Married, with roommates: why my wife and I choose to live in a group house


  • This is the pattern in America today, as David Roberts laid out in a recent Vox piece: “When we marry and start a family, we are pushed, by custom, policy, and expectation, to move into our own houses.” Roommates are for college kids and single people on a budget; married people live by themselves.
  • For us, living in a group house was not a phase to grow out of but a lifestyle choice that valued people over privacy. Sure, we lose certain freedoms — we can’t walk around the kitchen naked, for instance — but what we get in return is many lighthearted conversations, laughter, and an opportunity to get to know people on a deep level. As Roberts wrote in his essay, “The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact.” In a city where we have to plan coffee dates with people two weeks in advance, a group house can readily foster spontaneity.
  • Living with others, we don’t put pressure on each other to be our only conversation partner. Without that burden, we are free to enjoy each other’s company rather than depending on it to satisfy all of our social needs.
  • Just like in Houston and Innsbruck, cooking for housemates and friends was a central feature of our group house identity.
  • By creating a regular cooking rotation, developing a chore schedule, and having plenty of opportunities for conflict resolution, my housemates and I unconsciously trained one another to be better partners for our future spouses.
  • It’s one thing to split the rent and another thing to enjoy life together. Sharing utility bills is different from sharing meals. Am I cooking at home just to stay within my food budget or to deepen my relationships? Is my primary motivation for living with housemates just to save money or to foster community? Would I be willing to sacrifice some individual privacy in exchange for developing a shared social identity? People answer these questions quite differently, and it doesn’t take much time of living with others in order to learn what they value most.
  • We learned that there is a power dynamic between landlords and tenants that can’t be ignored even if you are friends. When there were disputes, we couldn’t settle them with a purely democratic process because we had unequal investments in the house and different short-term/long-term perspectives. As homeowners, we were also more protective of our house in general.
  • Over the past three years, Alyson and I have devised a highly specific Craigslist housing post in order to fully convey our group house identity so that no one is caught by surprise when they move in.
  • With our current housemates, we have dinner together once a week and rotate the cooking duties. Regardless of who prepares the food or what’s on the menu, it’s one of the highlights of my week. Eating home-cooked meals with friends has a powerful effect that I’ve never experienced in any other context.
  • Living together in a community can be rewarding, but it may not satisfy everyone — in my experience, it requires us to dispense with an unhealthy obsession with privacy, personal space, and hyper-individualism.
  • There are other ways, too, of fostering and maintaining adult friendships even if you’re not ready to move into a group house. David Roberts’s article described how people are moving to walkable communities, which foster regular contact with neighbors, and other people, particularly in Germany, are building multi-unit housing that includes shared space for kids to play and adults to hang out together.
  • While I applaud these new developments and hope they become more common, I also think there are plenty of low-tech solutions that don’t require changing existing infrastructure. One friend of mine recruited other couples to move into her rent-controlled apartment building, and another friend has encouraged four different families to buy homes within one block of her. Another family was feeling socially isolated as new parents, so they started a weekly front porch cocktail party at their house. On Friday nights after their infant went to sleep, their friends would come over to sip drinks and enjoy grown-up conversations.
  • Group houses challenge my wife and me to engage in conflict resolution rather than avoidance. They encourage us to be respectful and considerate of each other rather than belittle and marginalize. Though we aren’t always best friends with the people we live with, it provides us with the spontaneous social contact that we need to thrive. In light of this, it’s worth rethinking whether shared housing is just a stepping stone or a personally fulfilling destination.

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