I’ve been living out of home since I was 20, a total of 11 years now (yes, you can all guess my age if you didn’t already know it…) In that time I have lived in 6 different houses, with 17 different people (not including an additional 5 regular visitors, e.g. siblings and SOs of my flatmates).
Bec and I used to talk about this topic quite a bit when we lived together in Newtown (one house and 4 flatmates ago). It’s an interesting experience, one which we agreed we should all go through as part of becoming an adult. You learn so much about yourself while living with other people in a share situation. You also learn a lot about other people.
Your flatmates are, in some ways, the most easy and the most difficult people to live with.
They are not a member of your family, or a significant other, so agreements about how a house is run has to be negotiated in an even tempered and fair manner, as emotional attachments are less likely to be involved. You can’t just use snuggles and food/gifts/other emotional blandishments to avoid an issue. This is both scary, and also quite liberating, depending on your experience and outlook.
Levels of involvement in your flatmate’s lives vary, but there is always a certain expectation that you are independent adults sharing the same roof, responsible for your own lives. This does not deny mutual care and concern between flatmates, just that it’s less of an primary factor than when living with a family member or SO. Again liberation, but can also lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness.
You quicky learn that it’s best to get issues out in the open, as festering passive aggressiveness is horrible for everyone involved. You also learn that expectations need to be made explicit since your flatmates cannot read your mind and probably have quite different expectations of cleanliness, chores, noise, parties, organisation of furniture, sharing food, etc.
You also learn very valuable negotiation skills and the ability to judge when it’s worth pushing a situation and when you’re happy to make do with the status quo.
There are specific stages of learning to share a house. Keeping in mind this is my experience, that these stages are not a strict linear progression, and you will often loop back through them for different issues. (John Birmingham had a rather more comedic experience of share housing). They are also very similar to the stages of cultural integration that is one of the themes of this blog.
Stage 1: Complete Oblivion
You are unaware of how your actions and attitudes impact on the people you live with, as you and the people around you (your family) have always lived this way. It’s normal.
Stage 2: Guilt
You realise that you’ve been oblivious, generally because a festering problem caused by your obliviousness is brought to a head. Either verbally or passive aggressively. You then become hyper aware of EVERYTHING that has the potential to go wrong.
Stage 3: Anger
The crash after the hyper-awareness. Really, why should you change and adapt, don’t these people understand that this is how it’s supposed to be done and you’re making such an effort? Why don’t they notice what you’re doing!!
Stage 4: Individual Constructiveness
You start to be aware of how the people around you live, and how your lives can fit together and that a balance can be found between living how you want to live and doing what’s polite and helpful. Often some sort of internal flag system is created to ensure those problems don’t come up again and you don’t have to experience the guilt and anger cycle. You’re still doing this without communicating to others that this is your intent, but there’s a lot less anger and sense of entitlement.
Stage 5: Constructive Communication.
Often this is the result of some of those flags being tripped, and realising that dealing with it upfront, rationally and fairly, taking in account preferences, impacts and constructive solutions is much better than reverting back to stage 2. The best house I’ve ever live in (Hi Bec!) was the result of both of us being very good at this stage, and assuming the other person was as interested in being in a comfortable cozy living situation. We actively found ways to achieve this, and were excited about it, sharing the excitement and sense of satisfaction with each other. (Bec’s awesome generosity in cooking also helped a lot, I suspect my ability to participate in needed ranty discussions helped her.)
Random Stage: Isolation
Usually in there somewhere, at various points is the stage in which you don’t want to interact with the people you live with. You want to clean up the spaces that you directly impact, not talk, not account for your actions, have nothing to do with them. This is often influenced by the space you are living in and the amount that you actually get on with the people you live with.
Other flatmates from the past 3 years
Ideally you want to share a house with someone at a similar stage of sharehouse awareness. It makes it so much easier as there’s not the early stage oblivious-not-yet-able-to-communicate-but-why-is-it-different person rubbing up against the more-chilled-but-secretly-noticing-that-it’s-not-as-easy-as-it’s-been-previously-as-you’re-not-all-behaving-like-mutually-responsible-adults person. Or other variants on the contrasts that occur.
I’m currently in the situation above (did you guess?), and it all came to a head last night. Not happy, but because I choose to live in stage 5, today I wrote a long but balanced and non-judgemental email explaining my reaction to the situation (shock and hurt) and how we could change this in future (try telling me first! And try trusting that people will do what they said they would). Although just before the current flatmate we lived with one with a very extreme case of obliviousness, sans the ‘why aren’t things happening the way they’ve always happened’. At least you can engage with the first type and there’s hope for change.
But, I’m over it, I don’t have the patience anymore. I’ve had enough living with other people who are not my love and his daughter.
Or a my favourite flatmate ever (if you can’t guess who this is by now…).
Or my sister (actually, I forgot about that month. 7 houses, 19 people).
It’s time to move on to our own space. To spread our wings and do that flying thing we keep talking about, rather than bouncing up and down in the not-too-much-change safety net that is Redhill.