In order to write great fiction, Virginia Woolf opined back in 1928, a woman must have “money and a room of her own.” In observing the limited personal space afforded to women moving from the family home to the married home, Woolf sparked a thought revolution which illuminated the connection between having access to a private space (both physical and mental) and having access to the public spheres of work, creativity and community. A Room of One’s Own, the title of Woolf’s important treatise, is a catchphrase that pops into my mind whenever I think about why I have such strong—not so easy to dismiss—reservations about HomeBuying as a couple after years of enjoying my own space.
Census 2006 results released by Stats Can earlier this month revealed that unmarried persons out-numbered married persons for the first time in Canada. As we delay, forgo or choose alternatives to marriage, we face the newer challenge of merging two fully-grown single lives into the shared space of a relationship.
To make the leap to HomeOwnership, it seems to me, would be to abandon my older, low rent, urban studio apartment where I work, read, talk to myself, dance around and pretend to meditate (purists dismiss the new form of meditation I’ve developed in which practitioners keep one eye on the clock to ensure that time is actually moving). It is also where I sacrifice some “good living” principles in the name of human progress. I don’t change out of my pyjamas to write my newest missive to the world (Eureka!), I eat standing, sitting and lying down (when I am scanning, reading or brainstorming respectively) and I let dirty dishes make their presence known before I attend to them.
So why not just buy a similar space for myself? Well, here, two of my non-negotiables tend to come into direct conflict. While I define independence as living within my means, being downtown, nicey-pricey downtown, is central to my creativity. But wait, just off-stage is a delightful character I like to call my love. To make the leap affordable, teaming up with him would be ideal. And the truth is, doing things together seems to be our preferred option these days. I am, however, a bit anxious about relinquishing the me-focused living I am currently engaged in. It would mean getting my proverbial house in order, not because he would insist on it, but because I couldn’t live with his injury-by-errant-cheerio-in-bed on my conscience.
Earlier this year, a New York Times article reported on a booming trend in ‘neoliving arrangements’ (my catchphrase, sadly not quite equal to Woolf's). Architects, builders and designers have been very creative about allowing a single home to accommodate separate needs in common spaces like the bedroom, bathroom and office. For some, it’s just about having privacy, while others need to take refuge in a designated electronic gadget-free zone. Some of the home innovations on offer range from the understandable, such as including two spacious home offices for two equally grown-up people, to the slightly worrisome, such as making room for two separate dining rooms (for when Romeo and Juliet want to host a dinner party, perhaps).
Retired baby boomer couples looking to downsize yet maintain a grip on sanity are the main drivers of this ‘separates’ trend, and increasingly, younger partners are joining in. Recently, I enjoyed meeting-up with a good friend, one of those marvelously frank types, who revealed her latest quest to me: separate sleeping quarters with small but separate bathrooms. It seems that she doesn’t need to know all about her fiancé’s going-ons in the bathroom each morning—a little mystery goes a long way. And in the evenings, eventually, they both do need their sleep. A study released by researchers in Austria indicates that she might be on to something—apparently, sharing a bed might drain a man’s brainpower. Not good. Not good at all.
I left this particular mimosa-soaked brunch with my mind in a whirl. Later, while helping my associate-for-life tame his front lawn, I mentioned what was on my mind. I did lose him a bit with my lecture on Great English Women Writers of the 20th Century, but we were back on track when we started to discuss how we could make HomeBuying work for us.
And then he said something wonderful, because he is one of those wonderful types. “You know, there are a lot of cool ideas out there, even for smaller places, and maybe our special solution doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Why don’t we buy some gelato and talk it over?” Okay, the last suggestion was mine. Later, while meditating in my space alone, I found myself wondering how many minutes it would take us to find a home that could accommodate all of our dreams, ambitions and nervous habits. The clock seemed to be moving awfully slow. A room or two of my own? Definitely. But what did another English great once write, something about no one being an island?
Urmi Desai is an economic analyst and a freelance writer specializing in urban issues. She is editor of the Move Smartly blog. Subscribe to Move Smartly by Email