I don’t need to pay a therapist to give me crap. I have a roommate who does it for free.
– Ally McBeal
I used to not think you needed to meet the person with whom you would be living before you actually started, you know, living with them.
That was the capricious attitude with which I threw myself into the process of finding a place to live in Cambridge next fall.
I told those who asked what I was looking for that I didn’t mind. I’d take a room in someone’s attic with a naked mattress on the floor so long as the price was good.
As I began sending out CraigsList inquiries, I was frustrated with their replies.
People were charmed by my e-mails, thought I sounded great, and wanted to know when I would be able to come by and see the place.
I replied that I was still teaching in Philadelphia and wouldn’t be able to get away to meet people. I assured my possible roommates that it wouldn’t matter. I threw “easygoing” and “laid back” around like product placement.
Still, no one relented.
More interested in securing a place to live than proving the point that one need not know me to love me, I boarded a bus to Boston Friday to see some houses and meet some potential roommates.
I’d three potentials on my list and scheduled times for each of the three.
The first was a 5-bedroom home rented by the owner who would also be one of my roommates.
As luck would have it, Meredith Stewart also arrived in Boston Friday. When we met for brunch Saturday morning, I asked if she’d come along to see one or more of the places with me.
We made our way to the first possibility together, showing up a record 10 minutes early as the owner was pulling into the driveway.
To say that the man was taciturn would be understating the matter.
A robotic engineer and craft brew buff, he gave me more than enough information to work with to build a bond.
His affect never changed.
We sat in the living room to get to know one another and I continued working my damnedest to get the man to smile.
We reached a break in the conversation and I started gathering myself to rise and leave when he said, “Well, I can tell you’d fit in well in the house.”
I’d been working my not inconsequentially gregarious skills for about 15 minutes without so much as a rise in the corner of his mouth, and now he was greenlighting my move-in.
“There’s one problem I can see, though,” he said, “I need to find two other roommates after you, and you said you’d be out of the state until mid-August, right?”
“It’s extremely important to me that all current housemates agree on bringing someone new into the house, so you not being here just isn’t going to work.”
And that’s where we stood.
He threw out the idea that I should look him up once I moved to town to see if there was still a room available, reiterating the idea that I was a good fit.
I accepted the offer with the appropriate amount of graciousness.
A block away, I turned to Meredith, “That was weird, right?”
“It was like watching a horrible first date,” she said.
And it was.
Sitting there, grasping for conversation, attempting to ingratiate myself to this guy, felt just like every bad date I’d ever been on – only I didn’t get a meal.
The awkwardness of the entire experience was brought into starker relief when I sat down with the roommates of my second house. A graduate from the program I’ll be entering and a Ph.D. student in South American literature, both were wonderful. We talked for nearly an hour and a half, wrapping our way through conversations on ed policy, the relative merits of True Blood and what kind of cooking lessons I might be able to provide.
Then and there, these two said they’d be willing to live with me and I accepted.
The rent for the second place is a bit higher than the rent of the first. On paper alone, I would likely have gone with the first.
My next year would have been one of being holed up in my room having awkward conversations in the shared spaces and killing myself to get that guy to laugh.
Instead, I’ll pay a little more, be a ton closer and live with people whose company I seem to genuinely enjoy.
I’ll run the risk of giving Malcolm Gladwell a big head and admit to knowing the outcome of both meetings within the first few seconds.
I’ll also admit to learning the value of meeting those potential roommates face-to-face.
More evidence that I really like learning. (Even when it feels like a bad first date.)