Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Flatmates' Friend

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?

Flatmates' Friend

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,
Auntie Seraphic


Pedantic Classicist said...

Hi Seraphic,

I liked your reply: I've thought about this a lot in the past. What would you say to this argument:

"Too many people are cohabitating as it is; by living together you may unwittingly set a bad example for some neighbor or distant acquaintance who assumes that you are living together as lovers (and never gets to know you well enough to realize that he is wrong). Consequently, such a person may choose to cohabitate in the future, partly based on your example ('those people across the street lived together and they seemed fine')."

What is that they used to say? "One should shun the very appearance of impropriety"? Is there any chance that this applies here, current societal mores notwithstanding?

Seraphic said...

That certainly is a concern, for we are our brothers' keepers, and St Paul said we shouldn't eat meat sacrificed to idols (a harmless activity) if it would scandalize our "weaker brethren".

But in a big city in the English-speaking world, opposite-sex flatmates are now so common, and female-only options so few, that everyone should make the most charitable assumption unless/until the flatmates openly reveal a para-marriage relationship.

Scandal-mongering is wicked. These days even two men or two women can't live with each other without some busybody wondering if there isn't "something funny" going on. Outrageous.

For all a stranger knows, a man and woman in the same apartment are legally married (not all married women wear rings) or are blood relations.

The friends have nothing to be ashamed of, and therefore should not act like they do.

Not once did I ever worry that I was causing scandal by living with Ted and Jon. Well, once a cab driver warned me to be careful now, honey, when I went home with Jon in a cab one night. He must have thought Jon was a Don Juan kind of man. I hope I reassured the cabbie.

The flatmates could minimize the risk of scandal by making it clear (in conversations) that they are only platonic friends and flatmates.

They could each have their own phone listing in the phone book and if they have an answering machine, see if they can get the option of "If you wish to leave a message for X, please press 1. If you wish to leave a message for Y, please press 2."

They can shun the appearance of impropriety by not snuggling together on couches. I once saw a seminarian lying with his head on a female friend's lap, and I raised a censorious eyebrow. And of course Snuggly Seminarian was eventually kicked out of the sem and became the girl's boyfriend.

Modesty and decorum should go a long way in reassuring the "weak brethren."

healthily sanguine said...

Are female-only options really so few? I live about an hour away from a major city, and all of my friends (men and women) in said city have same-sex roommates/flatmates. Thus, it's never struck me as common for guys and girls to share a house or apartment, or that difficult to find housemates of the same sex. That could be the "Catholic world" coming into play, but I really think it DOES come into play. There are options to explore when it comes to finding roommates, and perhaps the friends should explore those options before signing their lease. At the very least, they might make new friends that way! (I am all about making new friends through housemates, btw, because I've met a great guy through one of my female housemates!)

Liesel said...

I had to endure 'lesbian' chants from a near-neighbour's young son when I was living with my mother (30 years older than me!). So the 'appearance of evil' is pretty hard to avoid these days.

Seraphic said...

Liesel, good heavenly days!

HS, I do think female flatmates (when friendly) more fun and easier on the psyche.

However I cannot shake the memory of an absolutely miserable, hot day in Boston as I trudged from female abode to female abode, being interviewed by scowling young bottle blondes who sounded as if vanilla ice-cream ran in their veins and or knocking anxiously at doors of those who had stood me up . So when I met Jon and Ted, I was at "Where do I sign?"

Moving to a town where you know no-one or almost no-one can absolutely sucks. I'm not a big, gooey-eyed fan of boys-as-best-buddies, but in such a circumstance I am willing to bend.

Grad in a big city said...

Thank you for this. I am not a Nice Catholic Girl, although I try to be a Reasonably Nice Very Protestant Girl...and I really enjoy reading your blog. Even when you say things that I disagree with 100%, you never do this in a way that makes me angry.

More to the point, as a grad student in a Big City where living in expensive, you take what you can get. New cities suck. Grad school sucks. Post-doc life, from what I hear, is no picnic either, and having a friend there, whatever gender, may well be the difference between a serious life crisis and merely a rough time.

Seraphic said...

Grad in a big city, I love my Catholic readership, they are my brothers, my sisters, my tribe, my etc, but your comment has MADE MY DAY!!! It is one thing to preach to the choir (and I love the choir) who are just so relieved someone else out there thinks like they do. But it is another thing for someone to say "I disagree with you, but I keep reading." It's a gift, it's flattering, it warms my little heart. In short, you rock, Reasonably Nice Very Protestant Girl, and I'm buying you an imaginary beer. If your brand of Protestantism says no beer, then please accept an imaginary root beer instead.

Seraphic said...

And you are right. Grad school sucks. The best thing you can do is get through it as quickly and sanely as possible, and if you come out with your sanity intact, you thank God for His manifold mercies because as you will have noted during your servitude, not all your professors did.

leonine said...

Ok, Seraphic, that last comment totally made my day.


Another Nice-ish Protestant In Graduate School Who Keeps Reading.

Seraphic said...

Leonine, are you really? Holy cats! How many of you ARE Protestants?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I guess a whole bunch of us, Seraphic. A whole big bunch ;-)

MP x

Julie said...

I'm a Catholic grad student in a big city and I also agree with Seraphic. I would never want to live with a strange male roommate, and when I have had to search for roommates I always limit myself to women (and not infrequently end up with Muslim ladies). BUT in this circumstance that male friend is a godsend and you must accept it and be grateful. I like your 6-month idea, very smart, especially between people who know and trust each other.

My only caution is something you allude to toward the end. I would be careful that they shouldn't socialize in public too much. Old friends and particularly old friends who live together develop an intimate way of interacting that will be evident and possibly misinterpreted. If it were me I might even consider going to separate Masses although that's extreme!! They should try very hard to have very separate social lives -- no going to one another's department dinners, no long hours together studying in the coffee shop, no long semi-private consultations about the day's plans after Mass or people will think there is something funny going on. I would also say that they should make a point when meeting people of dropping into conversation that they are not "together-together". Relationships are so casual today even when they are "totally committed" that I think it would be worthwhile, especially for searching singles, to put some effort into fending off misunderstandings at least at the beginning.

Seraphic said...

MP, that does it. I have developed a non-Catholic base and so, darn it, I'm running for office!

Ooh, better get citizenship first.

Julie, excellent points. I almost never went to Mass with Ted, although I think that was Ted's idea, or he didn't like the homilies in Cambridge or whatever. Frankly, though, it never crossed my mind to worry for a fragment of a second that someone might think I was "with" Ted--although maybe Ted worried, ROFL!

Lost Noldo said...

Wow! This is a bit of a surprise coming from you, Auntie Seraphic, but I'm actually relieved to get your opinion on this particular topic. Due to job, I'm moving in two months and already worried about the housing situation there. I am getting to the point that I don't care if my housemates are male or female, gay or straight, provided that they don't bring their significant others (read 'drama') over every night and they remember to wash their dishes.
Though I too have been worried about the accusations of scandal, I once lived with six other girls and people still wondered things. I think I'm beginning to be of the opinion that the only people left in the world that I could possibly scandalize are my parents (and because it would be just my luck, any prospective Good Catholic Boys).
Good room/housemates are hard to find.

theobromophile said...

Agree with Seraphic, Julie, et al.

Living in a city is expensive. You can only get your rent out of the four-figures-per-month (and five per year!) category if you split a place with people.

From a realistic point of view, you can always end up with a male roommate, albeit one who does not pay the rent, if your female roommate acquires a serious boyfriend.

You can also find yourself living with people whose values don't match your own, which can be a problem when their friends proposition you or ask you if you want to smoke pot.

Do not ask me how I know this.

So, you're best off living with someone whom you trust, who will respect your space, and whose actions will bolster your values and the way that you want to live your life.

Seraphic said...

Lost Noldo, why not see if there are any convents or sorority houses that take boarders? So TRUE about other girls and their boyfriends. So depressing. The only way out (if there's no convent, sorority, YWCA) is to move in with other religious girls (don't have to be Catholic--Muslim girls, for example, will be on the same page) and have a No Men Overnight policy. Nuns have a built-in No Men Overnight policy.

Meanwhile, a good, mature NCB is not going to be deeply scandalized by your having a male housemate. The dynamic between suitors and male housemates can be rather funny, actually, from a female point of view.

some guy on the street said...

Seraphic and Liesel have beaten me to the observation that the appearance of evil is hard to avoid; but I think it's more: that the world has lost any sense of innocence! We live steeped in a culture that, as far as human relations are concerned, has lost all honest imagination and degenerated to entertaining beastly phantasmata. It acknowledges only one category of interaction, and all appearances are gobbled up trying to discern "what team do they play for"? It would make the whole place downright dull, if not for the odd sensible folks here and there. And may I say what a pleasure it is to associate with you, here!

Seraphic said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I live in a group house with all girls and we've been asked by our otherwise wonderful neighbors a) if we're a "safe house" (lots of retired CIA around these parts) and b) if we are part of cult. The second was asked under the influence of alcohol. Who knows what other things they wonder!


fifi said...

Why don't the Flatmates in question advertise in all the places Good Catholic People hang out in town for a third party, to further reduce both their rent and the possibility that they might be giving scandal? If #3 doesn't work out, they can always kick him/her out and go back to being their safe, friendly selves, but at least they tried (and have something to tell their neighbors, grandmothers, or whoever scandalizes easiest).

And I have to tease you about this one, Seraphic. We should keep phone calls to 15 minutes, and not meet socially one-on-one with Nice Catholic Boys for longer than an hour, and not bake them brownies unless they are our boyfriends, but we can share apartments, refrigerators, and rolls of toilet paper under these circumstances? Forsooth!

In principle, I am not sure I disagree with you, exactly. I've tried moving in with strangers in Good Catholic Women's Houses and they were usually disasters... even with faith and morals in common. There's a heckuva lot more that goes into a good living situation than that. And of course, compared to total strangers with questionable morals, a good solid friend of long standing... well, there is no comparison.

But I think the female half of the roomies in particular should be careful to preserve her sense of "mystery" for lack of a better word. When you have nice Catholic girl roommates, a girl can run around in a towel and mud mask, sit with a pint of ice cream and b- ..oh! I mean complain!... about her period, or go braless: none of which are a good idea to do in the presence of Nice Catholic Boys unless they share her DNA. Ok, maybe not even then.

In other words, you cannot let it all hang out in quite the same way as you can with girls (as has been mentioned by others). I would hope that a truly Nice Catholic Girl would know this. Alas, I have met far too many who did not. Hence, I am repeating it here in this boring manner.

I assume there is a male equivalent to such behavior, I just don't know what it would be...

Seraphic said...

Fifi--ha! If female flatmate develops any feelings for male flatmate, it will be a freaking disaster and she will have to move out pronto. Unless of course, he secretly does first and then they'll get married.

But the writer swore up and down they were just platonic friends, yadda yadda, so I said okay. But moving in with a guy in the hopes he'll be yours one day is one of the stupidest things you can do. I mean, really stupid. Beyond stupid. So stupid, I can see 15 Hollywood movies being based on it, with totally unrealistic Hollywood endings that will screw up two generations of Americans.

Anonymous said...

Even though I understand that it is more "accepted" to live with a male friend these days, I still think it's a bad idea. (And don't think I'm some old grandma writing this either, I'm in my early twenties...not that there is anything wrong with an old grandma but I digress). I do think it could cause scandal but even beyond that, it is putting oneself in a situation that could lead to temptation. Why do that to oneself? Yes it seems convenient but just because something is convenient does not mean that it is the best decision. I'm actually pretty surprised that Auntie Seraphic gave it a green light.


S. Elizabeth said...

Auntie Seraphic! I, with great joy, present myself as the female half of the pair of friends in question. My (now-even-more-highly) esteemed friend showed me the question she'd sent, your response, and the rest of your tremendously delightful blog. I had no idea what I was missing and will certainly be a loyal reader from now on.

As for the question of the flat: We have resolved to go ahead and rent it. Nice Catholic Boy makes a great friend but would make a rather terrible husband (for me!), so I'm not anticipating any Hollywood-worthy drama. Our schedules will be so far from normal that I doubt we'll see much of one-another anyway. I'll keep you posted on how things go!

Seraphic said...

Try-a-girl, if you were an old grandma, you would know that having a male housemate (especially if old enough to be working on a post-doctoral degree) is not automatically a temptation to sexual sin. Generations of landladies have shared their homes with male boarders and kept their virtue and reputations intact.

MargoB said...

Hmmmm....but still. I'm more in agreement with Fifi, and was, you're right, surprised by your advice. (S. Elizabeth, and others in her shoes, please do not take the following as personal criticism; I'm disagreeing with the idea/advice/principle of the thing, and claim the following as my opinion, not Divine Revelation ;-) )

I realize that living with folks of questionable character is not a good idea, and that students are on tight budgets. But I'll go one stronger than Fifi -- something of great value is lost when a man and woman who are not related by DNA or marriage live together. Even if they won't be seeing each other much.

Fifi's 2nd paragraph - no meeting with Nice Catholic Boys socially for more than 1 hour, but share rolls of TP for 12 months?! - makes a lot of sense. I agree, as well, that a woman's sense of mystery is *much* harder to preserve in the situation under discussion.

Indeed, the question of scandal is an issue, as is the possibility of romantic involvement. But I'm concerned about something deeper.

I do not think that unrelated men and women living together (i.e., without somehow being part of a family) leaves enough physical, psychological, and spiritual distance for the full flourishing of those involved. Certain lines are either in danger of being crossed, or are, indeed, crossed, that ought never to have been crossed. Yes, I am referring to feminine mystique/mystery, and safeguarding this for the woman/women, as well as safeguarding this discovery in the mind of the man/men...but also to something more. There is, I think, a goodness to reflecting the separateness-unless-married (or familialy-related-to) of men and women in the physical order, by the maintenance of separate dwellings until such a time as a man and woman are one (or, as I said, have the same DNA/are already related).

Someone else has probably said this more clearly than I am here, but although I agree with you, Auntie Seraphic, on most things, I cannot say that I would ever advise men and women to live together w/o being married under any circumstances.

To add a bit of argument -- perhaps the lack of affordable housing is a hint that moving to such-and-such a town is not the path to follow, or that some other living situation should be pursued/found. I do not think God would refuse assistance to anyone who was facing this dilemma and wanting to find housing with good people of the same sex; I do think there's a way of following through on the principle of not living with a person of the opposite sex until/unless you are in some way related to them.

Seraphic said...

Margo B, I agree with the heart of your comment, which is that something is lost. You are absolutely right. A certain feminine privacy is lost, and this is an evil. But in my view, having lived this evil myself, it is a lesser evil than many.

To touch on the brownies-bad-but-TP-is-ok? issue: Young women who think they are called to marriage are, in their heart of hearts, longing to give themselves away. THIS is the great female sin: the lust to GIVE GIVE GIVE.

This would not so bad if it were real, detached generosity, like when we give an old person our seat on the bus, never expecting to see the old person again. It is warped when it is has strings attached, as indiscriminate brownie-baking and dinner-cooking and sex-having often do.

It just struck me that Eve GAVE Adam the apple, and Adam TOOK the apple, which sort of sums up my theology of male and female sin: women are tempted to be selfish givers and men are tempted to be selfish takers. God have mercy on all of us.

Moving to a brand new city to do something as economically and socially thankless (in the short run) as a post-doctoral degree is in an entirely different category. There is no question in this situation that the woman is trying to make boys like her.

As I've said before, my ideal arrangement for a woman is to board in a convent or live in a club for women. Sadly the former are few and the latter no longer seem to exist.

Living with a strange woman or women is no guarantee of privacy and protection from men or moral outrage. I know a woman who was nearly raped by a flatmate's boyfriend. (She escaped by locking herself in her room, and another flatmate's bf coming to the rescue before the lock broke.) I know another woman who was given a pro-choice harangue by her supposedly Catholic flatmate after a hard day as a crisis pregnancy counsellor. And God only knows how many of us have listened to a same-sex flatmate having sex in the next room and had to make small talk the next morning.

I was spared that horror because Ted is a devout Catholic and Jon had no time for relationships and probably would have not wanted to start a rumpus with Ted and me anyway. Meanwhile, my boyfriend of the time never stayed past midnight because he was afraid of what Ted and Jon would think, and Ted gave me me a very hard time if I stayed out too late. Which made Jon and Ted like moral guardians, which is rather funny.

In short, S. Elizabeth is--indeed--choosing a less-than-ideal situation. She is going to suffer a certain loss of feminine privacy that she wouldn't suffer at home with brothers or with a husband or with a manservant. But as she is going to be renting a flat with a DEVOUT CATHOLIC FRIEND, she is less likely to suffer from the outrages too many of us have suffered from living with strangers and premaritally sexually active women.

MargoB said...

Hmmm....! I really appreciate your filling in all those ideas/background of why you came to your conclusion. I can see where you're coming from; it makes a great deal of sense.

Not ready to do a 180 on this, but my point of view is really going to have to stand up for itself now that the points you made have entered my mind. Never saw that what you described could work that way, before.

AveLady said...

I haven't a good argument for the principle of the thing, but I've a question to throw out there. Before I do, though, I'd like to point out that I'm a vastly inexperienced recent college graduate, and this is more of a thought and a query and I wouldn't want it to influence life decisions. Anyway:

On occasions when I feel I've lost my "feminine mystique" for some man in my life, (happens pretty easily in college - nothing sinful, just too much sharing for the actual type of relationship) I found myself feeling resentful of the poor fellow, like he had forcibly "taken" something, however trivial, even though I, in fact, gave it to him.

It seems like even if you're not "lusting" to give, if you put yourself in a situation in which you must give up your mystique and privacy to a degree that is disproportionate to the actual relationship you have with the person, you're going to feel used. It seems like you're actually putting a good friendship at risk, not because of the 'danger' of messy romance, but because the unnaturalness of the situation will eventually breed animosity.

But it doesn't sound like women who have actually had NCB roommates have experienced this, so I'm probably way off base. It's obvious that it would be a danger for me, personally, but perhaps it's just a temperament thing. I mostly bring it up because I was wondering if anyone has had that experience whilst rooming with NCBs. Anybody?

Seraphic said...

Well, I would point out--once again--that I don't think having male housemates (even NCBs, and my housemate Ted is a NCB) is ideal for a woman, especially a girly girl. I'd rather live with my family or girlfriends, and not live with strangers AT ALL unless I absolutely have to. I've gotten to that stage where I would forgo some ambition or other because I'd rather stay comfortably at home.

Just having a NCB male housemate who acts like a bear--making his own meals and not talking to you much--is not necessarily going to make you wish you had kept your mouth shut and not given bits of your heart away. My housemates definitely did not want bits of my heart, and they definitely resisted all my feeble attempts to make us a real household--except for one Easter dinner.

Although at the time, I seethed and was homesick, and was plotting to find some nice woman to room with, now I look back upon my years with J&T with nostalgia and affection.