Guest post by Karen Venable, Founder, Roommates4Boomers
To read an interview with Karen, click here.
Chances are, if you’re a Boomer and you’re living alone, you like it that way. You love your independence and your ability to totally control your life. Why would you want to give that up?
Benefits of having a roommate
There is in fact a darn good reason for giving up your solitary lifestyle: Living with a roommate could very well save your life. I don’t mean just the difference between life and death in an emergency situation – a sudden illness or injury – I’m talking about literally living longer, and healthier, and happier than you are likely to do if you live alone.
Consider this statistically proven fact shared by Suzanne Braun Levine in her keynote address last July at Women At Woodstock: Men who live with a wife or female partner live longer than men who do not. Women who have girlfriends live longer than those who don’t. In other words, having females close to you to share your life or your home may literally add years to your life. (Suzanne is the original editor of Ms. Magazine and author of several books including You Gotta Have Girlfriends).
So why is this so? Consider how you eat, for one thing. How many of you have felt concern for a mother or an aunt who lives alone and almost never cooks any longer? It’s pretty common to hear these women say that they don’t care about cooking anymore – or it’s too much work – or (perhaps unspoken) it’s just too depressing to prepare a meal and then sit down to eat it alone. Packaged instant meals or even junk food may become their main sustenance, and if you’re honest with yourself, you may see yourself traveling that path in the future as well. Many women in shared living situations have reported that they cook far more often than before they moved in together. One may love to cook, and now is motivated when the cooking is for two. Or one may feel she can handle cooking when she knows someone else is going to clean up after. Or one may hate cooking, roommate or not, and reap the benefits of living with someone who loves to create in the kitchen. These women literally eat more nutritious food than they did when living alone.
When women spend time together, they produce more of the hormone oxytocin – sometimes called the cuddle hormone. Says Dr. Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, “There’s a very clear mapping from positive social relationships back to health.” More oxytocin, he says, means less cardiovascular stress and an improved immune system. Women, and the hormones they cause you to produce when they are with you, are literally physically good for you.
Of course, taking on a roommate does mean giving up some autonomy. Your kitchen will not be exclusively your own, nor will your common living areas. But what if you and your roommate moved together into a larger home than either of you could afford on your own? Many Boomer women have actually pooled their money and bought a new home together, with enough square footage for each of them to have her own private suite, or at least a private bedroom and bathroom. A larger home too will mean larger areas for hanging out, entertaining, cooking, and eating, and possibly a bigger lot as well. With an expanded home and grounds, roommates have often found that contrary to feeling hemmed in or crowded by their shared living arrangement, in fact they feel less constricted than before.
This larger space can foster a renewed interest in entertaining, too. Suddenly a garden party is possible, or a dinner for six, or a birthday celebration. There’s room for it. And, with the enthusiasm and shared responsibility of a housemate, planning and hosting social gatherings is just plain more fun than it was before.
Solutions to challenges
The downsides too have so many workable solutions. If tastes in television are disparate, roommates can record their shows and exercise their “viewing times” separately – or they might have enough space to have televisions in two separate rooms. If they have something of a Felix and Oscar situation with regard to clutter and cleanliness, they might be able to hire a housekeeper to come in once or even twice a week to do some light cleaning and straightening up. If family visits are a problem – with noise or grandchildren perhaps impinging on the other’s peace and quiet, they can agree on alternate locations for get-togethers with their families, or they can set certain dates and times when one roommate can entertain the little ones while the other finds another activity outside the home.
Health and as we age
And the obvious life-saving and health-preserving benefits are not to be ignored. Someone will be there with you if you become suddenly ill, or you injure yourself, or you could just use some TLC when you come down with the flu. You won’t have to hope that you are able to make a phone call if it’s serious and you need immediate help. And, let’s be honest, as we get older we do become somewhat more forgetful, which can cause some danger long before we approach anything like dementia. If you leave the burner on in the kitchen, a roommate will likely see it and turn it off. Or if you put something down in a now-forgotten location (can we say reading glasses?), she may know the answer to that frequently asked question, “Where did I put my…?”
We Boomers have always forged our own paths – it’s what we do – and now that we’re entering our second adulthood, millions of us are defining our own self-arranged communal living situations, rather than depending on family or moving into retirement communities. More power to us.