When you think of having roommates in a new city, you might picture a “Friends” situation: a group of 20-somethings fumbling through their careers and relationships, and still having a grand ol’ time because their roommates are awesome. While that sounds fantastic, we’re firm believers that an awesome roommate can be any age. And a recent rise in divorces for people over 50 has increased the number of seniors who have spare rooms to fill. That means more and more seniors are using their golden years to start another phase in their lives — much like someone in their 20s. Having a senior roommate can, in so many ways, be pretty great. If you weren’t considering it before, you might want to rethink it now. We talked to Sophia, a 29-year-old Harlem resident, who shared five unexpected benefits of having an older roommate, who we’ll call Gabby for privacy’s sake.
1. It Offers a Unique First-Hand Experience.
While seniors are using social media more frequently, they’re still a little ways behind the younger generations. This means there’s a wealth of knowledge seniors have that you can only discover by interacting with them . . .in real life. And who knows what fascinating things you’ll learn — especially when you’re new to the city.
“I learned a lot about how New York used to be,” Sophia explains. “Gabby told me how New York City was in the ’70s and ’80s. As someone from Ireland, I would have never had that insight otherwise.”
2. There Are No Judgments
Overnight guests can be a topic of contention in any roommate situation, but when Sophia first moved in with Gabby, she says she was worried that she would have to modify her behavior. But she says Gabby, then 71, didn’t mind at all if Sophia had a boyfriend or wanted to watch TV for three hours straight. Now, that’s a pretty cool roommate.
“Originally, I thought living with someone older would mean I would have to be more subdued,” Sophia says. “But I didn’t have to change at all.”
3. It’s a Mutually Beneficial Relationship.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 percent of Americans aged 65 or older lived alone in 2010. Loneliness can have detrimental effects on a senior’s health, and having a roommate can help. On the flip side, it’s an opportunity for someone younger to gain a friend, confidant, or influential contact they may have never met otherwise.
“We talked for hours,” Sophia says about her relationship with Gabby. “I became sort of like a daughter.”
Since they were both working in similar fields, Sophia says Gabby was also kind enough to introduce her to some of her work contacts. What started out as a roommate relationship grew into something so much more enriching.
4. You Can Have a Lot in Common
Millennials are in a time of transition and are now putting off having kids until they’re older (if they decide to have families at all, that is). Only 26 percent of millennials marry before they’re 32 (as opposed to 48 percent of the baby boomers), according to the Pew Research Center. This means they may have more in common with a baby boomer, whose kids are grown and out of the house, than they originally thought.
“Gabby had spent most of her savings caring for her mother and husband, who both died after debilitating illnesses…but she had a youthful spirit,” Sophia says. “She was starting her freelance journalism career, getting her name back out there. She had to start over.”
Sophia says she was in a similar place, both in her career and with her financial situation when she moved in with Gabby — and they became closer as a result.
5. It’s Liberating for Seniors — Especially Women.
Now that there’s less stigma surrounding divorce, older women often feel less pressured to stay in marriages for societal or religious reasons. In fact, research shows that women initiate the majority of divorces. Living with a person who values her independence can be liberating and empowering for any young person, but it’s also comforting to know you can contribute to a senior roommate’s happiness by just being yourself!
“I would consider living with someone younger if I were a senior,” Sophia says. “It’s better than living alone, with your kids, or in a nursing home…And Gabby wasn’t ready for ‘old age.’ She was starting a career. She had once been well off…and she was trying to save money again.”
Have you once lived in a similar situation? If so, how did you like having a senior roommate?