Featured Articles

Real Happiness at Work: Roommate Labor

Some days, I roll out of bed, head to the kitchen for a glass of water, see my best friend and think – what the hell are you doing in my house?  And then I remember: oh yeah, she lives here.

I’ve been living on this earth for 32 years, but I’ve only lived alone for one of them.  I signed the lease on a cute on-bedroom in Prospect Heights the year I got my “big girl job.”  I was working a full-time, salaried position at a large community health center, where I wore blazers and slacks and sat at a wide desk under fluorescent lights in a room with no windows.  I planned, implemented, and evaluated wellness programs.  I had great benefits and a 401k.  I joined a nice gym and got regular manicures.  My mother had never been more proud.

I had never been more depressed.

Turns out – there were things that were more important to me than making my rent on that apartment.  As I transitioned into doing work that I love as an independent contractor, I realized I would be making about a third of what I pulled in during my young professional year.  But to do the kind of work that I felt proud of, and enjoyed so much it didn’t even feel like work, I was willing to make some lifestyle sacrifices. 

Today, I live in a sweet and comfortable two-bedroom apartment in South Brooklyn with a dear friend and her dog.  We’ve lived together for a few years now, and sometimes it’s an easy joy.  It’s nice to have somebody home to laugh off a bad date with, or make Disaster Nachos with whatever’s in the fridge, or watch Hulu and paint our own damn nails. 

And sometimes, living with a roommate is WORK.  We disagree about who cleaned the bathroom last. I can’t stand how she leaves unwashed pots on the stove.  It drives her nuts when I don’t put my shoes in the shoe rack.  If I lived alone, I could line up my shoes clear across the living room if I felt like it, and there’d be no one to whine about having to step over them.  But the way I see it – part of the way I pay my cheap rent is in the work it takes to communicate about what really bothers me, and the work it takes to pick my battles and let some things go.  It’s emotional labor, even spiritual labor, living with a roommate.  Lucky for us, we’re both invested in pulling our weight. 

So -- I try to remember to put my shoes away. She has been a lot better about doing her dishes lately.  I take her dog with me when I go running, and she brings home flowers to show she appreciates me, and I’m grateful I have this modest, cozy place to live that allows me the freedom to stress less about money, because we share it.  On a good day, I’m even grateful for all the daily negotiations, which have become a mindfulness practice in and of themselves.

Today, when I sat down on my cushion for Day 6 of the meditation challenge, my house was quiet and still.  Some minutes into my sit, just as I was starting to get concentrated on my breath, my roommate began making tea and doing dishes.  She was singing – first some 50’s love song I couldn’t place, then a song by Adele… she was doing some kind of impromptu medley, and my impulse was to jump off my cushion, crack my door open and hiss, “I’m MEDITATING!” flashing a stern yet pious look at her before closing my door again.  And then I realized – I hadn’t heard her singing in the morning in quite some time.  She’s had a hard couple of months, and has seemed sad and grim most mornings.  But today, she’s singing, and I think – maybe she’s happy, and I don’t want to interrupt that.  So I switch from mindfulness of breath to mindfulness of hearing, because there’s nothing worth hissing about this morning, and there’s no perfect conditions for practice anyway.  This is how I grow.

Breathing in, I hear my best friend singing.  Breathing out, I smile.

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.

Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.