Sunday, 23 February 2014
The magic moment is here. The third; perhaps the fourth date. Or the first…or whatever. You’re bringing someone home ‘to physically express your affection for them’.
You open the bedroom door.
Then you’re startled to hear: ‘Hello! Don’t forget – it’s your turn to take the bins out. Ooh – who’s your friend?’
Yep, it’s your actual room-mate. They’re still here, curled up in their single bed because they didn’t go out like they promised. Oh dear. Well, scrabble, it is then.
The word 'room-mate' has infiltrated UK English, because we watch so many US sitcoms. What stunned me was the fact that this actually means that the parties concerned share a room. Not a flat, or a house, but a bedroom. This is especially true of students.
Imagine the reality of two adults, not in a relationship, sharing a confined space with two dinky single beds. Think of the consequences. Of the effect on privacy, solitude, ownership of space; where to store things: secret things, personal things. Of nightmares, sleep and work schedules, coming in later and rising early. I can't imagine doing this. Ever.
A friend has shared a room (an actual room) for some months now. He first shared a bedroom when studying in LA, where that's the norm. He liked the experience, and after graduating, kept it up. His reasons are complex: firstly - cost, in that he saves money (although his two flatmates rent their own separate rooms.) The fact that rentiers routinely rent all rooms as bedrooms and covert lounges was a factor – if he didn’t share they wouldn’t have a communal sitting room. He also explained he appreciated the simple fact of some company. He is a really lovely man: open-hearted, happy, well-adjusted, straightforward, but confesses to tiring of the situation.
Another friend was sharing a large house in London, where two (straight) women shared not just a bedroom, but a bed. They were completely broke and saving up to travel, so the sacrifice was worth it, if only temporarily. I've heard of couples renting one room in a house-share, but they're usually desperately poor, and the effects on house dynamics (not least the crowded bathroom) are intriguing.
UK student housing providers would rather commission layers of cells, like a studious beehive, rather than have two pairs of renters share one room and then a group study/lounge/dining area combo. I have to say, I agree.
But the increasing infantilisation of tenants who claim social security, where anyone under the age of 35 is entitled to just the single room rate for local housing allowance, coupled with the threatened withdrawal of any payments whatsoever for those under 25 might, well lead to claimants being housed in dormitories, or work-programme barracks. Even soldiers past their training live in flats, these days, or so I understand.
But compelling unrelated adults into shared rooms is punitive to the point of being abusive. So don't let yourselves become softened up, worn down into accepting shared rooms. These rare volunteers might be just the start.