Just good flatmates: could sharing your home help you?

Caroline Buchanan rented out a room to assist with the bills after a painful divorce. But sharing her home platonically with a man helped her in ways she never envisaged


Just good flatmates: could sharing your home help you?

He really was tall, dark and handsome. His name was Gabriel, he was available and easy to be with. And although this was the first time I had met him, I detected he had warmth and felt comfortable in his presence. So when I opened his email the following day I was truly shocked. ‘I can’t move in with you Caroline,’ he’d written, ‘because I find you too attractive.

But, as we are both going through a divorce, I wonder if you’d like to have dinner with me?’ I read it again because I thought I was seeing things. This strange man, who had just applied to share my flat, was drop-dead gorgeous and literally 20 years younger than me!

After several gulps and more than a few delighted smiles, I typed a reply. I explained that I was very flattered, but was in no way ready for a relationship of that kind, because I knew I needed to work though a lot of stuff since my husband suddenly left me for another woman. His overnight departure had tapped into childhood abandonment issues, so when he pulled the rug on our marriage with lightning speed, I found it very traumatic.

My world was turned upside down, inside out – emotionally and practically. In the same week as he left, I was made redundant from my job as a magazine agony aunt – a position I had held for nearly 17 years. It never rains, and all that. 

So I needed a flatmate to help me with the bills, which were suddenly all mine. What I hadn’t expected was that the flatsharing experience would turn out to be fantastically healing, after I decided to advertise my spare room
on a flatshare site and didn’t specify gender. I did, however, request a cheer-ful disposition. My ex-husband is the complete opposite of that and it’s tiring living with someone who hardly ever smiles and has zero joie de vivre.

I met with a few other prospective flatshare candidates, then Gabriel, with his lovely Spanish accent, contacted me again and we decided to meet up to have a chat. After a sensible talk, we elected for him to take my spare room, with the proviso of a month’s notice either side. We also agreed there was to be no funny business. Clearly missing my agony aunt role, I had also pointed out to him that it would be a good idea if he didn’t rush into another relation-ship with anyone either!

Gabriel is a trained architect who moved into IT. In his spare time he’s into photography, at which he is very talented. He was sad about his divorce and heartbroken at having to live apart from his young son. I too was missing my beloved only child, my 29-year-old daughter, who now lives in Cape Town.

Easy living

Sharing my home with Gabriel proved to be much easier than I imagined. The day he moved in, I told him I’d cook him a meal that evening but pointed out that this wasn’t part of the service. I just knew he’d want to bring wine, but informed him in advance that he’d be drinking alone because I didn’t drink. After well over two years off the sauce, I didn’t want to have a glass of wine just to please a man I’d recently met. Boundaries – I was learning the art at last, it seemed.

Generally speaking, we cooked for ourselves and effortlessly negotiated the kitchen and bathroom. It didn’t need any working out. We also seemed to naturally understand when to give each other space, and when to sit down and have a good old chat. Gabriel was a movie buff and sometimes invited me into his room to watch a film. His television was at the foot of his bed, so the only real place to sit was on the bed. I perched on the edge that first time. ‘Lie back and relax,’ Gabriel said. ‘It’s all right!’ I squawked. ‘I need to be able to reach my tea.’

It wasn’t very long before Gabriel started dating, but I had no desire to do the same myself. I knew I needed to be completely whole before I even contemplated such a thing. I set him up on a blind date with a friend of mine though – but she had to cancel at the last minute. All dressed up and ready to go, he was disappointed, and went onto Tinder to cheer himself up. He didn’t come home that night… or the next one. He was playing the field,
but I suspected at the back of it that he was looking for ‘The One’. Men do seem to leap into relationships more quickly than women.

While I could see that Gabriel had a lot going for him, I genuinely wasn’t tempted. I didn’t want to get involved with a man again out of any kind of neediness. I’d been unhappily married and, as that was something I don’t want to repeat, I’m going to make sure that the next relationship – if there is one – will be the icing on the cake.

After a few months of happy flat-sharing, Gabriel decided to move back to Spain. Otherwise there was no way he was going to have any chance of proper access to his son. I advertised for a flatmate again. This time, Gary turned up. He was a Yorkshireman, 10 years younger than me, long divorced, and has two grown-up daughters. Gary is a pilot who enjoys his travelling adventures. He doesn’t like to be any-where for very long. 

Again, this flatmate was such easy company – positive and jolly. Gary and I had good chats, quite a few laughs, and absolutely no hassle over sharing the bathroom and kitchen. Oh, except for one thing – he took up nearly all of my freezer space, telling me I didn’t need to freeze milk because he would walk around to the shops and get some if I ran out. I’m pleased to say that I stood my ground and said I choose to have milk in the freezer!

Anyway, Gary has now gone off to fly aeroplanes in Africa, so I have no idea what the next instalment of my flatsharing adventures will be. 

Learning from experience

But I am so grateful for my experience of sharing my home with these two men, and I recommend it – as long as you choose a flatmate wisely. It helps to teach you not to be co-dependent, among other things. It enables you to look dispassionately at a man, and your relationship with him, because you’re not romantically involved with the man you are living with.

What I have learned is to take a look at my people-pleasing side with men and become more assertive about what I need, for a change. It has shown me what I like – and don’t like – about living with a man. It’s working out a relationship that has no neediness on either side and recognising the huge benefits of that. It’s taught me that I’m ‘normal’ and pretty easy to live with. It’s affection without sex. It’s intimacy without complications. It’s a balance of male and female that can work very well. It has definitely boosted my confidence – and ease – with men. It has helped me to accept that we all have irritating habits and we can all learn to live and let live.

I had tried to end my marriage several times in a friendly way, but my ex said we couldn’t afford to part. He obviously saw the writing on the wall but decided he couldn’t leave me until he’d found someone to go to. The sad thing is, I’d only stayed with him for as long as I did for three reasons: 1. I didn’t want him to suffer the pain of abandonment; 2. financial insecurity; and 3. he was good at the ‘boys’ jobs’. Numbers two and three were soon sorted out and number one was simply co-dependent thinking. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I know now that I sure hurt myself by staying.

More inspiration:

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Photograph: iStock

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