Life in the city for most young people also means life with roommates. Roommates, and the relationships we form with them, come in all shapes and sizes. They can be amazing, they can lead to some of the most enduring friendships of your life, or they can be volatile nutcases who listen to Slayer at 4 a.m. and always forget to lock the goddamn front door. In unforeseen and confusing circumstances, they can also be very, very attractive.
Realizing you want to sleep with your roommate is like realizing your favourite DJ is playing a late-night show the night before your job interview. You know you shouldn’t do it. All common sense tells you not to do it. But you’re definitely going to do it anyway. Constantly sharing your space with someone when there is an evident mutual attraction pretty much only remains platonic until one or both of you gets drunk enough to cast logic aside and just go for it.
While the way people will navigate this situation obviously varies immensely with the individuals involved, I feel like there are some inevitable similarities in the way these relationships progress. Maybe I am completely wrong on that, and maybe lots of people bang their roommates with reckless abandon and it ends up absolutely nothing like this, but from my limited experience, here is my “advice.”
If you sleep with your roommate once, and it’s reasonably fun, you are very likely to sleep with them again. If you sleep with them again, and then a third time, it’s pretty damn hard not to feel like you’re dating, and once you feel like you’re dating, it’s pretty hard not to feel like you’re in a serious, committed relationship. After two weeks. You come home from work to each other, you share meals, you share bills, you the leave the party and go home together, you send each other text messages asking the other if they could grab some toilet paper on the way home. All of the ways a normal relationship progresses are thrown completely out of balance when you don’t have the option of “taking it slow” or “seeing how things go.” You are suddenly sharing a home with your new lover while simultaneously getting to know them. You brush your teeth in each others’ lingering poop stench before you’ve even had the chance to ask about their family. It’s like moving in together on the first date.
While this can be a really exciting, gratifying way to get to know someone, it can also be difficult and stressful. You suddenly find yourself in a domestic partnership with someone who, in reality, you don’t really know all that well. Maybe they aren’t the person you thought they were, or maybe you’re not the person they thought you were. Maybe you are both just as awesome as you hoped the other one would be but you just aren’t that good at being with each other. Maybe it was the wrong time in your lives for one or both of you but by the force of an attraction neither of you could control, you accidentally slipped and tumbled into a serious relationship. And that just might not work out that well.
When it’s working, it’s amazing. When it’s not working, you’re trapped in it. The wall that separates your bedrooms suddenly becomes a symbol of conflict. Usually you’re both snuggled up happily on the same side of it, but on those nights when you just can’t get along for one reason or another, you both slink angrily back to your own rooms and have to fall asleep listening to each other toss and turn through that dry-walled reminder that you’re failing in your relationship. You run into conflicts within 2 months that most couples wouldn’t hit for a year. If you’re honest and forthright, maybe you can work some of these out. Unfortunately, some people, no matter how much they want to, simply aren’t meant to be together.
I slept with my roommate the first week he moved in, then went on to date him for six months in an intense, exciting and oftentimes trying relationship that saw us quickly integrate ourselves entirely into each others’ lives. It was hard. It was fun. It was one of the best relationships I’ve had. In the end it didn’t work out, so in the end he had to move out and we had to disentangle.
And therein lies the problem with sleeping with your roommate. There can be no casual sex, no casual dating, there is simply nothing casual about it. Six months feels like three years. In normal relationships, if things don’t work out after six months you can pretty easily part ways. In roommate relationships, you need to transfer leases, abruptly find a new roommate in the middle of the year, pack boxes, change neighbourhoods. And that’s in a relationship that ended amicably, I can’t even imagine how hard it would be if it ended in bitterness.
So do I regret it? Absolutely not. Would I advise someone else to sleep with their roommate? Probably not, no. But in the end, that advice is wasted breath. Because they’re definitely going to do it anyway.