Does Living With A Roommate Make You Less Of An Adult?

When single, straight men choose to live together, we see them as childish…but why?

Last week, The New York Times did a story about a seemingly curious phenomenon: four unmarried straight men, not related to each other and approaching 40, who have lived together for 18 years in various apartments in New York City. On purpose. I love this with all my critical, skeptical-on-a-good-day-about-monogamy-and-marriage heart. The decision to write a story about these dudes, whose enduring friendship is beautiful, is fascinating. It complicates tightly-held ideas about what it means to grow up (with various references to “man-children”) and challenges our notions of masculinity. 

We’re told, generally, that the “healthy” or “normal” trajectory our lives should take is supposed to culminate in our own house with our spouse and children. (There’s an unsurprising but still jarring exodus from New York City that happens as my friends have kids; they want bigger houses and yards and cars.) Living in an apartment with friends, or with strangers for that matter, is something that one does for an abbreviated period of time. When I moved to the Upper West Side, a friend told me of the phenomenon in which Orthodox Jewish recent college graduates of the same gender live together in apartments until they get married. Roommates get replaced as wedding dresses are purchased.

Obviously, living with friends is not just a thing religious folks do, but it is something that’s also seen as having a non-specific expiration date. What’s so curious about the men of the Times article is that their living arrangement has endured and continues to, in a manner that appears to be wholely unselfconscious. Danaher Dempsey, one of the men profiled, said, “The freedom this has allowed me to have—to figure out my own quirks and foibles—has been much more important than investing in things that might have tied me down to something that would have kept me from figuring those other things out.” The concept of “adulthood” is much more malleable and complicated than traditional narratives would have us believe. It doesn’t have to mean acquiring a certain kind of space, or a particular relationship. It might mean instead learning what’s right for us in terms of being able to access our full potential. 

In addition to feeling assured by this story, I’m also wondering what a piece written about women in this same situation would look like. Women live together for the long haul (see Pagan Kennedy’s So…Are You Two Together?”) but media depictions of such a decision usually portray it as a last resort, bitter and saturated in desperation, rather than an active choice. It’s never shown as a purposeful maneuver, living cooperatively as a political act, or something done out of preference for a different kind of life. Could we reprogram our brains to see this as powerful as opposed to unrealistic, sad, and childish? 

The concept of adulthood is deeply gendered. Male adults are supposed to be property owners, fathers, husbands, and providers; female adults are caretakers, mothers, and wives. In order to become these things, a very specific path must be followed—from friendship and collaboration to a two-person unit that then creates children. Any other model of living is derided, associated with a failure to grow up and become a “real” person. What would it it take for us to see this differently?

Chanel Dubofsky is a writer in Brooklyn, New York, and the creator and editor of the Marriage Project, an interview series about marriage in imagination and reality. She has published essays in the Forward, Tablet, Gender Focus and The Pursuit of Harpyness, and fiction at Monkey Bicycle, Matchbook and Quick Fiction. She blogs at Diverge (

Related Links: