MANDALUYONG CITY, Philippines — The thick dust that carpeted the floor felt like hotel grade cotton when I lay on it carelessly. It was the second day of painting our newly rented condo unit, and much like the afternoon before, I was alone tackling the gallons of colors. I stared at the ceiling and the bright lime wall and tried to feel my arms. Two straight days of cleaning up and painting reminded me — by aching severely — that I actually had muscles in my arms.
The two men whom I share the unit with were out of town by choice, and the two women were stuck at work. I was — to sugarcoat it — pissed. Why am I the only one working here? And despite knowing the answer, I kept on asking myself, Where the crap is everyone? It was when Dr. Grey popped up in my head like a fairy godmother bearing some peace of mind.
Yes, Meredith Grey.
In one of the first few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, she claims, “Intimacy comes attached to life’s three R’s: relatives, romance, and roommates.” My dear Meredith couldn’t be any more right.
I have been very independent. I have been looking after myself even before I had my first taste of adulthood. My family is in the province and I have been alone in the capital. Had the situation been different — say, even if my parents were Manila-based — I’m quite sure I would still choose to live in a different house. I may be spending more but I take it as the price I pay for freedom.
You see, my family is very tightly knit. Nothing is private in our home. No letters are left unopened by whoever is around to receive them with or without the permission of the owner. No bedroom doors must be locked. Keeping a secret under this roof is almost impossible. I love my family but I hated this tradition. They can also be too distracting sometimes, especially given the nature of my work.
Still, I look forward to going home every two weeks or so. Other than the genuine desire to see them regularly, I just love how they treat me given how increasingly rare my visits have become. Every weekend I am home is an event. Kids look forward to it because I’m sort of like their cool uncle who always arrives with toys and goodies. My mom always prepares my favorite dishes and treats me like a prince. And my siblings do not let me do household chores no matter how hard I insist. I have become more like a VIP guest than a resident. A part of the family but oddly distant. I realized that the more I spend time with them, the more we tend to fight over the littlest things. That’s the cost of familiarity and too much time together: It becomes so easy to find faults even without trying. So I guess our setup is for the best.
My roommate is also my romantic partner. When my friends found out that we would be moving in together, they were sure it was a bad idea. We were barely into the fourth month of our relationship then and they felt like it was a giant step that we may not be ready for. It was leap of faith, yes, but it was worth the risk. Four years later, we’re still together as lovers, friends, and roommates.
“How do you manage to not get tired of each other?” is the usual question new friends throw towards my direction upon learning about it. I never had a default answer for it. Sometimes I tell them that we devote our weekends with family. Sometimes I explain that we have separate sets of friends; I can count our common friends with my fingers. But in all honesty, I don’t know either. I just don’t get tired of him, I guess.
I discovered the joys of solo backpacking and found that time without him means time not by myself but with myself. And after every trip, I come home with new stories, experiences, and insights that I use to better myself, enriching our relationship. This way, we manage to grow individually and still surprise each other. That or we’re not very physical to begin with, if you know what I mean.
During college, my two best friends were my roommates. I survived three apartment transfers over six years with them, and I clearly remember what heartbreaking a day it was when we decided to go on separate ways. I moved to an apartment closer to my office; one of them moved to Clark, where he worked; and the other stayed to pursue even higher education.
Living with another set of friends took tectonic adjustments but we pull through. When you put different but very strong personalities under one roof, expect clashes to happen. People always have very strong opinions on other people and they’re even stronger when you see them every single day of your life. Your housemates become very familiar and you will notice even the tiniest details of what they do and say. The cute mannerisms gradually morph into petty annoyances. The flaws and dents become more and more glaring the longer you look at them. Every roommate or housemate has them. Either you speak up and reach for a resolution, or you’re gonna have to suck it up and live with it. If you can’t take it, you can always pack up and call it quits.
Or you can move to another place with them. Sometimes it’s not the housemates that fail you but the house itself.
I guess that’s what slipped my mind as I lay there on the blanket of dust looking at my hands splattered with awful paint. The change of scenery was supposed to make things better and there I was trying to rain on a parade even before it started. Right at that moment, I realized that it was not fair to expect other people to do what you would have had you been in their shoes. We are different characters with different backgrounds, priorities, and sensibilities.
In the past ten years, I have lived in seven apartment units from Quezon City to Mandaluyong. Every move was fueled by one thing — a desire for a change of environment. A place no matter how pleasant at first gets tired and tiring after a while especially to people with my condition. A place becomes too cramped or too cluttered or too sad or too familiar that there really isn’t any room left to grow.
Yes, you can always fix things, but finding another home offers an easier solution. A move is a chance for a major cleanup of unwanted baggage, an abandonment of irresistible habits, and a doorway to more possibilities. Each move, you get closer to those you share your home with. The more we become intimate, the more they become ordinary parts of our everyday lives.
Intimacy is a double-edged sword. In the words of Meredith Grey, “it is both desired and feared; difficult to live with and impossible to live without.” We share a part of ourselves with them, and we allow them to get to know us even without realizing it. Bonds will form and cracks will run across them. Lines will be drawn and constant crosses will blur them. Routines will develop and you will struggle to break them. They’re all part of the territory. The good news is, there is always comfort in knowing that with these people — even at times when we feel otherwise — we are never actually alone.
Two hours later, there was a knock on the door. It was my housemates.