On Living with Other Women / Kate-Lois Elliott
I want to talk about living with other women.
Even when your job pays well and you're good with money, when you live in London, chances are you're going to be in a shared house for most of your twenties. Couples have better chances of finding their own home, but I know people who have to continue to live in shared accommodation until they have no choice but to move out of the city (usually because there's a baby coming or they're nearly forty). Trust funds, relatives with more than one property, and a life of crime seem to be the only routes out of a house-share. However, the unlucky majority feel the effects of the recession, rising house prices, and their chronic avocado dependency; and while anomalies who have saved since they were sixteen for a deposit do exist, these people are usually either superhuman or extremely boring.
I've been living in shared accommodation for ten years; I moved out when I was eighteen to do an internship in Brighton, and subsequently bounced from house to house until I finally found my tribe in 2012. The journey was unpredictable, at one second I was living in a house with no fridge and a washing machine that leaked, the next I lived in a penthouse on the nicest shopping street in Brighton. I also lived as a lodger with my friend and his parents, I first ‘stayed over’ at the age of sixteen and didn’t vacate until I was eighteen. If I ever win an award where a speech is necessary, they’ll be the first to get sincere and heartfelt thanks.
In my first year of university in London, the state of my house eventually got so bad that at one point not one kitchen utensil, plate, or bowl was clean. Then one day, when we were all out, our housemate left it all on the kitchen table in an act of monumentally well-placed passive aggressiveness that left us in shame. There were fights, divides and ruined friendships during that first year of study, and that was just at home. Years later, we all met again as fully formed adults, with enough wisdom to blame the whole thing on drama school.
The next house I had in London was the start of a journey. Then twenty-three, I lived with girls I’d met over the summer, aged from 21 - 28. It was named ‘Castle Anthrax’ (of Monty Python’s Holy Grail) due to the sheer volume of sexual encounters that happened there. During that first year we grew and supported each other in an array of sagas from the dramatic to the hilarious. We were all so diverse in background and cultural experiences that I felt personal growth of momentous proportions, especially as during this time there were so many changes in the world of mainstream feminist thought, interracial feminism and representation in the arts (the sector in which we were all working).
This was also a time where many of us experienced great loss of loved ones and of circumstances that had shaped our entire lives. Throughout this three-year period, we learned a huge amount from each other, and though we've since moved on, most of us have remained good friends.
I then moved with one of my housemates into a new home in North London; this is the house we made into a home. It was a beautiful old building with stained glass on the front door, a stage in the back garden and a roof garden. There were three bathrooms and seven bedrooms, and we furnished the entire thing ourselves. We had long summers of BBQs, with tea lights and VIP nos parties on the roof garden. One time there was a thunder storm, and the entire party went up to the roof to watch, as if we'd organised the performance ourselves.
Our house Christmas dinners were known to last all weekend. Drunk cooks, decorators and DJs filled the kitchen all day, cooking dinner, hanging an eclectic mix of decorations and listening to Michael Buble on repeat. Everyone was too drunk to finish their meals, but we ate like kings on leftovers for a week.
In those four years, we supported each other with compassion, patience and zero judgement, as we made bad decisions in life and love over and over again. We celebrated each other’s successes and drank through the failures. One time we were burgled, and we spent the evening together curled up on the sofa watching TV, reclaiming our space as our own.
Some people don’t like the idea of living with a lot of people of their own sex, and many women have said to me that they don’t have close female relationships. I find both of these sentiments saddening; the women you choose to invite into your home become your family, no matter what. A home with other women can provide you with a supportive environment and solidarity that only other women can give.
People that use words like 'catty' and 'bitchy' are seriously underestimating female friendships, I find it deeply troubling when women don’t like other women. We can communicate and connect to both men and women, but because men have no need to connect with each other deeply, they fall back on male bravado; it’s a character to play so they never need to be vulnerable with each other.
That being said, being vulnerable around others can mean potential heartbreak and drama around every corner, and not everyone likes that. When these people are worth it, though, we take those risks, brave the drama, and sometimes even lock horns - because we know that whatever is going on, the goal is to connect, be our authentic selves and keep growing together.
I write this as three of the women I have lived with over the last seven years prepare to leave the house. It is truly the end of an era, and one that has made us all face up to some really difficult learning. We have learned to champion each and every woman we meet, make our own choices, embracing successes and failures without fear of judgement, and doing all of the above with absolute self-belief. But if that self-belief ever falters, we know we will be built back up again by the women around us.
Written by Kate-Lois Elliott
Edited by Hannah Crosbie