Friday, July 18, 2014

Living with other people

This post is a response to my friend Leslie's post on Communal Living. Check it out here.

I lived in a cooperative house (a commune by another name) during my last two years of University.  There are good things about living as a group:
  • There are other people around to help with big chores; you may even be able to swap, so you never have to vacuum/wash windows/clean the oven again.
  • Food, rent and other costs can be shared
  • There’s usually a shoulder to cry on if you've had a bad day, or someone to celebrate with if you've had a good one.
  • You almost never have to eat alone, unless you really want to. My fondest memories about the co-op are all about dinnertime conversation.
  • Because there are other people around, it's more interesting; there are more points of view, different topics of conversation, etc. which is very helpful if (like me) you sometimes have trouble getting out of your own head.
On the other hand, living together means you have to deal with other people and their foibles. For example:
  • The hippie chick who insisted that flea collars were poison, and fed her cat garlic instead. This did not work, and we had to have the hall bug bombed. (She tried burning sage to encourage the bugs to leave. Oddly enough, that didn't work either.)
  • Sharing the cooking means someone, at some point, will make a meal that includes everything you hate or are allergic to.
  • On the other hand, you’ll have to cook around other people’s prejudices: the multiple stripes of vegetarian, no gluten, no dairy, ...
  • Jerks who would spill things and then leave it (instead of cleaning up) because it’s X’s job to clean the kitchen.
  • Loss of privacy. Yes, I did come home at midnight. No, it’s none of your business why.
  • Security. More keys means more people with access to the house. I've had female roommates give their boyfriends keys and ‘forget’ to tell the rest of us. It is alarming to have a drunk man show up in your house at two in the morning the day after they've had a fight.
  • Over-sharers. I’m not a prude, but I don’t want to know about your new girlfriends skills in bed.
  • Noise. There is always someone who likes music that sounds like two chainsaws mating on a chalkboard.
A lot of this can be alleviated by having a well-thought out rules. The Big Bang Theory has an epic roommate agreement that goes into unbelievable detail, from thermostat settings to what they are going to do if they ever develop super powers or discover time travel. 

 I know it sounds ridiculous, but having lived through a couple of epic fights about thermostat settings, I can sympathize.

Now, all of the above, I can handle.  But what isn't covered by roommate agreements, unfortunately, is users and manipulators.

We had a manipulative guy living at the co-op my second year, let’s call him Dan.  Dan made it his mission to piss off as many people as possible, while simultaneously being just charming enough to squeak by.  He played people off each other. He got other people to do his chores. He even managed to get other people to pay his rent.

By the end of the year, just saying his name was enough to stop a conversation cold.  We ended up having an inquiry by the governing board because we tried to throw him out and he protested unfair treatment. I went to visit a year after I moved out, and there was a sign on the door: If you see Dan call the police! Don’t talk to him! DO NOT LET HIM IN!  

The problem is that it takes a while to identify the Dans of the world. They don't have tattoos saying "emotionally unstable, manipulative user. Do NOT engage". Life would be much easier if they did.  If I could come up with a foolproof way to spot the Dans, I might be up for up for communal living again, but one Dan was enough.

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