Dearest Auntie Seraphic:
Two of my friends are about to begin different post-doc programs in a large city where they know no one else. They (a man and woman) are the same age and we've all been friends throughout college & grad school. They have a good, solid male-female friendship and there is, so far as I can tell, no funny business wherein one is attracted to the other. They are solidly platonic. We are all, of course, Nice Catholic Girls (and Boys). My question on their behalf: should they share an apartment to save rent in their scary new big city where they'll have no other friends at first? Or would living with a person who's not your spouse cause lots of problems, even if they're not dating?
Dear Flatmates' Friend,
I'm now going to shock all regular readers by putting on my black lace mantilla of married Catholic lady authority and say to your friends "Go forth and rent the apartment together."
One of the worst things in student life is moving to a new city and trying to find a decent flat and flatmates who are not horrid, impossibly slovenly or insane. Dealings with a landlord or landlady can also be fraught with worry and drama. So a housemate whom one already knows, likes, trusts and shares the faith with is worth his or her weight in gold.
That said, I believe your friends should agree to a six-month "No hard feelings" opt-out clause. This means that, once they are settled in the city, and have made friends and contacts, one or the other can choose to live alone or with members of the same sex, if that's what they'd prefer to do. The caveat to this is that the person who wishes to leave must help the person staying find a new congenial flatmate.
Once upon a time, the Big City featured clubs where career women, female students, and even elderly women in reduced circumstances could live together in a genteel, prudent and modest fashion. It is one of the outrages of the Sexual Revolution that for the most part these places no longer exist. I once lived as a boarder in a convent for a year, and I was as snug as a bug in a rug.
But I have lived with male flatmates, too, and although I did not think this was an ideal situation for a woman like me, they are both great guys and I was lucky. How I came to live with Jon and Ted is in My Book.
My primarily psychological problem in living with Jon and Ted was that I thought that we should eat together like a family, and say when we were going out and why, and then come back and chat about it. You know, like girls do. But Jon and Ted preferred to cook massive separate meals in the kitchen and carry them back to their respective lairs. They saw no reason to inform me of their comings and goings every single time.
This made me lonely, and I missed my girlfriends back home (some of whom shared a house, having a marvellous time) like crazy. This is not to say my male flatmates and I never hung out together, because often we did, and it was great fun, but I pined for real family life and/or girls-together life.
My female friends with male flatmates report their maternal feelings for younger male flatmates and that their maternal instincts, advice, etc. get rebuffed. I have a hunch that men resist all attempts by any woman to domesticate them until they're good and ready to be domesticated by a live-in lover or a wife. Outdoors, men are definitely the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Indoors, they can be freaking bears.
Therefore, I advise your friends to sit down and work out if they're going to live together like a family or religious order, or if they're going to live together like friendly bears in neighbouring caves. They should also work out how much cleanliness and dirtiness each can tolerate. They should work out a cleaning day and stick to it, both of them cleaning at the same time so there is no flatmate thinking "Here I am cleaning, and there s\he is playing X-Box, grrr!"
As for marriage prospects, I don't see a problem. My friend Boston Girl was sitting in a cafe with her hair in a mess and a Boston Red Socks cap jammed on it as she marked student papers, cursing, and the future Love of Her Life approached and asked if he could share her table. The fact that Boston Girl had a male housemate did not daunt this suitor. For one thing, in Boston where students are gouged by landlords and supermarkets for every cent, it is unremarkable to have one or more housemate of the opposite sex. And for another, the suitor didn't at first know. The housemate had his own life and was rarely in public with Boston Girl.
Since your friends know each other well and have already disqualified each other as romantic interests, I don't see much problem with the Ol' Black Magic---unless one comes home with their heart ripped out and in a doggy bag. In that case, the other has to be careful, in a week or two, to make sure he or she is not being sized up by Mr. or Ms. Crazed-with-Grief as the replacement, as in "Why did I bother with an X like Y, when all along I've been so happy here with Z?"
I do hope this is helpful. Thirty years ago, your average Black Mantilla probably would have said "No way!" But it is 2010 and platonic housemates of the opposite sex have become commonplace.
Grace and peace,