Cohabitation vs. the Loneliness of Liberty
By Mary Keyes Rogers | Sept. 2, 2023
For all our differences, as a nation of over 300 million people, we all believe in one thing: personal freedom. Americans expect nearly unlimited liberty to be left alone to do as they want with as little intervention as possible. We can take care of ourselves without assistance; we should not have to bend to compromise; we may decide with whom to keep company; and we enjoy the freedom to speak freely against authority.
Depending on your tone of voice, these can be admirable or unrealistically isolationist personal values. Either way, they make for a lousy roommate.
Roommate? Yes. I am suggesting that an updated approach to how and with whom we house ourselves could pleasantly address many of our current social and civic troubles, including crisis-level shortages in housing, childcare, and available service workers, coupled with record-breaking loneliness, social isolation, and children being raised by financially and time-stressed single parents.
What might personal liberty have to do with solving these problems? I think it has created them.
Rather than tiptoeing around the point I’m aiming at, let me share my thinking at its most extreme, and then we can scale it back to more reasonable and palatable ideas. Kibbutz. Commune. Intentional communities. Cohousing. Coliving. Non-traditional housing arrangements.
I’m not talking about hippies; I’m talking about The Golden Girls! Let’s open up to living with people we may or may not be related to. Humans are meant to be interdependent, but we have lost our connection as we have created communities based on single-family homes, which now house single individuals in many cases.
Most adults insist on living alone. We’ve been programmed to believe that everyone within the family needs to be living independently unless they are a minor child, legally married, or have a significant other. Otherwise, they are clearly a failure, unable to pay for their own place. We want our young adult kids out of the house as soon as possible and our aging parents to take care of themselves in the original family home for as long as possible before we force them into a dreaded community living arrangement. This is how we’ve been taught to think.
The loneliness of social isolation at any age is not healthy and completely avoidable, yet the cure carries an odd social stigma. Moving into our first solo space is the ultimate milestone of personal responsibility and accomplishment. To later become a roommate is to fall from grace. Aside from the stigma, we are unwilling to accommodate differing needs or desires in our living space. Our determined independence keeps us from learning to get along with each other in our most intimate setting. We would rather be lonely than adjust our ways.
Change is needed today. The two-parent household is a rarity; fewer than half of American kids live in a so-called traditional family environment, with two married parents on their first marriage. With our family members scattered across the country, it is time to think unconventionally about how we arrange our personal lives, who we live with, and who helps us raise our children and care for our parents.
At all stages of adult life, our friends become our families. Why not live together if it creates convenience, supports a friend in need, or allows you to pool your resources to share a more desirable home?
1990s TV solved the single working mom struggle with Kate and Allie pooling their resources and moving in together. Similarly, Full House showed it took three adult men to cover the child-rearing duties of helping with homework, school projects, and broken hearts. In Two and a Half Men, Charlie’s playboy Malibu lifestyle is cramped when his divorced brother Alan moves in with his 10-year-old son.
In all of these co-living arrangements, everyone benefited from living together. It may have derived from a crisis, but in the end, the living arrangement was preferable to the American standard of the single-family home, two-parent experience, which does not exist in great numbers.
If we stop our griping and get a roommate, will everything be okay? Well, maybe. Consider two or three. Not because you have to, but because you want to.
Mary Keyes Rogers is a resident of Traverse City providing private consulting services to small business owners. Her career has included her morning talk radio show Mary in the Morning, Marigold Women in Business, Regional Director of the National Assoc. of Women Business Owners, and The Michigan Small Business Development Center.