Life in a group house is a singularly strange experience. It is increasingly being shared by twenty-somethings in cities across the nation as the cost of living creeps up and the availability of good jobs continues to sink. It is a surreal existence were nomadic young professionals form semi-permanent family units based off of Craigslist connections and compatible income levels. I think this is a good reflection of how our generation works. After all, we have online dating and maintain online friendships. Most of us have inherited a dedicated jadedness about “true love” from watching the endless divorces and heartbreaks of our parents’ generation, and so we seem perfectly content to separate sex and romance and family. We forge connections from our computer screens based on arbitrary attributes like whether they were clever in their profile, or if we like their blog or taste in music, then “casually date” these people, while shunning all hints at domesticity.
For “family life” we move into group houses and form funny little nomadic family units. Sex and romance can easily be outsourced to Tinder or OKCupid, and can be kept entirely separate from the need to cohabitate. Though driven by economic reasons, the main appeal of a group house is to ensure that someone will bring you soup when you are sick. I cook dinner with my roommates. I watch TV in the evenings with my roommates. I throw dinner parties with my roommates and talk about my day/work/life with my roommates. I find it a bit of an odd arrangement, since before my divorce I turned to my lover for such things, but I am grateful for our funny little family just the same. There is a constant landmine of girl-drama in a house with four women, but still we are good companions for each other. They give me what we all eventually strive for with “family”–people that I care about that I can share my evening meals with and share my thoughts with. In my group house, there is always someone around to provide a listening ear, or company on a lonely night, or Gatorade for the hangover.
I still find this approach toward family a bit disorienting since, when I was married in the Army, circumstances dictated that we could never fully share a life. We could never get a house together, never get a dog together, never even had the freedom to stay the night. We only dreamed about the old model of family–one formed when two people fall in romantic love and start a home. I find it sadly ironic that the very luxuries that I spent years striving after are not seen as luxuries at all by the majority of my generation. I have watched the “city singles” treat romantic love a bit like an STD: a potential infection that can be contracted from any of their string of lovers, to be avoided through the proper use of protection. Hence, Tinder is hugely popular as a clearinghouse of sex, without any of that bothersome pretense about love and emotional attachment. After all, lovers come and go, but since the depressed economy means there is little upward income mobility, roommates tend to stick around for years.
I am, I confess, baffled by this attitude that seems to dominate the corners of the dating world in Washington DC, but there is a very good chance that I am doing myself a disservice by not fully giving it a chance. After all, in a lonely and isolating world, shouldn’t we be grateful for the family and community that we can find? Who really cares if it follows the traditional models of love+sex=family? After all, I run around claiming that love should be celebrated whether it is gay or straight or something in between. Doesn’t that make me a bit of a hypocrite for spitting on platonic love then? Why does family have to be all tangled up with sex, when we have other options? Maybe their will be space in the busy lives of twenty-somethings for the more traditional family model in a decade or so, but even if we never revert back to the old way, so long as we find a family to share our days with, does it truly matter?