated people who live this way, but it’s not something I have heard about often. When I think of communal living, I picture hippies living in teepees or Winnebagos somewhere far off the grid where they grow all their own food and run around barefoot and sing Kumbaya by the campfire every night.
The couples featured in this essay, however, don’t sound like hippies. And they aren’t living in a Winnebago far off the grid. They’re living in a rowhouse in a Northwest D.C. neighborhood, with a screened-in back porch, a vegetable patch, and a two-car garage. The couples, one of whom found out days after closing on the house that they’re expecting a baby, didn’t purchase their home together because it was the only way they could afford to buy property. They bought a house together because they believe sharing their home and domestic lives together as a family with four adults instead of the traditional two-parent/two-adult household will make them happier: “While most people take for granted that dual-parent households usually have more resources to deal with life’s challenges than single parents, why stop there? By forming a household with friends who share our values, we realized we could build an even stronger system of support than we would have in separate homes.”
Personally, I can be kind of modest, so I couldn’t imagine sharing a home with another adult who isn’t my romantic partner as I sit around in my underwear or an oversized t-shirt with my bra off. And having a kid has made me appreciate my privacy even more so. I make so many mistakes as a mother — I yell too much, I lose my patience too easily, I probably let Jackson spend too much time on the iPad, I cave too frequently when he refuses to eat his vegetables. And then there are all the things that aren’t necessarily mistakes but are parenting choices many other people — hell, even my own husband — might not always agree with. I’d never want to explain myself to, or have to compromise with or feel judged by, two additional adults in the household. But the author does make some strong arguments for this kind of two-family communal living:
Many nights, when one of us stumbles home from work exhausted from a hard day, someone else has already done the shopping and cooked a great homemade dinner. When a pipe burst this February, we all took turns bailing out the basement. Once the baby arrives, we look forward to being crucial reinforcements for each other during those first several nearly sleepless months and trading off so each couple can have date nights. Living together with another couple also has made it easier to identify and counteract some of the sexist patterns that emerge in many households. Because we discuss chores as a group and work consciously together to establish our household norms and individual responsibilities, there’s less opportunity for traditional gender roles to establish themselves surreptitiously.
Living together seems to be a great financial move so far. With four adults splitting the mortgage and other costs, it is easier for each of us to save more of our income, which will give us the financial freedom to pay for childcare or reduce our work hours later, when we need more time and money for our families. We can also more easily afford investments in the house itself, like installing solar panels or weather proofing the attic, which will reduce our carbon footprint and save us more money in the long run.
I don’t know that installing solar panels and weather-proofing an attic are terribly motivating factors for me, but I love the idea of having extra hands to help with domestic chores. I’d love to come home each day to a meal cooked by someone else, but, since I’m the one in our traditional two-parent family who stays home and cooks dinner every night, that would probably just mean that I would continue doing the cooking and simply have more people to cook for. I love the idea of having built-in babysitters, but the thought of dealing with someone else’s crying newborn makes my teeth ache. The thought of having a front-row seat to the ups and downs of another couple’s relationship under my own roof, and the thought of them seeing all the good and bad days of my own, makes me feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t even handle living with a roommate when I was single…
I do understand the appeal of sharing a roof with people you care about — people you aren’t related to and aren’t romantically involved with. I just prefer to share that roof for a few days instead of a few decades. Each summer, a group of my close friends meets up in Chicago where we spend 3-5 days camped out in our mutual friend’s 2-bedroom apartment. We sleep on air mattresses and on the couch and on a spare bed in the guest room. We share one bathroom. We pick up groceries together and make booze runs, and then we cook together and take turns playing bartender. We do each other’s hair and advise one another on outfits, and it all seems very communal and wonderful and I love it. And then we all go back to our respective homes and get to miss each other until we meet up again. It’s no row house with solar panels or a teepee colony on a reservation, but it’s exactly right for me.
Would communal living ever appeal to you? Do you know anyone who has bought a home with someone he or she isn’t romantically involved with with the intention of sharing a domestic life for many years?
[article and image via The Atlantic]