san francisco, Spain

To the 43 Roommates I’ve Lived With

I’ve recently started seriously considering buying a house or apartment. Ideally here in Spain, but I’m not rushing into anything yet. With that idea in mind, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on all the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve shared my space and life with. At 37, I sometimes feel like I’m behind everyone else by still living with roommates and not either a) owning my own place or b) at least renting a place to live by myself. However, it’s boosted my savings and allowed me to live more frugally while (usually, not always) enjoying the company of other people. 43 of them, to be exact. Technically, slightly more because I’m not counting a couple of super-temporary situations.

Since 2001 when I left home for college, every single year I’ve lived in different homes. Almost all of them were shared apartments, necessary for saving money on the tight budgets I found myself on as a student and a young professional. Even in college, I lived with different people every year. I was always a bit envious of the people who found their “roommate match” and stayed with the same person or people all four years and beyond. But alas, it wasn’t the case for me.

So let’s dive in and get to know who all these 43 people are.

Wilmington, North Carolina

Living with other people my own age has always been pretty exciting for me, as an only child who grew up in a quiet house entertaining herself for hours on end. I didn’t really know how to  just “be” 24/7 in a shared living space with young people as I’d never done it before. That first year at UNC Wilmington living in the dorm with Brandy and then Becca, I quickly learned about people’s different sleeping schedules, noises, and cleanliness standards. What I didn’t learn quickly was assertiveness and speaking up when something bothered me. I was pretty good at keeping the peace though, being relatively clean and not too noisy. (Count: 2)

My second year, I moved into an apartment off-campus with two friends. I got closer with one of them who evolved into my BFF. Living with the BFF was exciting in every way. Grocery shopping together, making pretty much every mundane task a moment for jokes and silliness, writing each other notes, yeah, we were kind of like a married couple – we even fought sometimes (over AOL IM, no less). I’m sure we would have kept living together; however, she ended up moving across the country after that year so I needed to find a new set of roomies. (Count: 4)

College BFF roomie visiting me in SF a few years later

From then on, my roommate relationships were mainly common-space sharing with occasional casual friendship moments thrown in. All of them were girls, and luckily, very little drama was involved. I don’t have really vivid memories of Karen, Ashley, Jess, and Angie but they got me through my last 2 years of college. (Count: 8)

San Francisco

After entering into an existential turmoil after college graduation, I moved west to San Francisco to work for AmeriCorps. There I had the great privilege the first couple of years of living in 4-bedroom houses in the Peninsula (San Mateo, Redwood City), shared with various women of whom the majority were several years older than me. They were such a joy to live with. (Count: 15)

Roommates Lori, Steph, Bea and I in 2007

The next few years I bounced around my SF social network, living with various people from my friend group. San Francisco is a really tough place to live affordably, so that meant living in dining rooms or not having a living room because it was someone else’s bedroom, and paying around $900 a month for the privilege. I hear rent prices have gone WAY up since then! I’m grateful I had the chance to live with those different friends – Ana, Mina, Lindsay (+ cats), Ashley, Sara – those were unforgettable times! I spent the longest time with Sara and Ashley in an awesome old house in the Sunset. Ping pong on the dining room table, weekend outings to Target, homemade brunches, endless laughter, spying on the neighbor’s cat, and all around silliness. (Count: 22, including 2 other girls who weren’t previously part of the friend group)

I think this was a serious ritual we created during Easter brunch

Spain

Enter 2013, the Year Of International Adventure. I moved to Bilbao. I lived in 2 different places that year and enjoyed my time with Cris, then Carlos and Isa. The next year, 2014, I headed half an hour west to Castro-Urdiales where I shared a flat with Manon, a French girl teaching at my school. We lived in the historic area of town where the bar downstairs blasted music at all hours. I liked that place, though, and our get-togethers with downstairs American neighbors Mike & Mechelle. (Count: 26)

Crepe party in the Castro kitchen

After my second year in Spain, I thought I would go back to school and decided on the UK. There I spent a month with a Portuguese girl and a French girl before ultimately deciding not to do the master’s program or stay in the UK. Went home for a while and stayed with my parents. Probably shouldn’t count these girls because I don’t even remember their names.

A few months later I got accepted to come back to Spain where I was able to live in the small Galician city of Ferrol. There I shared a cute place in the city’s old town with Yesica, a young American language assistant. Sadly I had to leave it in the summer, as it was being rented to people coming for vacation all summer. This is typical in the coastal areas, as so many people flock there from all over Spain for the summer, the prices skyrocket and the owners pocket a lot more money that way. It works out well for teachers who spend the school year there and then go home in the summers. It can be hard to find a place to live the full year. I did stay in Ferrol for the summer, in a place just down the street with a Chinese guy Jiang and a Spanish girl Lucía. (Count: 31)

View from my balcony in Ferrol.

After that I headed south but then made a quick exit from Salamanca – the first place I ever lived alone! I moved north to Santander, where I stayed for just over a year but lived with 5 different people – technically 7, but I don’t count the 36 hours I stayed in one awful apartment. First there was Virginia, a fantastic and friendly redheaded teacher who I had a great living experience with in a nice place overlooking the bay. As is typical in the north, I had to leave that place for the summer so I found a new place (after the 36-hour nightmare) in a great location with 3 other girls. Turns out that two of them were incredibly stuck up and rude, so in the fall I got my own place. (Count: 36)

With Virginia by the bay

In 2018 I shared an apartment in León for half the year while working from home, then I moved back to Castro-Urdiales where I shared a place with fellow teacher Raquel. It was another great experience and we got along extremely well. We got each other through the year with the help of a giant box of amazing La Rioja wine (hers) and Reese’s peanut butter cups (mine). Add a waffle maker, a Roomba and and a nice big balcony overlooking the green hills of Cantabria, and it was perfection. Of all my Spanish roommates I miss Raquel the most! (Count: 38)

Thank u, Raquel <3

2019 came and I got a job in Madrid, so it was time to say goodbye to Cantabria. It all happened so fast, but it was time to move forward. So I moved in with a Galician girl I already knew (Cristina) and another girl, Carmen in the heart of the capital city. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, though. At an event I met another girl looking for a roommate, so after a couple of months I moved in with Lisa from Belgium. We shared a tiny but cute apartment at the edge of the Salamanca district. The downside was that we lived above a psychotic woman who screamed at all hours of the day and night at her family. Lisa and I had a really fun living experience and bonded instantly. We almost started a band called Las Chicas de Arriba after the woman downstairs screamed at her husband “me da igual las putas de arriba” after we banged on the floor for her to quiet down. We watched countless videos, sang, danced, and shared dinners and wine and endless chats. (A random Greek guy gets inserted here but I don’t count him. He lived in Lisa’s room for a month, and he was sleeping with the big kitchen knife under his pillow and he got angry with me for having a guest stay over. Did not like.) (Count: 41)

Señoras bien, señoras feten

Now after dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, I’m not in Madrid, but in Zaragoza, dreaming of buying my own place while staying with a couple of roommates to save money in the meantime. I now live with Miguel and Juan, a couple of guys who play a lot of video games but who are clean and respectful. I really just share the kitchen with them and we don’t see each other or talk much. (Count: 43)

Reflections

Since turning 18, I’ve always pretty much lived “for the year.” Kind of like living in the present, but a little more chaotic as it meant always being ready to pack up and move. It’s like my life got set into motion and never really stopped. At 37, I’m tired. These are all my own choices, and I don’t think most of them have been “wrong” per se, but I wonder why I’ve been so averse to settling in one place.

There is something fascinating and thrilling about unpacking in a new apartment, decorating it and making it my own space, even for a short time. All in all, I’ve most enjoyed the living situations where I’m able to develop a warm relationship with my roommate(s) and feel a sense of openness. Home for me is a place of comfort and stability in a chaotic life, so even if it’s for the short term, I need to feel a sense of peace. It’s an added bonus if we’re able to let loose and have fun together! I’m grateful to have had mostly positive living experiences with mostly excellent people – they’ve all contributed to my personal growth in some way. Here’s to finding my way to putting down some roots.