The magazine The Week did a story last week called "Retirement: A Roommate for Your Golden Years" and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it quoted me, from a piece I did a little while ago for the U. S. News Retirement site. My story was based partly on my own experience, as well as some research I did about how this is becoming a bit of a trend.
I believe some people here are already living this lifestyle, so maybe a few of you know some things that I don't. (As for myself, I do not live alone; I live with B. We are not related, not married, but we are romantically involved). So anyway, here's my advice:
First there was "Three's Company," then "The Golden Girls," and now "The Big Bang Theory." What do they have in common? They present different versions of how adults who are not related, and not romantically involved, decide to share housing.
These TV shows are comedies. And perhaps living with another person does require a ready sense of humor (like, for example, in marriage!). But more and more Baby Boomers are leaving behind the idea of living alone, in favor of living with another person. After all, we did it in college, or in the military, or at camp. So why not now? According to one estimate, there are currently about 130,000 American households where the co-habiters are aged 50 or older, and where they have no family or romantic relationship.
Obviously, you need to be careful when picking a roommate. A close friend may not always be the best choice. It's not so important to connect emotionally, or to be able to share your feelings. It's more important to be able to share responsibilities – to complement each other rather than find yourselves in constant conflict.
So if you can find your match, what are the advantages of living together?
It's less expensive. As the old saying goes, two can live cheaper than one -- and three or four can live cheaper than two. For example, a two bedroom, two bath condo or apartment will typically rent for 50 percent more than a one bedroom, one bath unit in the same complex -- which translates into a 25 percent savings in rent if two people share the two bedroom. But it doesn't always work so mechanistically. Sometimes a person with little income but a nice house meets a person with no house but a decent income. The solution is obvious: The person with the income moves in and pays rent; and they both end up better off.
You don't have to do all the work yourself. Whether it's mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, or doing dishes and taking out the garbage, sharing the work, like sharing expenses, puts less of a burden on everyone. The key is to divide up responsibilities equitably, according to talents and interests. One roommate likes to cook; the other does the dishes. One handles the finances; the other makes home repairs. If your talents don't mesh naturally, then switching off from week to week, or month to month, is the fair way to handle routine chores.
You share responsibility. It's not just the work you share, but the worry, the anxiety . . . and the simple reminders. You don't mind paying the bills, but you hate talking to the landlord? Maybe you can work out a deal with your roommate, and then you don't have to worry about it. Do you want to paint a room, buy an appliance, or can't decide what to have for dinner? It's often helpful just to be able to bounce ideas off another person.
You have built-in companionship. So many people come home from work or golf or their book club to an empty house, with nothing to do and no one to do it with. A roommate is someone you can hang out with and do nothing; someone to go to the movies with; or someone to leave behind if you've got other plans. And isn't it comforting to know that someone else is in the house when you hear a strange noise in the night?
And someone to help out if you need it. Older people in particular have worries about living alone. What if you fall, or can't remember to take your pill, or simply need help opening a jar? Having a roommate is like having a human safety net – someone who can help out with the little things; and be there in case of real trouble, even if only to call 911.
You will likely have more friends. There is nothing that correlates more with living a long, happy life than having good social connections and a supportive circle of friends. Don't spend Christmas or Thanksgiving alone. Don't sit there by yourself watching TV on Saturday night. Spend the time with your roommate, your mutual friends and each other's family members. Share your lives, as well as your living quarters, and you will have a richer, more fulfilling life.
If you're interested, you can find various organizations that will help you locate shared housing options at the National Shared Housing Resource Center.