For one, single people and married people need each other.
When Leigh — a friend from afar who had just moved to my city — first came to live with us, it was supposed to be for two months: one month of cat-sitting while we spent a lot of time visiting grandparents, and one month of temporary stay while she searched to secure her own place. Now, almost a year later, Ezra the cat, whom she started feeding out of obligation, splits his nights between her room and the room I share with my husband.
At first, this was an arrangement of necessity: the San Francisco housing market is ridiculous. It’s competitive and incredibly expensive. As we watched our friend Leigh search, we learned two undeniable truths: it’s hard for a 36-year-old single woman to a) Make enough to live on her own… even in a tiny one-room apartment, or b) commit to sharing a single bedroom with a random woman from Craigslist. When this became clear, my husband and I invited her to stay for the year.
There have been sacrifices, sure. My baby, Ace, has slept in my room much longer than I’d originally planned: he’s going on 13 months now. This wouldn’t have worked with his older brothers, who were much more intense even at that young age, but, luckily, Ace is laid back.
Keeping him in my room has forced me to adjust his baby accouterments and accessories, along with my expectations for what a baby needs. It turns out that a baby doesn’t really need a navy striped Pinterest nursery with matching elephant prints after all. He doesn’t need a Pottery Barn shelving unit either. A big wicker basket in the corner of the room works just fine. We’ve simplified and are focusing on the essentials. And simplicity is good for the soul.
Of course, it hasn’t been a walk in the park for Leigh, either. Not only does she share a bathroom with my two older boys (ages seven and five) who — let’s be honest — don’t always succeed at aiming for the toilet, she also shares a wall with them. When they’re up at 6:30 a.m., no matter whether it’s her day off or not — their little voices come right through the air vent, like a morning alarm she can’t hit snooze on.
During the day, Leigh doesn’t exactly have the life a single woman might otherwise, either. Most days, she can’t wake up and decide to whip up a fancy breakfast on a whim … because, though Leigh loves to cook, our kitchen is a madhouse. I’m always there, making a snack, making a meal, washing dishes. I imagine Leigh relishes the times when we’re out of the house so she can make something wonderfully adult and delicious without worrying about when one of us will charge into her space and start slicing an apple for a whining kid.
Yet, for all that, after a few months of cohabitation, we collectively decided to make our living situation permanent for a while. All of us — my husband and Leigh and I — shared the same reasoning: this experiment was good. In fact, we all agreed that it had genuinely surprised us all with its goodness. Its unexpected gifts were making all of our lives richer, and taught us a few valuable lessons.
Here’s what I’ve learned, experienced, and gained from sharing a home with my single friend:
Being married makes me privileged in ways I often overlook
Before Leigh lived with us, I thought I had a good sense of both the joys and challenges that came with being a single person who doesn’t have children. But I didn’t really understand how many comforts family life really provides me with.
Forget the joy and heartache of romantic love for a moment: it is no small thing to share the bills with another person who (most often) has your best interest at heart. It is no small thing to have someone with whom to share a meal every evening, a person to listen to the highs and lows of your day each night, someone who can take the car to the shop for you, or run an errand for you on their way home from work. You have a teammate who can pick up your slack.
Of course, not every marriage is the same. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean your spouse is willing to listen to you at the end of the day, or that your husband is helpful when it comes to running errands. But what I’ve learned is that the privilege of having an “other” to help me when I need it is one I can sometimes easily gloss over. Living with Leigh has helped me stop and appreciate my husband, and all that we do for each other.
Church can be a lonely place for single people
Leigh and I are the same age, just with different marital statuses. While I wed in my 20s and had kids at a generically 30-ish time in my life, she has had to navigate not leading the typical 30-something mom-life. Surprisingly, one of the most noticeable places this difference comes into play is at church. Over the last year, I’ve started to notice that the needs of families in the church are louder than the needs of single people.
But here’s the truth: while the needs of families are obvious, the very real needs of single people are quieter and can often go unnoticed. People who are single are doing life by themselves, trying to build their own support network, often hoping that church will be a supportive community for them. But it seems they are rarely acknowledged from the pulpit, where sermons so often focus on marriage and family life.
When churches do offer events for single people they are often either awkward “spouse-finding” round ups, or they’re a bit patronizing, treating single people like they’re a less mature part of the congregation. Single people can feel invisible in the place they most need to be seen. Leigh has helped me see that more clearly. She has helped me understand a little more of what it feels like to be a sideline voice in a community. And sometimes to be misunderstood by people simply because they aren’t single.
I have often wrongly conflated singleness with youth
As a tired mom of three, I can often find myself jealous of women who are single, those who have hours of time for reading each week, or who can head out any night of the week to be with friends. I know it’s not always fair, but that’s where my mind goes. What Leigh’s presence has helped me understand is that her being single doesn’t mean she behaves like a 20-something with endless amount of youthful energy, the way I might imagine. She gets tired after work, too. She wants to rest at night, too.
She already did the 20s thing. She’s doing the 30s thing just like I am. She’s living a slower life of pursuing what she loves and moving at her own, grown-up pace. Thirty-six is 36, whether we’re married or have kids or not.
Having single friends is good for our marriage
Leigh and I have the same taste in TV and movies, while my husband and I definitely do not! I’ve long since given up on getting Chris to watch TV shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with me. But Leigh? She’s totally down. And if I happen to mention the option of eating Chinese take-out on the nights Chris is working late, even better.
With my days packed full of caring for little ones, it’s easy to forget to prioritize friendships. It’s so wonderful to have a close friend with whom I can have an impromptu girls-night-in. We don’t need to fuss about being the perfect host, we just sit on the couch and relax as friends. In a marriage, that time away from my spouse with a good friend is so important.
But Leigh helps us with the togetherness time, too. As part of our living arrangement, she is often around after my husband and I put the kids to bed at night to stand guard if we want to head out for a late dinner or even a mini-date just to reconnect. Chris and I don’t live near family, so we’ve rarely had the option of free childcare. To have time together without the financial restraint of a pricey babysitter makes us much more willing to go for a romantic nighttime stroll, or hop over to a fun spot for a drink.
It is beautiful and important for my kids to have other adults in their lives who love them and support them
When my oldest son was in the school play for a total of three minutes, Leigh was there cheering through the play’s entirety. When we visited family and Leigh’s name came up my son told his cousin, “We have an amazing roommate!” In my five-year-old’s recent drawing of his family “Ms. Leigh” was included. Her presence has taught my kids that they are important to more people than just their immediate family, and that friendships and a sense of greater community are not only good, but vital.
I make better parenting decisions in front of another adult
All parents understand how charged some moments of child rearing can be. In those moments when my animal brain takes control, my usually kind and gentle demeanor fades out, and I find myself enraged at my little ones. Yes, like all parents, I’ve lost my temper. Leigh’s presence has done two things for me.
First, it’s harder to lose control when there’s another adult (who is not your spouse!) in the house. There’s just enough vanity left in me that during those moments, I’m more aware of my surroundings, and I can calm myself. So what if it’s only for the sake of her being right next door? It works to make my patience last that much longer. And, secondly, when I have yelled at my kids in front of Leigh, I’ve had a friend there to tell me I’m still a good mom, to remind me of what I’ve done right, despite my mistakes.
Now Leigh can dip her toes into the joys and challenges of family life, too
Living with us has meant that Leigh doesn’t have to come home to a silent house each day. She comes home to (mostly) happy chaos instead! And while she’s an introvert who needs time alone to recharge, she also has the opportunity to enter our chaos and receive from us in a way she couldn’t if she lived alone.
At 5:30 in the evening, for example, when I’m frantically trying to get the vegetables in the oven and the older boys are fighting over Lego pieces, she willingly moves out of her post-work alone-time and swoops in to pick up my fussy baby, or calm the fighting Wild Things. She joins family dinners and has a sense of belonging. She has people to ask about her day, and friends to watch TV with at night. Sometimes the most ordinary parts of our lives are great gifts to another person.
Single people and married people need each other
I need to have single friends in my life because I have something to offer them, and they have something to offer me. Leigh has taught me that I don’t need to apologize for my life being wild and full right now, and that I still have to pay attention to the people around me who can often be lost in the whirlwind that follows me everywhere my children and I go. Leigh has taught me to pay attention to the ways I talk or write about being in my thirties. Yes, being a mother is a huge part of what my thirties have looked like, but there is so much more to my life than motherhood.