Home Invasion! How Old Is Too Old for Roommates?

With apartments scarce, even settled, married couples are opening up their homes to strange bedfellows.

Ereka, who grew up in a large family—raised by aunts and a grandmother while her mother was on the road as a singer for KC and the Sunshine Band—thought having roommates could be beneficial in other ways. “The communal space gets treated differently,” she noted. “It makes you more polite and empathetic.”

Or not. Christine, a school teacher who lives in the Bronx, said that her and her husband’s roommate has ruined the “whole feeling of family.” The couple took a housemate to help with the expenses of a baby. “We have a newborn, and this roommate is always getting the baby sick,” she said. “She constantly takes up space in the living room and kitchen. She doesn’t understand social cues or privacy issues. It’s very straining on our marriage.”

The couples say that having roommates has made them more conscious about sex, locking doors and timing the action for when the third party is out. But fighting can tend to become more exhibitionistic. “Sometimes when we have an argument and a roommate is there, each of us subconsciously tries to make our point stronger so if the roommate listens they would be on our side,” Diana noted.

Pete recalled going and sitting in the park with a roommate after a fight with Diana; the two smoked cigarettes and talked about how terrible love can be. And it really helped! Michelle said she found it valuable to have someone around who could see her situation up close and offer their take. One night when she couldn’t sleep, she and Hannah stayed up for hours talking about what was bothering her. “To only have your spouse to go to with all your problems creates so much pressure,” she said.

It all sounds very intimate, chatting about love in a park, but everyone The Observer spoke with swore up and down that sexual attraction to their roommates was not a problem. “We just couldn’t live with someone we found attractive,” Amy said. Liz agreed. Then again, Pete noted that the roommate who smoked cigarettes with him in the park also liked to ask for advice on which lingerie her boyfriend might like. “I enjoyed that,” he said as Diana rolled her eyes.

Despite such benefits, Mr. Miller, of Miller Samuel, sees the roommate boom as temporary. “This is a reaction to our crazy credit situation,” he said. “Right now we are correcting what happened in the past couple years. And so this phenomenon of doubling up is likely to continue for the next few years—but it’s not a long-term trend.”

All of the couples agreed that if it weren’t for the economy, they wouldn’t have roommates. Pete and Diana noted that as they get older—and the roommate pool tends to stay the same age—it’s beginning to feel a little awkward. “I think a 10-15 year gap between us and the roommates is fine, but a 20-25 year gap really starts to show,” Pete said, wincing.

Amy and Liz also looked forward to having their apartment to themselves, like they did before Amy’s business began failing in 2008. A lot of things were different then. “I had an office on 23rd Street,” Amy recalled. “I had a membership at Equinox gym. I stomped around the office in heels. Then that winter, everything suddenly dried up.”

Now in her 30s, she added, “I really thought by this point I would be done with this phase of life.”

About three months into Hannah’s stay, Michelle and Daniel decided they were through. Their dinner conversations had moved from philosophical exercise to political debate. Hannah, out of work and depressed, found a calling among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. She would come home to the loft, refreshed with all of the ideas floating around Zuccotti, which she would rant about as Michelle cooked dinner and the two waited on Daniel to get home from his Wall Street job. Over dinner, debates about the financial sector continued, but Michelle no longer found the conversation so much fun. “I would argue that not everything is bad about Wall Street, and obviously I was defending Daniel because it felt very personal to me,” she said. But it felt personal for Hannah, too. “She saw the fact that she couldn’t get a job as the fault of the recession and the recession is the fault of Wall Street,” Michelle explained.

They agreed to disagree, but it wasn’t the same. Soon, Hannah departed. “She moved in with another married couple,” Daniel said.

“He is a college professor and she is a midwife,” Michelle noted. “She went more hippie than us.”